NEWS: In 2015, we will not be available to conduct tours at the following times:
May 3-9, June 19-July 4, August 20-September 22
The food available in Hanoi's narrow alleys and tree-lined boulevards is just as much a part of the city as its lakes and old world architecture. In fact, all of these elements combine with the indomitable spirit of the Vietnamese people to produce a lively culinary scene that is both diverse and confronting.
Over the past ten years, 'the god' (Van Cong Tu, author of the blog 'Vietnamese God') and myself (Mark Lowerson, otherwise known as 'Sticky' in the pages of this blog) have been traversing the streets of Vietnam's capital, as well as cutting a wider arc through other regions of Vietnam and beyond, wolfing down between us virtually everything on offer.
Tu is an accredited tour guide with more than 15 years experience in the tourism and hospitality industry. He is an expert on the cuisine of the south-central coast, having grown up in Nha Trang and frequent visits to Ho Chi Minh City and Phu Quoc Island make him very well-versed in what people are feeding their faces with in the south, too. But Hanoi is where he dwells and its chaotic web of lanes and alleys are where he eats most. Tu knows the market vendors and they like him.
Mark has been resident in Hanoi since January 2002, eating on the streets here from day one. The blog 'Stickyrice' is one of the longest running foodblogs, with the first post dated May 2005. Named in The Times Online's 50 Best Foodblogs in 2009 (at #22), 'Stickyrice' has been featured on 'Gourmet's Diary of a Foodie' and as part of SBS's Featured Foodie series.
We specialise in Vietnam's streetfood and wet markets and have recently designed a series of itineraries for travellers and food enthusiaists. These tours have been carefully planned to give visitors to Vietnam an authentic taste of a country very attuned to the rhythms of food through the day and through the seasons. Together, we visit the street stalls and markets, sampling the produce and eating from their dishes and bowls, as well as cooking with the ingredients at home.
Our tours range from a one hour market familiarisation to a full-day eat-a-thon. The most popular tour is the 3 hour (8.30am-11.30pm) morning tour which kicks off at Hanoi's old East Gate, and includes a typical street market walk (Tu explains food practices, strange food items, some delicacies), a visit to ceremonial cake stalls, a special French dessert, the food sections of Hanoi's main Dong Xuan market, a streetfood alley for a noodle lunch, fruit stalls and coffee at an historic old quarter cafe.
A full day (9am-3pm) itinerary for foodie tragics (including more market visits and more street snacks and drinks) is also available. For those more in tune with the evenings (4pm-7pm), we also offer a tour of snacks, beers and street noodles, followed by streetside dessert. All tours are inclusive of all food/drinks and are conducted entirely on foot after Tu meets and greets at the hotel.
Tu and Mark can also customise tours for particular interests if given sufficient advance notice. For more information and/or to book a tour, email both Tu: email@example.com and Mark: firstname.lastname@example.org
Monday, 11 November 2013
During our street food tours, we inevitably end up at one of Hanoi's local coffee shops. It's a mandatory part of all of our itineraries, morning, noon or night. As Mark wrote recently on stickyrice, in Hanoi, coffee can be sipped "against a century old ochre wall, in a memorabilia-lined passageway a metre wide, up a spiral staircase overlooking a lake. Even a standard Hanoi cafe is perfectly good for watching the frenetic passing parade." So the experience is very much about ambience and cultural immersion.
But occasionally we strike a client who self identifies as a 'non-coffee drinker'. While we try not to openly show pity, such admissions can be disheartening because the whole coffee experience in Hanoi - old-world atmosphere aside - is quite fascinating. So, to such clients, we assume the deviant role of 'drug pusher', enticing them with details that stray from the deleterious and addictive nature of coffee and caffeine, away from the side-effects of sleeplessness and anxiety, away from the notion of "I like the aroma of coffee but not the taste."
We say words like sweetened condensed milk.
We say words like homemade frozen yoghurt.
We say words like "imagine liquid tiramisu".
We don't even mention the word coffee. We say "just try it "or "take a sip". Consequently, we've had feedback emails from certain clients saying that their Hanoi coffee experience was transformative. It made them see coffee in a brand new light. They are now drinking coffee back home.
Some would say what we're doing is evil.
Friday, 17 May 2013
There's no doubt visitors to Hanoi - especially the food-centric ones - notice the constant presence of edible stuff on their strolls around the Old Quarter and further afield. Street-side meat, bicycles laden with fruit and vegetables, simmering pots of stock on doorsteps, boiling kettles, tipping teapots, sacks overflowing with rice - the streets are where the food action is at, not hidden indoors in gigantic supermarket halls nor protected behind glass windows or cabinetry. One can reach out and touch food up and down the length of any Hanoi street.
But where there is food there are people. Hanoi is definitely not a western supermarket aisle, where even shouting blue murder is unlikely to bring customer service assistance. Butchers here constantly cast a tending eye over their cuts of meat, keeping up their appeal, shooing the odd fly, ready and poised with a sharp blade at hand. Fruit vendors spend their days pushing bikes and re-arranging their specimens into perfectly conical formation, meticulously examining longans or lychees for flaws. The watermelon vendor, with baskets bending from her shoulder-poles, is weightlifting - all day!
The bun cha fanner needs recognition, too. In 80%+ humidity on a 35c day, she is sweating before she waves the fan once in anger. Crouched before a tin tray white hot with coals, one hand turns a fat-spitting wire griller filled with pork while the other is keeping the wind up to the fire. A kind of gym session in a smoky furnace - there is a reason why she looks on the verge of tears. It's bloody hard and hot work, obviously unhealthy.
Maintaining Hanoi's image as one big bustling food shop relies on the physical toil of thousands of people, mostly women, all underpaid and under-appreciated.
Smile when you catch their eye.