Love, Scooters, and Bun Cha
I don’t think Hanoi would come to mind at the top of many Americans’ list of must-see destinations, but strangely, I had an incredible time visiting there. It was a little unexplainable, really, to have such fun exploring a city in which my overriding previous association with it was the horrors of the Vietnam War. When we told our parents that we were leaving Cambodia and then heading to Hanoi, they both found it a little bit incredible that we were traveling in places they knew mostly from war. “I guess it would be like if you had kids, and thirty years from now they told you they traipsing around in Baghdad” Miranda’s mom Jessica said.

But there is something unexpectedly exciting and warm about Hanoi – and I’m not just talking about the warm temperature (which was in fact scorching and so humid that sweat pellets formed on our brows at the mere thought of going outside). The local economy is booming right now and apparently has been on a tear ever since the country decided to open up trade in the 1990s. But what attracted me most about the city was an infectious energy and happiness I noticed nearly everywhere I looked. We were staying near the “Old Quarter,” which is comprised of about 30-40 charming little streets with beautiful old Vietnamese buildings, literally overflowing with restaurants, beer hoi breweries, and more shops than I could count. At night, the streets seemed full of young couples cruising on motorbikes, young girls snuggling up to their husbands or boyfriends, zipping through the city joy riding. In the interest of balanced reporting, Miranda didn’t quite have the same perspective as I did. She suggested that I might be projecting my own romantic mood (from our travels) onto the young couples. Also, presumably it’s safer to ride on the back of a motorcycle with your arms snugly around the driver’s waist, so as not to fall off.

Ok, so perhaps the roads at night were not 100% full of young lovers cruising dreamy-eyed on shiny new red motorbikes, but we both agreed that the city was unusually energetic. One aspect of the city that stood out in particular was the food. Hundreds of little local restaurants lined the narrow streets of the Old Quarter, with tiny toddler-sized plastic chairs and tables spilling out onto the sidewalks. The most famous of these local foods is the wonderfully delicious “pho bo,” which is a slow-cooked beef soup served with the softest, fresh rice noodles you can imagine. Pho is a specialty of Hanoi, and its aroma can tempt you beginning early in the morning and late into the evening. While pho might be the most well known food of Hanoi, our undisputed favorite local dish was a scrumptious, mouth-watering Vietnamese pork barbecue dish (mmm, barbecue, how we miss thee!) called “Bun Cha.” It’s hard to describe the wonders of the delectable Bun Cha – the crunchy and flavorful pork is served with fresh vermicelli noodles, a tasty peanut sauce, fresh herbs and a tangy fish sauce with pickled vegetables. I don’t know if the description conveys how good it is, but trust me… you would love it.

We’ve learned to cook a few of these dishes and maybe we will even be able to make a passable rendition for you to try sometime Winking