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Hanoi the local way

After 4 weeks of constantly being on the move I made it to Hanoi. This will be the most North I will be able to go to make it across the border in time. My time in Vietnam comes to an end here, unfortunately without having seen Sapa. Still, I have plenty of pictures and stories to share and use the remaining day to gather myself together. Instead of sightseeing, I decide to place myself in cafés and restaurants to relax from the hectic rush of the past weeks. Plus, I want to finally write some articles. (I wonder how travel writers do this, you don’t know how time-consuming blogging is…)

By chance, I come to a tiny hostel in the old quarter that offers free city-tours hold by Vietnamese students. The students want to improve their English in this way. The tour included an authentic introduction to the Vietnamese coffee and tea culture. The idea was born. In addition to the tour I asked the students to give me some recommendation on which places to go to get an authentic food experience. So while writing these lines for example I sit in a café on a small green balcony with view to the Hoan Kiem Lake that is very popular with students.

Lemon tea

Two students, Mạnh and Thanh, pick me and my new Korean friend Mia up right at the hostel. We are walking through the old quarter and talking. At the St Joseph Cathedral, we see how French and Asian architectural styles are joined together. Exactly here, at a not at all striking corner, is our first break for the famous lemon tea. Lemon tea is the Vietnamese style of iced tea. It consists of nothing else than green tea, lemon juice, sugar and ice cubes (everything here has ice cubes) freshly mixed together. It is  d e l i c i o u s  so I order a second one straight away! Please don’t imagine it to taste like regular iced tea that they serve in Germany or the States, no, this tastes freeeesh and juicy!

Lemon tea the local way in an authentic place in Hanoi, Vietnam

The famous lemon tea

The café we’re in has a typical Vietnamese style: super small red and blue plastic chairs (which can be quickly taken off the pavement in case the police shows up) and not much else. The chairs are used as a table simultaneously.

Bar for lemon tea next to the St Joseph Cathedral

Bar for lemon tea next to the Cathedral

The iced tea place is on the corner of Nhà Chung and Street right next to the Cathedral (opposite side of Cong Caphe). The place is not on Google Maps, so I marked it for you in the map. One iced tea costs 10,000 Dong.
Best lemon tea in Vietnam. Authentic café with locals.

Be warned, it’s easy to overlook the place, it’s tiny and basic.

Then there is this other typical thing about Vietnamese. They never let you invite them for paying the bill! I always feel bad not really being able to give them something back after they make this great effort of showing us around and investing their personal time in this venture.

Gate/Portal of St Joseph Cathedral, Hanoi, Vietnam

Portal of St Joseph Cathedral

Entry to the Hoa Lo Prison, Hanoi, Vietnam

Hoa Lo Prison

Hoa Lo Prison in Hanoi, Vietnam

Hoa Lo Prison

Egg coffee

Our tour continues with a visit to the Hoa Lo prison, a cruel place in the Vietnamese history where political prisoners were held under French colonial rule. But back to the happy moments and trying out new things. Egg coffee is a stunning piece of creation! It was invented due to a lack of fresh milk, so the idea arose to substitute egg for milk. In this context I’d like to inform you that I normally never drink coffee – in fact my heartbeat doubles when drinking it. But the Vietnamese version is just different. The stiffly beaten, creamy mixture of egg and milk was a discovery I was longing for since day 1 of my travels! I heard someone describe the taste as “liquid tiramisu”, I think that’s about it! My sweet tooth finally got pleased.

Hot Egg Coffee at Cafe Dinh, Hanoi , Vietnam

The coffee is served hot or cold depending on your taste. I preferred the hot version, just because it was a bit creamier. The coffee is made from egg yolks, condensed milk, sugar and Robusta coffee. Egg yolk, sugar and milk are beaten and heated, then poured in a cup together with the coffee. As it’s only the quantity of an Espresso it may have had not that strong effect on me. Plus, my mind needed that sugary, raw doughy taste!!

The credits for creating my favorite drink allegedly go to the owner of Café Giang, that we visited in the course of our tour. Here, the cup of coffee is served inside a bowl of hot water to retain its temperature.

Café Giang

Egg coffee (cà phê trứng) for 25,000 Dong.

Café Dinh is a café that is very popular with students and used as a meeting point for young Vietnamese. The interior is old but has its own flair. The coffee here is said to be the cheapest in town. The place is always packed, but surprisingly I had the chance to sit on the small green balcony overlooking the Hoan-Kiem-Lake. (Don’t expect this luxury.) You can also try their yoghurt coffee (pic above)!
In comparison their egg coffee was tasty but not as creamy and hot, so tastewise I would go to Café Giang.

Café

Egg coffee (cà phê trứng) for 17,000 Dong. Yoghurt coffee (sữa chua cà phê) for 15,000 Dong.

Hot Egg Coffee at Cafe Dinh,

Pho

Unfortunately our tour ended with the sweet taste of egg coffee in my mouth. But this was not yet the end of my culinary exploration in Hanoi. As I mentioned before I had asked the students for some recommendations. These are limited to the area of the old quarter, so all in walking distance from my hostel.

I’m sure you’ve heard of Pho. I ate it for my first time in a Vietnamese restaurant in Chinatown in Montreal (still actually one of the best pho I’ve eaten). It’s a noodle soup rich in flavour. Pho Bo for example is a soup cooked with beef bones and spices like ginger, black cardamom and star anis for hours, shallots and rice-noodles added freshly before serving. The taste strongly depends on the region. I preferred the pho of Saigon which is a bit sweeter and richer in spices (I always believe to taste cinnamon).

king-of-pho

Pho Thin looks like an original, local restaurant. The students described it to me as the “king of pho”. Due to it’s proximity to the city center and position right next to the lake, I found it slighty expensive.

The next day around 3pm I wanted to try my next restaurant. Number 2 on the list was closed but number 3 was supposed to be open according to Google Maps. The outer appearane of the restaurant was really appealing — with big pieces of beef hanging in the entrance that were already cooked and a stove with big pots over the fire in which more beef simmered. Unfortunately the chef was just preparring the pho for dinner (I said it takes hours to cook the soup…) and there was no soup served at this hour. Note to myself: Come here after 5.30pm.

Pho Bat Dan
49 Bat Dan

Number 2 on the student’s list was Pho Ly Quoc. It has really good reviews and seems like a good choice. Unfortunately time did not allow me to come here. It is only opened in the evening. If you try it, please let me know in the comments how you liked it!

Pho Ly Quoc
10 Ly Quoc Su

Accomodation

If you’re also interested in the tour I’m going to write down the name of the organiser here, which was in my case the GA Hostel. This hostel is situated quite central in the old quarter, hidden in a small back street along Hang Bac street. The hostel has 20 beds with 6 bathrooms. The breakfast consists of toasted bread, egg (fried yourself or boiled), butter, jelly, syrup, tomatoes, cucumbers, bananas and melon.With it goes tea or juice. The stuff is super friendly(!) and speaks really good English. They offer day tours as well as multiple-days tours. For busses you might get a cheaper price outside. Downstairs in the common area can be found many books, two guitars and offers for motorbike sells.

GA Hostel

6$ for a dorm bed, including breakfast.

Ga Hostel, Hang Bac Street, Hanoi

Breakfast time at GA Hostel

Put together, I hope this article could interest you to explore the culinary gems of Hanoi by yourself! If it did, please let me know your experiences.
Maybe you have already been to Hanoi and you have recommendation for other places or even other dishes as well? Feel free to share them below in the comments!

Grußwort

 

** The review is based on a complimentary stay at GA Hostel. **
I’m not direct affiliated with the hostel. All opinions are, of course, my own
.

 

This was…Hanoi - a culinary exploration with egg coffee, lemon tea and phopin-it-button… because sharing is caring!

 

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