Good morning Vietnam!

posted on: Friday, 30 August 2013

Riding around on a Xe Om in Hanoi's Old Quarter

Xin chao! Ten toi la Phoebe. Toi se di du lich o Hanoi!*

Five years ago I was a regular Australian girl working in the Public Service. Looking for a bit more excitement, I applied for an Australian Government program to work in Hanoi for a year. And even though there was general laughter when I announced my intentions and a family member famously remarked that they'd eat their hat if I got the position, I was selected and off to Vietnam I travelled.

For the first two weeks I was in Hanoi I was struck by the fear that I wouldn't last the year. When you first arrive there there is no doubt about it, Hanoi is an assault on the senses: it's mercilessly humid, there are constant horns beeping from thousands of motorbikes, the buildings appear grimy and there's a huge language barrier. Crossing the road is literally fraught with danger. And buying food! You can't just pop down to the supermarket and pick up some groceries. You have to bargain and negotiate on the price of Every. Single. Item. It’s exhausting. 

Luckily, things got a lot better. Learning Vietnamese opened up a whole new world to me and the little gems started appearing. Locals now invited me to their homes, showed me how to bargain and argued over giving me the best tips for where to buy the freshest produce. I started going on early morning wanderings through the local markets and built up a little catalogue of wonderful vendors.  

And it is all about having the right vendor. I bought steaming hot chicken pho off a granny in the Old Quarter. A lady in the markets saved me the ripest green mangoes and lychees. Breakfast's were sorted with the lady who made eggs with chives on a crusty baguette outside her house. And I stumbled across the best street for Vietnamese desserts: strawberries over crushed ice with a dash of condensed milk.

After I'd been living in Hanoi for half a year, one of the local Vietnamese grannies unexpectedly chastised a fruit vendor for charging me 2,000 VND for bananas rather than 1,000 VND. Didn't they know I was a local? While the granny saved me around 5 cents, her fierce defence of my local status convinced me that I should share my street food picks more widely. Why not? I have the seal of approval from one of the toughest authorities on authentic Vietnamese you’ll ever find!

*What, you can't read Vietnamese? I'm going to Hanoi next week!

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