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Monday, June 25, 2007


Eating in Hanoi

Most people in Hanoi seem to eat on the footpath on small tables that might be used in a western kindergarten. I was taken to such a restaurant for dinner one night. The tables were cramped together. We had to squeeze between the other diners to get to our table.

I've always enjoyed Vietnamese food that I've eaten in Australia. And the food from Vietnamese restaurants in Thailand has also been enjoyable. I realize we in the west don't get the real thing in our home country when it comes to Asian foods. It's adapted to suit our taste buds. So, I'm not too surprised to find that food here is at times different from what I've eaten in the past. But my Vietnamese friends agree with my main complaint that it can often be too salty and too oily.

I like to eat where the locals eat. Looking for somewhere for lunch one day I found a restaurant that was fairly crowded with Vietnamese. It had tables and chairs inside and they were full size. This probably adds a few dong to the price of the meal but I don't mind. Out the front there was a menu in English. You can't look at such a menu without having someone come out and hover to encourage you inside. They had chicken and cashews. I pointed to it and said, 'Does this come with rice?'

'Yes rice,' he answered.

I ordered it and found myself a free table. When the meal came I was quite disappointed. Most of the pieces of chicken were straight chicken fat. And the cashews...well, they weren't cashews at all. They were peanuts and I'm allergic to peanuts. I called the waitress over. I pointed to the peanuts. 'What are these?'

She smiled, went and got the menu and pointed to the item where it said, 'chicken and cashews'.

'No,' I told her. 'These are not cashews. These are peanuts. If I eat them I will get sick.'

She kept smiling and said nothing. How much she understood I do not know.

When I got my bill, to add insult to injury, they charged me extra for the rice. I accept that this was a communication problem but it did not help to allay my disgust with the place. There were a couple of other westerners contemplating the menu. I waved to them and beckoned them over. 'I don't recommend this place,' I said. They quietly left.

Before I left I told the waitress I would give her a correct translation of what they served me. I wrote on a piece of paper they gave me, 'Chicken fat and peanuts'. I hope they get around to updating their menu soon.

At another restaurant I was given a mixed plate that included silkworm larvae. No, I didn't eat them.

But it's not all bad. For breakfast I usually go to the market around the corner from my hotel, sit on a kindergarten stool among the Vietnamese and eat noodles with green veges. I never see another westerner there.

I am happy to report that I can also buy fresh lichees at less than A40 cents a kilo. I'm told I should be able to do better than that. There must be something wrong with my bargaining powers. That's as low as they'll go for me.

Fresh fruit juices here are great. At one cafe I buy a mix of mango and custard apple. I'm fussy about additives in my juices. They commonly add milk and sugar but I can report from the texture and flavour that I judge this to be 100% fruit. Delicious. After a morning of walking and photography I found a place where I could buy cool 100% durian juice. Once again, delicious. Each of these cost less than $A1—a bargain.

And for lunch and dinner I must admit I'm now usually eating in restaurants frequented by at least one or two other westerners.

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