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Hello, dear readers, and welcome to a very special Hanoi edition of the newsletter! I’ve been in Vietnam for the last few days, eating and motor-biking and drinking cheap beer to my heart’s content while on assignment for R&K and Explore Parts Unknown. Despite the fact that it was about one billion percent humidity before it began storming later in the week, I’ve loved every second of exploring the city.
From the moment I climbed onto the back of a scooter weighed down by a 3-year-old, her father, his teen sister, and their dog, I knew I’d found the place for me. Who doesn’t want to weave in and out of traffic with a beloved family pet tucked behind the wheel?
And my god, the food. The FOOD. There was fragrant pho for breakfast, sweet and savory with hints of star anise, garnished with generous squeezes of lime juice and slices of red chili and studded with thin slices of rare beef. For lunch, perhaps, a banh mi: the shatteringly crisp crust of the bread giving way to the tang of pickled vegetables accenting the rich umami of paté. For a pick-me-up after this embarrassment of carb riches, I’d turn to the city’s egg coffee, an ingenious concoction of robusta coffee and aggressively whipped raw egg that tastes like the richest cappuccino you can imagine.
But let’s not get too distracted by the greatest hits. See that picture up there at the beginning of this thing? That’s a pan full of chả cá, a Hanoian dish of fish flavored with turmeric, galangal, and deeply fermented shrimp paste, then grilled until almost cooked through. Afterward, it’s cooked again table-side; this one was lightly fried in lard and generous handfuls of dill and spring onion. That’s right, it was marinated, grilled on a bed of fresh herbs, and then cooked in pig fat. Ahhhhhhhh! The creator of this meal-of-my-dreams was Chef Hải at Hang Son 1871, a restaurant named for the street and year on which and in which chả cá was created. He gave me some tips on making the dish (hint: LARD) and told me about its role in the nation’s fight for independence. More on that soon.
For our final evening, we indulged in a blow-out evening of southern Vietnamese fare at the incomparable Hem Quan, feasting on chicken fried in fish sauce and Vietnamese hot pot that was sour, salty, herbal, and entirely addictive.
If you can’t be in Vietnam this week, at least follow the pho trail on Instagram, and perhaps this other gal eating her way around Hanoi. Let’s re-visit this James Beard award-winning piece on revenge and Vietnam’s dog meat industry, The Dog Thief Killings. Let’s read this extremely comprehensive guide to banh mi, the sandwich that ate the world. Let’s read an interview with Anthony Bourdain about eating bun cha with President Barack Obama! We had our own bowl of bun cha this week, and I can see how it would induce the famed and powerful to sit on tiny plastic stools for an evening.
That’s it for this week! See you next week for more of the best in food, politics, and travel from around the web. Tweet me stories you want to see here @caraparks.