Insider Market Tour

Trip Start Jul 21, 2009
Trip End Jul 21, 2010

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Flag of Vietnam  , Ha Nội,
Friday, September 25, 2009

Vietnamese are morning people, no doubt about it (just like Mike)!
This morning we got up a little after 5 am in order
to make it over to Lenin Park (marked by a giant statue of the
former Soviet leader) where many
Hanoi Vietnamese congregate in order to exercise. Though we read
about this spectacle in our guide book, we were pleasantly impressed
by the amount of men and women (mostly elderly and middle-aged)
engaged in activities such as badminton, old school calisthenics
stretching, tai chi aerobics, long range hackey sac, walking, and
light jogging! Needless to say, we were intrigued by such a
wonderfully socialist and social event!

We did laps around Lenin Park taking in the view and
witnessing Hanoi waking up. While running we couldn't help but
think that some of these men and women who looked around 60
could have actually been soldiers during what the Vietnamese
obviously call the “American War.” And some of the
Vietnamese who are in their 30s and 40s could easily be children of
American soldiers. No looks of animosity from anyone – in fact we
got approving stares from other exercisers. Afterwards, we walked
over to the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum where the former North Vietnamese
leader is entombed, but discovered it is closed on Fridays so we will
check that out tomorrow.

Market/tour of Hanoi – without a doubt, one of the most
memorable tours we have been on! Daniel Hoyer, the expat
who runs My Burger is in fact a chef and restauranteur from New Mexico
and has most recently
published a cookbook of Vietnamese cooking. Therefore, we knew we
were in for quite an adventure. The day started off with getting on
the motorbike – Mike road on the back seat of Daniel's and I rode
on the backseat of Huyen (a cook at Daniel's restaurant). It was so
much fun dodging and weaving throughout traffic and both Daniel and
Nguyen were great drivers – very safe – and we're glad that we
didn't have to drive ourselves around.

Here's the lesson of the day: women run Vietnam. Truly. They do
 everything. We noticed that ourselves after just a day and
Daniel confirmed it. The restaurants, stores, small shops etc. are
run by women. There might be a guy who is serving you the
food but it is the woman that you hand your money to. I LOVE IT!
Daniel says that “women do the
work the men sit around smoking and drinking talking about doing
work.” Now that's not all men – there are men who work – the
taxi drivers and the cyclo drivers are all men from what we can tell.
But throughout the day you see large numbers of men sitting and
smoking and drinking coffee and really not doing much, while the
women are hauling heavy loads, counting the money, and making the
shop or restaurant presentable.

Anyways back tothe market – walking around we saw and tried many different fruits
including dragonfruit (very beautiful but not a lot of taste). The
women were funny – often we would stand in front of a vendor's
section while Daniel and Huyen explained something. Sometimes the
women would start yelling, basically saying keep moving because
you're not buying anything! Huyen would say something or we would
just move to the side. We never knew there were so many different
types of rice! Here's some other interesting facts: Vietnam is the
second largest coffee exporter and what blew Mike away – the
Vietnamese like their meat a certain texture: a little bit more chewy
so they prefer the parts of meat like the tendon, while the
tenderloin you can get for very cheap. Funny!

Most vendors live
above their shop – and it's good that there is little commute time
to work because the market is an all day every day process. The
market opens around 5am – which means the vendors have to have all
of their beautiful displays completed and all of their produce bought
(from the big wholesalers) before 5am. It gets slow around 10am and
that's when you start to see people taking naps, eating, reading the
paper etc. and then it will start going again late afternoon until
closing around 8 or 9 pm. And then the day begins again. It sounds
exhausting – and they definitely work hard but it's nice to know
that they aren't busting their butt straight for 18 hours. There is
a certain rhythm to the day.

The other cool
thing about Vietnamese markets is that they are in sections. For
example, one street is dedicated to shoes – there are about 10
shops all selling shoes – and the funny thing is there isn't a lot
of diversity. It's not like one shop just sells athletic shoes while
the other shop sells women's dress shoes. All of them pretty much
sell the same thing. Somehow it works it though. So far we have
discovered the shoe street, the toy street, the jewelery street, and
the cafe street (we love that one the best). Vietnamese coffee is
delicious – the secret ingredient: condensed milk in the coffee.
I'm absolutely addicted!

For the most part
all the seafood in the market is fresh – as in alive – they do
not like their seafood already dead so it's fun to see all the fish
flopping around and the crabs moving in the buckets. So as were
walking we're noticing some cool stuff: turtles, crabs wrapped up in
banana leaves so they don't pinch and that's when we see it –
unmistakable – it's a small dog roasted. It reminds us of the
roasted pig in Bali – the dog's skin is a beautiful color – like
perfectly roasted. We learn that they don't put them on spits and
roast them like pigs. Instead they are placed in the oven to get
that crispy skin. No, we didn't try it and we don't plan to. And
they don't have dog everyday – it's a delicacy that will either be
served for special ceremonies or at fancy restaurants because it's an
expensive dish. But isn't it good to know that they treat Fido with
delicate care when they decide to eat him!

I don't think
you've experienced Vietnam until you've been on a motorbike or xe om
(or motorbai) in the pouring rain. We did – and actually it was a
lot of fun! After getting drenched we went to an extremely local bun
chao stall run by two sisters who were loads of fun – lots of
attitude! They tell Daniel he is only the second Westerner to ever
eat at their place (located in an unmarked alley off the main road).
And they can do some mean grilled beef (so tender!). Bun chau is
simple: you are given a bowl of perfect broth with warm beef pieces
that were just cooked on a skewer, and another bowl with a fistful of
rice noodles to dip into the beef broth. You also add chilies (fresh
and dry to your taste), as well as some fresh veggies and herbs into
the bowl and voila--instant goodness! We had a great time eating a
couple of bowls with the local crew (no one knew English) and after
the rain let up we left and gave up our stools next to the goodness
for the next wave.

After the tour we
went back with Daniel and Huyen to their restaurant and chatted more
about Vietnam and basically started planning our next 2 weeks in
Vietnam and Cambodia. By now we know the whole staff including Lai's
precocious five year old Ming – who as you can tell by the pictures
is quite a ham! We were graciously invited to stay to have dinner
with the staff and the family in the back room and none of the food
we ate was on the menu. Simple, but delicious – rice, watercress
vegetables steamed, and pieces of pate (Vietnamese style). Although
it looked a bit scary in the market – the sausage pate was
delicious! So glad we tried it!

Exhausted from the
day we slowly walked back to our hotel marveling at our good luck to
meet such good people and how much of “the real” Ha Noi that we
were able to see.

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