Ten months ago, a badminton friend announced to our Viber group that Cebu Pacific had a budget fare to Hanoi, Vietnam. Twenty-two of us signed up.
We arrived at the airport around 2 a.m. and at the centrally located Meracus Hotel an hour later. I had inquired from Maricris Encarnacion what to do here and she sent me a list.
The first lunch was in a restaurant called Cha Ca Thang Long. On the table was a burner. Then came the dry thin rice noodles, a huge bowl of dill and spring onions, chili, a bowl of peanuts, shredded wansoy, thin slices of leeks, and a sweet patis sauce on the side.
The food attendants lit the burner and set a pan of cooked fish on top. They put the fish to the side and dumped the mint mixture in the middle and sautéed that.
To assemble all these, we put a lump of rice noodle in the bowl, added chili, peanuts, wansoy, and spring onions. We drizzled some patis sauce and topped that with the turmeric-cooked fish filet and munched away.
The dish was new, healthy and unique, and it was delicious! And this was just our first meal.
That evening, we were out looking for crab spring rolls and shrimp pancakes. Our student guide took us to where we feasted on those appetizers. Because we over-ordered, we skipped dinner.
The next morning, the group left for Halong Bay, but I stayed behind. I went shopping. A vendor told me where to find a good version of this Hanoi specialty, bun cha.
In the restaurant, there was a man sandwiching marinated meat between two screens and barbecuing them. As we sat down, we were handed a huge bowl of greens, a lump of rice noodles each, a bowl with the grilled meats with a mildly sweet broth infused with vinegar and patis.
As I watched the guy beside me eat this, I got a spoonful of meat. I added rice noodles and with broth, I ate away. I gathered a handful of greens, rolled them, dipped them in the soup and ate. It was healthy, delicious, new and unique. This I will come back for.
My frustration was finding a decent bahn mi, another Vietnamese sandwich. I tried two but both failed. There was no butter and seasoning sauce in the first, and no wansoy, seasoning sauce and chili in the second.