Whenever people think of Southeast Asia, they think of beaches, flowers, bad traffic jams and hot weather all year around. As a born-and-bred Singaporean, I can vouch for the hot weather. Beaches, flowers and bad traffic jams? Definitely not in the modern metropolis that is my home city. But stereotypes have a way of persisting – whether they are real or not.
So imagine my surprise when I heard that Hanoi, Vietnam’s capital city actually has four seasons. Who would have thought? A mere three hour plane journey away from Singapore and a whole new world was waiting for me. This trip has been long overdue. Like seriously long overdue.
I was no longer a traveller in search of adventure, but a big old tree with roots that are firmly planted in the ground. I won’t lie – I thoroughly enjoyed my wayfaring days, but there’s a part of me that had always longed to be back home. Having said that, my itchy feet still need a little scratching now and then.
I got off the plane last night and passed out in my hotel room. I was tired. So tired that I didn’t realise how exhausted I was till I couldn’t find the strength to even get up and go get dinner. Good thing I wasn’t hungry or in the mood to eat.
When I woke up the next morning, it was already 8am.
Good morning, Hanoi.
And like the world’s worst well-travelled traveller, I had no plan and no itinerary. I didn’t even know the exchange rate from Dong to Dollar. I spent the morning doing some research and decided on a food tour in an open-air jeep from the Soviet Era.
What kind of crazy traveller decides to go on a food tour in a jeep when it’s raining and cold outside? Yes. It’s yours truly. And I hadn’t even brought a winter jacket. Good thing the guide Alex was nice enough to lend me his for the duration of the tour.
Southeast Asia is every food lover’s dream. And we’re not talking about the fancy Michelin Star stuff that gets food snobs salivating. In Southeast Asia, it’s all about the food that your mama made in her kitchen and decided to sell to anyone that happened to be passing by. And boy did mama prepare a feast to tickle all of your senses.
Fresh herbs packed with flavour with each bite. If you’re not a fan of coriander, please beware. It’s in just about everything out here. Simple rice noodles in all its varieties – with soups, dry and even fried. I tried my very first banana flower salad. If I didn’t know any better, I’d say it looked like red onions. It tastes pretty different, though.
And of course, share it. Share it all. It’s how we get to tickle our tastebuds with a variety of different dishes and still have room for more. One of the things I’ve always loved about Vietnamese food is how light it is. None of that overtly greasy stuff that gets you full and unable to swallow another bite.
I even tried egg coffee. (It was too late for the coffee so I had it with Baileys instead). It reminded me of eggnog. Kind of the thing that Americans would have for Christmas. Except it’s perfectly fine to have it any time of the year.
And when you’ve had enough of the food, you can always wander through the market to check out the places where the produce is sold – and this includes both vegetarian and non-vegetarian. I’m no stranger to open air markets with livestock, but the smell still gets to me.
I ended my day with a manicure. I decided on the colour turquoise. I’m saving the pedicure for tomorrow.
Till next time, keep those bellies full.