Last March 18, my cousin Sandy Daza and I, together with our production crew, boarded Cebu Pacific flight 5J744 bound for Hanoi, Vietnam. The purpose of the trip was to tape two episodes for the first anniversary of our NET25 cooking show, Lutong Daza.
Our flight departed NAIA at 5:25 a.m. and we arrived in Hanoi at 8 a.m. local time (Vietnam is an hour behind us). The three-and-a-half-hour flight was uneventful, and I took advantage of the time to take a nap since I had to get up at 2 a.m. to be at the airport at 3 a.m. We breezed through immigration and collected our baggage in under 30 minutes. As soon as we stepped out of the airport, a cool breeze welcomed us. Hanoi’s weather was perfect at 18 degrees centigrade!
Thanks to our very efficient executive producer, Jennie Celdran, a private van was waiting to take us to our hotel located in the Old Quarter, which is 40 minutes away from the airport.
Because we got to our hotel before 10 a.m., our rooms were not yet ready. We asked the concierge to recommend a good pho restaurant nearby where we could have piping hot noodle soup. Luckily, there was a place that was just a five-minute walk from the hotel. We arrived, sat down on plastic stools with small round tables propped on the embankment, and ordered. In a few minutes, our beef pho was served.
Pho is a Vietnamese soup consisting of bone broth, rice noodles and thinly sliced meat served with bean sprouts, fresh herbs, lime, and chilies. The bowl had a generous serving of beef, broth, noodles and herbs, which perfectly complemented the cool, windy weather and immediately hit the spot.
We also ordered fresh orange juice from the juice stand right beside the restaurant and it was naturally sweet and refreshing. Because of the quality of our first meal in Vietnam, we agreed that our culinary adventure was on the right track and off to a great start.
Another pleasant surprise was our bill, which was close to a million dong, or roughly P2,400. Not bad for eight bowls of pho and eight glasses of fresh orange juice, right? We later learned that food in Hanoi is cheap, and that U.S. currency definitely goes a long way. With just a hundred US dollars, you are an instant millionaire in Vietnam, because $100 is equivalent to 2,400,000.00 dong.
By the time we got back to the hotel, our rooms were ready. I took a nap and a quick shower after. Later, we met Tutu, our food guide, and walked to Bun Cha Dac Kim, which is famous for its buncha. This is another famous Hanoi dish of grilled pork and caramelized pork belly slices served in a broth alongside rice noodles, fresh vegetables and herbs. To be honest, I preferred the beef pho I had earlier but was glad I tried this dish.
After our late lunch, we decided to explore the streets of the Old Quarter to walk off all the food we ate earlier. We stopped by Note coffee shop, which is located right next to Hoan Kiem Lake, regarded as one of the most popular tourist spots specially for those who love to stroll, be they locals or tourists. Note is colorful and quirky, thanks to the thousands of colored post-it notes with messages from travelers plastered on its walls. I was excited to try their egg coffee, while Sandy had a smoothie. The egg coffee was surprisingly delicious because it did not have the “lansa” flavor I expected from the eggs. Instead, it was rich and creamy.
For dinner, Jennie booked HA Motorcycle Food Tour to take us on a dinner food tour. The tour is roughly P2,500 per person and inclusive of the motorcycle, driver and food! This activity was so much fun that my son Paolo couldn’t contain his excitement since it was his first time to ride a motorcycle! We drove around the busy streets and stopped at a few famous landmarks like the Hanoi Opera House, St. Joseph’s Cathedral, Long Bien Bridge and Sofitel Legend Metropole.
The tour included six food stops. On our first stop, we tried the banh cuon, which is steamed rice wrapper with a filling of pork and vegetables like herbs and bean sprouts. A dipping sauce made of fish sauce completes this dish. The second stop was at a restaurant that served pho ga, which is a noodle soup dish with chicken, and the pho ga tron variant, which is chicken with rice noodles. I actually preferred the pho ga tron and wished I had more room in my tummy.
Note to self: If and when I visit Hanoi again, make sure to try pho ga tron! My favorite dish that evening was the chicken bar-b-q served with grilled bread with honey and butter spread, which was finger lickin’ good and unbelievably tasty, juicy and satisfying! The last stop on our food trip was Che 93, a famous dessert place. Our tour guide recommended the buco pandan with coconut ice cream and it was as delicious as he promised. Sandy, who loves durian, went for the durian with sticky rice which he also loved. After this, we still had two more food stops but we felt an impending post-dinner food coma and decided to call it a night.
(Next week, I will write about Day 2 of our food adventure. On June 10, please watch Lutong Daza Goes to Hanoi Part 1 on NET25 at 11 a.m.)2023-06-04T16:45:58Z dg43tfdfdgfd