It is freezing in Hanoi right now, all thing being relative. My coworkers shudder in furry coats, doors keep closing everywhere to keep the draft at bay, and let me tell you – SOUP is on the menu, as if it ever stops being in Southeast Asia but you know. Continue reading
I first tasted genuine street food in Taipei. Some towering psychedelic sundae of shaved ice, technicolour jellies, candied strange fruit pieces, condensed milk and dark sugar syrup drizzled on top; all frozen and chewy and rapidly melting into a fascinating soup. And I fell in love. It might have been sharing it with good friends with thick accents, talking Buddhism on a grassy corner stained saffron with streetlights, or it might have been listening to an impromptu guitarist sing romantic ballads in Mandarin Chinese for all the Taiwanese couples gathered round with their geometric hair and shy appropriateness. It might just have been the sugar content, and the plastic spoons & the plasticky-er container, or the thrill factor of even obtaining it, but suffice it to say – from that moment on, I knew I had to live where this stuff was obtainable. And not just shaved ice. Street food.
Hanoi’s street food is inescapable. It’s not just a place to eat or a kind of business, but the pulsating soul of this city, and it’s for this reason more than maybe anything else, that I can start to call this crazy place home. Granted, I can’t eat it every meal of the day (indigestion my, friends, and carb/oil overload), but if I go too long without it I begin to crave the sound of the sitting women snipping bun noodles from their huge flat woven baskets, the cicada snap of sizzling mysterious compressed pork loaves getting swished around in oil, the blare of motorbike horns punctuating the clack of chopsticks and the conversation of the working class all around.
I mean, what’s the other option? Yes, the refrain is that home-cooked food is soooo much better than eating out, but 50% of the time, that means making a PB&J cracker sandwiches, drinking watery Hanoi vodka and watching Vietnamese cable … while still knowing that 8 floors down and 3 feet to the left of my apartment is a place that serves whole black chicken (Canh gà hầm thuốc bắc) with medicinal herbs – head included, and lotus seeds, and tea broth, and shocked dining companions, and eyeballs, and laughing.
So this is my evolving map of the street eats in Hanoi. I haven’t tried everything on it, but every spot seems worth a check-out, and every one I *have* been to has been a solid place to sit and observe surroundings while soaking in the refractive elements of the broth in front of you. Chicken heads usually not included.
2. Any of the Moroccan pastries from Pâtisserie Le Ryad
Where: Le Ryad (Center of the Jean-Talon market, between the two ATMS)
3. Egg Custard Tart
Where: Rôtisserie Piri Piri (415 Avenue du Mont-Royal Est, (514) 504-6464)
4. Mini Chocolate Babka
Where: Cheskie’s (359 Bernard West)
5. Custard Cornetti
Where: La Cornetteria (6528 St Laurent)
Where: Dragon Beard Candy (52 Rue de la Gauchetière West)
7. Macaron de Reglisses // Licorice
Where: Boutique Point G (1266 Mont-Royal Est)
8. Kouign-Amann from Au Kouign-Amann
Where: Au Kouign-Amann (322 Avenue du Mont-Royal Est. 514-845-8813)
9. Tart au Citron // Lemon Meringue
Where: Fous Desserts (809 Laurier Avenue East)
10. Chocolate-Cherry Macaron
Where: Cerise sur le Gateaux (107 Fairmount Avenue West) (closed)
And… honourable mention – Mango Gelato & Matcha Ice Cream from Kem Coba
Not technically a baked good, but you’d be missing out if you skipped this or any of their other flavours!
Where: Kem Coba (60 Avenue Fairmount Ouest)
A long time ago, I had the nicest breakfast I’ve ever had while eating out in Montreal. I guess these things are a matter of taste, and for such meal with such clear delineations (depending on your location), it can run the gamut of very different styles. Some people go for classic fry-ups – eggs, pancakes, porkmeats, cheese, potatoes, and whincy awful fruit cups. Some prefer those old ideas reinvented in complex and delighting ways with accompanyingly more involved tabs at the end of the meal. Some like to stuff themselves. Some are happy with a bit of toast and jam and tea. For myself, I like to linger and use my fingers in the morning. Eggs are always welcome, as is a vegetarian meal – something simple, but substantial and naturally rich. I suppose this is somewhat French or Mediterranean in personality, and if this is your kind of brunch, I highly highly recommend Byblos Le Petit Café at 1499 Laurier Est.
For one, it’s affordable. And who wants sticker shock before any kind of caffeine has set in? No, it’s relaxing to peruse the menu and get excited about all the sure-to-be-just-exotic-enough options that are perfect for sharing around the table. It was a long time ago so I don’t remember the exact prices, but everything you see here in this post might have come to less than 23$, and we were splurging on extras like fresh juice and pastries.
For second, it’s delicious. It’s obvious that they put care into their food, offering a dizzying 25 different homemade preserves to enjoy with the fresh bread basket bursting with lovely carbs like pitas, wholemeal bread and sesame wedges. We chose a roseflower and orange marmalade and it was tops. I wish even there was a way to order a sample platter of all the preserves, because they all sounded really special.
The plate of olives, feta, herbs (mint, coriander and dill!), walnuts and pistachios was perfect. Nothing touched, just quality ingredients full of flavour and perfect for dipping sleepy fingers into and combining with everything else on the table. That particular breakfast item comes with a bowl of house-made halvah, softer and sweeter than what I’m used to (rich!), but very fresh and loaded with toasted sesame taste.
The omelette was very different from most you might find – incredibly moist, NOT overcooked, and tasting, of, well, egg. You might wonder why that’s special. Well, have you noticed how most omelettes taste like browned bits and cheeses and butter and arrive rubbery and cold? I like them this way. Warm, oozing, ethereal shmears flecked with blushing tomato, mmmm.
Finally, not to gush (ok, I’m gushing, and it’s worth it, I swears), Byblos, for some reason, has the BEST DAMNED CROISSANT I’VE EVER EATEN, in a bakery, restaurant or otherwise. Blistered shattering gossamer whorls of butterfat pastry – it arrived hot to the touch and disappeared before cooling off, eaten unadorned and melting on the tongue. I don’t even like croissants, normally (blasphemy, I know), but maybe I just haven’t had enough good ones, like this. So that’s my favourite breakfast in this city.
The tea is also sharply minty and comes with a mosaic of varied sugar-nuggets, nibbly rock candies in their own right. It’s a large enough space to accommodate any kind of party, and sunny throughout. I love Byblos! I’ll miss it.
BONUS! A little note about Iranian breakfast (information garnered from Wikipedia, natch): the traditional meal is called either sobhāneh (Persian: صُبحانِه) or nāshtāyi (Persian: ناشتايى). It usually comes with a variety of flatbreads, butter, Tabrizi white cheese/paneer, feta cheese, whipped cream sweetened with honey (sarshir), and a variety of fruit jams and spreads. This is what we had! Another popular traditional breakfast dish is a complex wheatmeal & lentil porridge served with shredded lamb or turkey, called haleem. Byblos indeed does offer a simplified version of haleem in the mornings, which I only wish I’d had the stomach-room at the time to try, because it sounds SO much like my thing, being a congee-girl and all, but alas that will have to wait for the next trip. I hear it’s good there, though.
tchotchke – (Yiddish) an inexpensive showy trinketOrigin:
1965–70, Americanism ; < Yiddish tshatshke < Polish czaczko bibelot, knickknack
(now obsolete; compare modern cacko withsame sense, orig. dial.); of expressive orig.