Hanoi is undeniably one of the most vibrant and beautiful cities in Vietnam and should not be missed in any Vietnam tour. However, Hanoi has way more than that to offer. Dig a little further underneath the surface and you will find that festivals, culinary culture, and architecture run deep. Hanoi’s residents are more open now than they once were and most of them are eager to share and help, making one’s cultural tour to the city easier than ever.
Align your visit with the mid-autumn Festival
Moon cake (Source: Internet)
The second most important celebration in Vietnam, the annual Mid-Autumn Festival takes place on one day every autumn. It hosts daily and nightly events and feasts all around the city in museums, schools, kindergartens, hotels, and even in the historic Old Quarter. As the city center tends to get cramped on the night of the festival, venture a little farther to the Vietnam Ethnological Museum where you can see everything from a Lion Dance, folk games and join in the making of Moon Cakes. This festival means a lot to young children as they get to dress up to be their favorite figures and take part in feasts thrown just for them with sweets, fruits and games. Besides, apart from this festive event, autumn is the best time to travel to Hanoi as the suffocating heat is long gone and the chance of rain is slim.
Wander around the Old Quarter on a Vietnam culinary tour
Pho bo (beef noodle soup) (Source: Internet)
helloVietnam thinks that no Vietnam cultural tour can be complete without the foods, and Hanoi is the country’s gastronomical capital. As Vietnamese people are famous for their knack to turn humble ingredients into something spectacular, no sophisticated restaurant can rival the street vendors and small eateries in making flavorful and mouth-watering dishes. For a sure sign of a good place to eat, keep an eye open for a doorway full of steam and a crowd of people on knee-high plastic stools eagerly tucking in their servings.
It is no exaggeration that the chief of the country’s culinary culture can be tasted in a bowl of pho-the street food at the heart of Vietnam. Each bowl of this noodle soup is the perfect balance of spices, herbs, meat and no ingredient or flavor is allowed to be dominant over others. Pho comes in a number of varieties, which, confusingly are known under an even larger variety of names. However, if you are short of time, opt for a bowl of pho bo or beef noddle soup.
Catch a show at Thang Long Water Puppet Theater
Water puppets (Source: Internet)
Experience a living piece of Vietnamese folklore with the performance at Thang Long Puppet Theater. If you think there is nothing new in puppetry or expect a Punch and Judy kind of show, you should recalibrate your expectations.
The show is staged on a large pool with a Vietnamese traditional orchestra playing throughout. The sculpted, brightly colored wooden puppets act out tales from Vietnamese folklore against the hunting sound of the traditional music. The large puppets are fitted with floats and a system of underwater rods and wires; which enable them to perform highly complicated movements. Spitting fire dragons, jumping fish, and dancing warriors are what to expect in a show here. Some even say water puppetry is one of the most exciting experiences on their Vietnam cultural tours.
Journey to Ma May ancient house
Ma May heritage house (Source: Internet)
Dating back to the 19th century when Vietnam was still under the French control, this heritage house is a prime example of how buildings in Vietnam once were, and the architecture that used to prevail in the Old Quarter.
The narrow frontage is completely open to the street to allow plenty of space for displaying goods. Most of the rooms in the house are open on three sides to ensure natural ventilation and visual connection with the small garden. The structure of the house reflects a common belief in Vietnamese culture that a building should be narrow in front and get larger back behind to ensure good luck for the inhabitants.
Take a sip of Vietnamese egg coffee
Ca phe trung (egg coffee) (Source: Internet)
A milk shortage in the 1940s had forced a former bartender to search for an alternative, and so, ca phe trung or egg coffee was born. In an almost hidden coffee shop named Ca Phe Giang, the menu features a wide range of drinks, but the locals and tourists alike persist on ordering only egg coffee.
The idea of raw eggs added to coffee might conjure up an expectation of a sickly smell and a slimy texture. However, Vietnamese egg coffee has none of the above. In the hot version, the cup sits in a bowl full of hot water to retain its temperature and the texture is rich and thick. In the cold version, ice cubes are laden around making the coffee taste somewhat like ice-cream. In both versions, the egg topping is surprisingly light-tasting, frothy, and tastes a bit like vanilla.
The recipe for this unique drink has been kept secret for decades. Coffee powder, butter and cheese also come into making the coffee but the ratio is not revealed. It will probably be passed onto the next generation of the family who owned it, just like other recipes for extraordinary foods in this country.
Venture to West Lake
Lotus tea (Source: Internet)
The West Lake district consisted of just a few fishing villages a few years ago, but is now packed with boutiques, bistros, bars, and pubs. The Vietnamese sensibility has been infused in the modern designs of what are on display here. Some of the shops in Tay Ho feature artisanal products such as Vietnamese fabric with vibrant Spanish patterns, fair-trade agricultural produces, hand-pressed jars of honey, and lacquered bowls and cupboards made by traditional techniques.
The area is also home to some gastronomical talents that have elevated Vietnamese cuisine to a new level of tastiness. Restaurants serving clams with cucumber juice and lemongrass and the like dot the paved-streets of Tay Ho alongside the familiar vendors selling pho or banh mi.