Hanoi- the capital of Vietnam, a city of four million people and 5 million motorbikes (the first lesson for foreigners- how to cross the street safely. Check out this video).
It has been a busy, loud few days. My ears are filled with calls between vendors and almost incessant honking. Vietnamese people seem to be early risers, compared to most of the world- the city starts its noise at 6:30 or 7:00 am.
There are many sit-down-in-a-booth-and-order-from-a-menu places in Hanoi, but most of the good eating comes from small street restaurants that specialize in one certain dish. Small plastic chairs and tables spill out into every sidewalk and street. I usually take a seat, point to whatever my neighbor is eating, and then it arrives, steaming and perfect, in front of me. I am also lucky to have some friends of a friend here, which means they are showing me the best places to eat for different dishes.
The food is, as I expected, extraordinary. There are so many different textures are in the same dish- crunchy fried bits, slick noodles, cooked vegetables, pickled vegetables, grilled meat, and steaming-hot broth. The flavors meld together very well, and the texture makes the dish especially satisfying.
But this traveling around is a new experience for me. During my last time abroad, I spent 6 months in Dakar, Senegal. I stayed in one place, learning the language, working a job, living in the same neighborhood. Now, “traveling around”, I don’t speak anything but the bare bones of the language, and perhaps most startling for a recent college graduate, I have nothing to “do”. My days are my own.
I’m finding that in this new situation, my meals become the centering part of my day. Finding breakfast, lunch, and dinner is what gives me a schedule, or habits. Food is grounding me here.
Hanoi is a crazy, interesting city, but I cannot stay in this hectic place for very long. In a few days, I’ll be heading to some smaller places north and west of Hanoi. I want to spend significant time in a quiet area, where I can see the same people every day, and really start to get to know a place. And, hopefully along the way, I’ll learn more about these delicious dishes that I’m eating!