Hanoi Street Life ~ It’s all about the Food

“In food as in death, we feel the essential brotherhood of man.”
~Vietnamese Proverb

Hanoi Street Life-3

I have an affinity for Hanoi…

Especially the Old Quarter.

It becomes clear to the visitor…

Life on the streets is all about the food.

Some must grow it.
While other’s hawk it.
Some must cook it.
While other’s eat it.

Women sit on low stools in front of their shops and sort and cut beans and vegetables. Using a crochet type hook for stripping the long beans, this Asian pod looked exactly like what was in my stir fry the previous evening. Pride is taken in the arrangement of produce in the baskets.

Hanoi Street Life-3

Perhaps everyone is competing for the “Lovely Produce Award?”

Hanoi Street LifeAs I stopped to get out of the way of a woman shouldering her bamboo carrying pole, which balanced two baskets of produce, she instantly transferred it from her shoulder to mine. I was shocked, and before I knew it she placed her conical hat on my head.  Grinning, she motioned to my husband to take my photo then wanted us to pay her by buying freshly cut pineapple. A woman was sitting on the steps of her shop watching this, and a look on her face warned me that the opportunist wanted too much money. After a little haggling and a couple of photos taken, I chose bananas and said thank you to the woman on the steps. I couldn’t believe how quickly I was targeted.

But, I have pictures and a memory.

In the mornings and the evenings the Vietnamese take to the side walks to cook and eat. It’s all about the socialization and intimacy of eating and being with family and friends. They share a common meal. If they are serving Pho (noodle soup) their chop sticks are in one hand while a spoon is in the other. Bean sprouts, cilantro, rice paddy herb, fresh Asian basil, Perilla (related to mint) and other veggies are heaped on a large communal platter to be added to the hot broth ladled into each person’s bowl. There seems to be some degree of order to this cultural tradition of eating together. Some spread mats on the floor of their shops to eat while others use colorful child size tables and chairs that are stackable when finished.  Parks are common areas where families bring their mats, cooking paraphernalia and spend a leisurely evening. The aroma that fills the streets from the family meals or street vendors is heavenly… basil, garlic, lime, hot pepper and the ever present fermented fish sauce (nuac mam).  Our clothes absorbed this blend of spices and permeated our small hotel room soon after returning for the evening.

Hanoi Street Life

My mind was still on the streets…mental pictures of both men and women cooking…together…holding babies…tending to children…pulling up an extra plastic chair for a late comer…all chatting at once…oblivious to the cacophony of street noises.

Each day, it is the same ritual …on the sidewalks of humanity.

All animals eat, but we are the only animal that cooks. So cooking becomes more than a necessity, it is the symbol of our humanity, what marks us off from the rest of nature. And because eating is almost always a group event (as opposed to sex), food becomes a focus of symbolic activity about sociality and our place in society.– Robin Fox, Food and Eating, An Anthropological Perspective

All photographs by Ron Mayhew Photography.


About travelerlynne

Traveler. Writer. Retired Educator.Traveling on and off the beaten path with my photographer husband. Volunteering locally as well as in Haiti and Tanzania, an enriching and humbling experience. A sun lover! Shelling, boating, fishing and watching sunsets. Growing mango, banana, key lime,and pineapple.Making smoothies and chutneys. Enjoying family and friends! Savoring each new day!
This entry was posted in Musings, Recipes ~ Food, Travel, Vietnam and tagged , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

39 Responses to Hanoi Street Life ~ It’s all about the Food

  1. Dianne says:

    Excellent!! I enjoyed the journey.

    • Thanks, Dianne. Wherever, we travel, food is the common denominator. Your focus is southwest cuisine and your taco recipes are delicious. By the way, I cooked extra of the yellow squash recipe and it works well on top of baking potatoes.

  2. Madhu says:

    What a wonderful picture you paint with your words and Ron’s beautiful images! Their joy is evident and the food seems delicious. So much nicer than eating in front of the TV for sure 🙂

  3. Thanks you for your kind comment regarding words and photos. We do enjoy our team work.
    All over the world, people take to the sidewalks to eat, be it a cafe in Paris or NY. But the idea of so much cooking that takes place on the sidewalks is a cultural experience that floods the senses.

  4. Loved the story and the pictures. One thing made me sad- that so many of the lovely fruit and vegetables were in plastic bags… I remember a time when they would all have been in beautiful hand-made baskets./ What a blight plastic is…

  5. You are quite right, Valerie. Plastic is global and such a source of litter and I’m glad you picked up on that.

  6. Tahira says:

    What a lovely post. Thanks for sharing, Lynn. And cooking on sidewalks is awesome. Great photos as well!

  7. Thanks, Tahira. Always nice to hear from you.

  8. restlessjo says:

    Takes me all my time to cook on my stove at home. I don’t know how they manage this. Lovely post Lynne.

  9. Margaret says:

    I love the photo with all the different peppers!

  10. Love the one with the peppers! How colorful!!!

  11. I had visited Hanoi almost a decade back and this post sure flooded back the memories. Thank you.


  12. Thanks for your comment.

  13. Gigi Galore says:

    Oh, another lovely travel story! That bit about the swindle was exciting! How dramatic! Wonderful:)

  14. It really took me by surprise. Opportunists everywhere, especially with the unsuspecting tourist. But, it was fun and down the line becomes writing material. Thanks, Gigi.

  15. Lynne, your wonderful words and Ron’s beautiful pictures brought back fond memories from our time in Vietnam. It’s funny that one of the merchants actually adorned you with the bamboo carrying pole and baskets. We approached a merchant and asked if we could pay her for the photo opp. through our fruit purchase. She obliged. After I tried to pick up the heavy baskets and balance them, I had quite a respect for the petite Vietnamese ladies who seem to carry them effortlessly!

    • You are so right about the agility and strength these tiny women have. I don’t know if I could have actually bent down and lifted it myself. Her transferring the weight made it easy for me. I would love to see your photo. Thanks so much for your gracious comments.

  16. Lynn Sarda says:


  17. Lea says:

    Nice pictures! Looking at them sent me to Hanoi, too 🙂 It is always awesome to learn about different cultures. And the best way is to experience it by blending yourself with the crowd. I love the photos, especially the one with you carrying a bamboo pole with baskets.

  18. FB says:

    What was your think when you pick that carrying pole? Some tourists don’t like that commerce at all.
    If you still in Vietnam, I recommend you Da Nang, best place I have been. Lovely and awesome landscapes, beautiful beaches, good foods and local government help you not to ‘shock’ by any bamboo carrying pole 😉

  19. snowbirdpress says:

    Beautifully written… and the photos bring the words to life as I read them. I’m in the midst of putting together a collection of recipes for my Church group and for sure, cooking is so vital to community, but it is also our history. Love your posts.

  20. Thank you for those kind words. The sharing of food on a street in Hanoi represents humanity in Vietnam as does a church group in the US sharing a covered dish dinner or putting a cook book together…all symbols of our cultures and like you said…vital to the community. Good luck on your project.

  21. From my breakfast table, I am in Manta/Ecuador and catching up! As always, I am touched by the beautiful pairings of your words with Ron’s images. I picture the two of you as one of those success stories that all strive for but few achieve.
    How great that you accepted the hat and bamboo pole while acknowledging that you would compromise by buying bananas!
    Thanks for the post – breakfast is served!

  22. Hope it was a tasty breakfast. Thank you for that heartfelt comment, Z about our working together. What is odd about this is that I am having fun while doing my thing with the writing. My care giving responsibilities for my mother-in-law stepped up in Dec. and this blog was created in Jan. I needed something positive to focus on instead of meetings and committee work. So I let all that go and now Ron and I are blogging our brains out… a new world for me and a creative balance with the geriatric challenges we face. Thank you always for your support. I would love my house to filled with all your art…someday.

  23. adinparadise says:

    This is such an interesting post, Lynne, and the images are most striking too. I smiled at the thought of your surprise when you suddenly found yourself carrying that produce, and then the hat to top it all. 🙂 I remember when we were in China, how everyone seemed to come out at night to eat at the sidewalk cafes. I know exactly what you mean about the smells permeating your clothes. 🙂

  24. Street experiences make traveling so much more memorable. They give you real insights into the culture. I appreciate your comment. Happy travels.

  25. So funny about how you took over carrying the bamboo pole with the produce. I have a very similar picture of myself in the same situation in Hanoi!! I love Vietnamese food, and your photo of the produce basket arrangements are so colorful and enticing. Did you love Hanoi?? 🙂

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