Skip to main content

Ha Noi's Old Quarter

The streets and lanes are narrow, crowded and cluttered. The precinct oozes with every expectation and stereotype a visitor would expect from an Asian metropolis that bustles with trade, street affairs and people. One has to be reminded that this city of Ha Noi is the capital of a Communist state, but the business penchant and practice that is so evident in the Old Quarter comes from long traditions and establishments. Families actually live above their shops and every day a vibrant neighbourhood system, that intertwines livelihoods and strong community links, provides meaning and continuity to every resident.  The street names each and every time include the Vietnamese  word "Hang", which just means merchandise. I saw street plates with names like Pho Hang Buom, Pho Hang Chiew and Pho Hang Mam - Pho referring to a street.

Hang Bac is Silver Street, Hang Gai is Silk Street and Hang Tre is the Bamboo Street. In contemporary Ha Noi, some of these streets do now offer produce and products that vary from the original names. Still, Hang Huong, or Incense Street,has the lingering aromatic sweetness of joss sticks. To me, the Old Quarter is the original super market or department store and can have hidden delights if one takes the time to explore, listen and observe.  The Cha Ca La Vong, an eatery which specialises in a marinaded monkfish dish, has been operating for more than a hundred years, despite the change in political leaders, modernity and populations.  Fermented rice, saffron and galangal is mixed with the ever popular fish sauce to make this marinade.

Sailmakers Street or Hang Buom  is now laden with candies, sweet meats, freshly ground coffee and imported alcohol like brandies and whiskies.  Nothing beats getting the grassroots feel when visiting Ha Noi as staying in the Old Quarter.  Its central location and easy walking access to other interesting parts of the city centre (except for those around the West Lake) make it a magnet for tourists young and old. Perhaps the better way is to adapt to and learn crossing the roads in Vietnam first in Ha Noi rather than on the wider roads of Ho Chi Minh City in the country's south.

People rise early in the Old Quarter. Residing in a hotel there, I could hear the rising crescendo of activity, conversation and traffic as early as 6 am. Interesting items of note are roasted sour pork hash, pottery, meat jerky, grilled cuttlefish and jewellery. A few members of my group and I took an evening cyclo ride past shops and other fascinating retail outlets.  Above, a view from the upstairs of a well known coffee joint and below, heritage styled furniture grace guest accommodation. Pop up markets are set up after sunset.  The evening before I flew out of Vietnam, I had the opportunity to try the pho, the rice noodle soup that originates from Ha Noi.

The Dong Xuan Market is the oldest institution of its kind in Ha Noi. The Bach Ma Temple has a unique and magical White Horse.  Artisans have settled in this Old Quarter since the 11th century when a national celebrity Ly Thai To built his political capital here, the cherished Thang Long (Or Rising Dragon).  Today it is worth staying in or visiting the many tubular designed houses or stop by the Memorial House Museum, a tribute to merchant life of the past.  There were 36 original gates in this precinct, but only one remains intact today - the Quan Chong, or the Gate of the Commander of the Regiment.   Today the Old Quarter is also known locally as the 36 Streets, although others opine that the number 36 refers actually to the number of trade or craft guilds once having businesses in this area.  An interesting aspect of this historical area is that there used to be porridge sellers providing food to candidates who came from all over the country to sit for the imperial examinations nearby.


Popular posts from this blog

Chung Ling Alumni Association Petaling Jaya Klang Valley

Telephone Contact:  +603 7957 0318

85 Degrees Bakery Cafe Hurstville NSW

There are several outlets of this bakery cafe for several years now in Australia.  Did they coem from the USA?

Each franchised outlet is in a busy area, often in suburbs so-called by a diverse Asian demographic.   The one in Hurstville is rather roomy and lots of baked stuff on its shelves.   The base of Sydney operations is in Chester Hill, a suburb south-west of the Sydney city centre.

Some of the cake creations would be viewed as rather leaning on the East Asian dimension  - Strawberry Angel (with chocolate base and top) and Mango Cheese ( with yoghurt).   However, to counter this perspective, there are also Death by Chocolate, US Cheesecake, Coffee Brulee and Blueberry Marble options.    

The pastries are definitely filled with ingredients more suited to perhaps Anime loving fans and non-mainstream cultures - for example, garlic, pork, tuna, green tea, red bean, shallots, pork floss, coconut, Hokkaido butter cream and Boroh or pineapple buns.   Sung seems to be a variation emphasised…

Penang - Lor Mee

Lor mee is another of those street foods that are not commonly available in Western societies, but are easily found in southern China, Thailand, Malaysia and Singapore. The dish is iconic of the Teochew Province in China and has been mainly brought to equatorial climes by immigrants over the last few centuries. It combines snippets of ingredients in a thick savoury sauce. Above, the lor mee with roast pork and sliced hard boiled egg accompaniments at the Fong Sheng Cafe, along Lorong Selamat in Georgetown, Penang - the place was introduced by May Wah and Henry Quah.

The cafe harks back to the seventies or eighties - and maybe earlier - what caught my eye were (above) freshly blended fruit and/or vegetable juices and (below) metal and plastic contraptions of the food trade.

Hot and cold drinks are easily on offer from the cafe (above and below) at very reasonable prices.

Another version of the dish (below) taken whilst Bob Lee was enjoying them in another cafe or coffee shop in Georgetown…