Flying into Hanoi is spectacular. As the plane descends over fuzzy green mountains, we move increasingly closer to a cottony blanket of fog. It’s the harvest season, and farmers are burning the paddy fields, engulfing the area in a thick layer of fluff. For a while everything is white, and then, suddenly, we’re beneath it, hovering over thousands of miniature palms, patchwork farms speckled with people and between them, winding up the roads like lines of ants, the mopeds.
The moped is king in Hanoi, and its citizens will strap pretty much anything onto one. Live animals? Not a problem. How about a water buffalo, or a couple of pigs? No item of furniture is considered too large, and I see sofas, wardrobes and even a fridge chug down the highway. The bikes define the place, and it’s a joke amongst those who have been to the capital city that one must learn the ways of crossing the road if you’re to get anywhere. The technique is simple: look briefly, start walking and then don’t, whatever you do, stop. The bikes will move around you, like insects parting around a rock. Hanoi is an overwhelming and intoxicating place; the energy, the noise and chaos, the beauty of the faded buildings, the sensory onslaught from every angle but mostly, of course, the food.
In the Old Quarter (for that is where you’ll want to be), street food is everywhere. Tiny plastic neon stools line the streets, alleyways, and every spare inch of space. Grills flare, bowls clatter and chopsticks click in every nook and cranny. The dark and grimy lanes are not to be avoided; the grottiness of the passageway is not an indicator of the quality of the food, unlike the busyness of the stall. There is no advantage for vendors to bypass proper hygiene, because if people get ill, they won’t come back. This is why it makes no sense to be scared of street food. So, what to eat if you’ve only got twenty-four hours? With so much choice, it can be overwhelming. Here are my tips if you find yourself short of time but large of appetite.