When Karen Shinto and I arrived in Hanoi, it was close to noon. After the hour or so ride to our hotel in the Old Quarter, we were famished for lunch. By the time we got into our room it was around 1:30pm. I was somewhat skeptical about finding a good lunch because people take early lunches in Vietnam and it’s easy to get lost in the Old Quarter. The streets are crowded, laid out like a maze, and their names change every few blocks. I had visions of us getting lost and being hangry.
Karen had been to Hanoi before, right before she styled my first cookbook, Into the Vietnamese Kitchen. She hadn’t been back since 2005 and was eager to go with me. This was my third time to Hanoi. Saigon is more familiar to me but somehow, perhaps because my parents are both northerners and raised us on their northern Viet palate, I relish the Hanoi food. It’s often rustic and pure, not overly fussed up with ingredients. Delicate and balanced. I was eager, excited and willing.
So Karen and I headed out into the Old Quarter in search of a late lunch. I was looking for a pho joint but the one I wanted to try was closed. We wandered around the corner and I began to worry. It was close to 2pm and who the heck would be eating or serving lunch?