Posted by: sharemore1 | October 11, 2011

Sidewalk Cafe in Hanoi

Sidewalk Cafe in Paris

Visualize a sidewalk café.  What comes to my mind is a casual but elegant little restaurant along a boulevard, a good place to meet friends, enjoy a glass of wine and a salad nicoise perhaps.  In Paris that might be what you’d find, but not in Hanoi.

One recent Sunday we had dinner with our friends Hoa and Kim at a sidewalk café in Hanoi.  As we approached the restaurant, two groups of young men ran up to the car from competing restaurants, each trying to drag us to their establishment.

Sidewalk Cafe in Hanoi

Even if we couldn’t read the signs, there was no doubt that the main dish was chicken soup.  The proprietor sat behind a counter with a tray of roasted chickens, heads still on and hindquarters in the air.  There was a large bowl of lemons and another of tomatoes, packages of herbs and a jar of some mystery liquid.

Unlike what you might find in Paris, this was truly a sidewalk cafe. We squatted on tiny plastic stools inches above the pavement, our knees against child-size plastic tables.  As we were served, we saw this was not your grandmother’s chicken soup.  Pieces of chopped chicken on the bone were bathed in a broth of green vegetables and herbs I had never seen before.

It turns out we were at a health food restaurant.  In the soup was a small dried fruit, called jujube, that looks like an olive and tastes like an apple.  This not the sticky candy sold in movie theaters, but a fruit long known in Asia and the Middle East for its calming effect.   Another ingredient was mugwort (artemisia vulgaris) also used in many parts of the world to ward off fatigue and, in some places, evil spirits.   There was a third Chinese traditional herbal medicine that, try as I might, remains a mystery.  After the soup we had tofu with sauce, sticky rice and pickled cucumbers.

Moshe on a Booster Seat

Wanting to record our latest adventure in dining, I passed the camera to Moshe.  As he struggled to get up he fell over backwards, cracking the little stool.  The waiters quickly came to help him up.  He was okay, but wasn’t sure he wanted to sit back down again.  Ever resourceful, the waiters brought two new stools, stacking one on top of the other.   Relieved Moshe sat down.  The extra few inches of height, like a child’s booster seat, made all the difference.

The soup must had a calming effect because I barely noticed the rush hour traffic zipping past us on Cau Giay street.  If one of the motorbikes ran out of gas, they could get an emergency supply from a bottle of fuel perched on a stool at the curb.

Now don’t tell me you could have such an adventure in Paris.

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