Above: You gotta keep your ear -- or at least your ass -- pretty close to the ground to know where to party with these hip Hanoians
We'd been walking and eating around Hanoi for a few days. There were a few hits, there were a few misses. I was developing a theory for eating well in this city: The closer to the ground you need to sit, the better the food will be. Eateries with regular-height chairs or stools will likely be mediocre fare targeted at tourists; benches where you have to contort your legs to fit in means you're getting warmer; tiny stools that you have to squat on means seriously delicious business.
(Hanoi foodies, am I on to something here?)
So, taking that theory a little further, what happens when you actually sit on the ground? You encounter the cut-tlefish-ing edge of Hanoi nightlife, as we found out one balmy night this past March.
Right near the Hang Dao night market, we come across a street corner parade of dried cuttlefish vendors. My Dad, brother and I love this pungent chewy snack, but they're usually a handful of shreds in little packets or else in crispy rolls in a tin. What on earth do you do with a whole cuttlefish?
We turn the corner and find out.
There, more cuttlefish vendors squat-sit, fanning furiously away at small tins of red-hot charcoals, toasting planks of the stuff.
Afterwards, the cuttlefish are transferred to wooden blocks, and BASHED INTO SUBMISSION with a metal pipe. (Note to self: don't try to leg it with these guys) Then they're served up by (often) the vendor's son, and shredded by hand in front of you if you look helpless enough.
But served up to whom, exactly?
The sidewalks of both sides of this little lane are covered with straw mats, and sitting on them are a cross section of the city's denizens -- fashionable 20somethings, pot-bellied uncles, families with grandmas and infants et al in tow. There's a lot of laughter and easygoing sounding chat in the air. When the road in front of the mats gets too cluttered with motorcycles (the condition of the entire city, frankly), the vendor's son is given instructions and permission to go skooch them up into a sardine-tight line. I'm loving the vibe.
We settle in on a mat next to an extended family of 10, and start nibbling on our platter of toasted cuttlefish. Like I've said, I've had this salty-sweet chewy stuff plenty, but never toasted! This changes everything.
I sneak a peek at the family next to us -- they've got milk bottles for the babies and bottles of beers and local-brand whiskeys for the increasingly red-cheeked adults. And -- now that I'm looking more closely -- only 1 cuttlefish between all of them.
Babs and I were just commenting that at about the equivalent of ~£5, this wasn't exactly a cheap snack for locals. Obviously, how they afford it share it among 10 people, not 2.
Oh well. Better eat it all and not waste any of it then!
Toasted cuttlefish vendors emerge on many a Hanoi sidewalk at night. Some have small tables and tools for customers, some have straw mats. This particular one was opposite shophouse 2B on Pho Hang Bo.