Hearing the notorious stories of Hanoi’s scam riddled taxi’s and having enough time to lallygag my way through Hanoi, I decided to go cheap and take the local bus from the airport to the city center. We got off the bus at Long Bien station, stepping into a sea of deafening motorcyclists and chaos.
I didn’t exactly know where I was going, and it became hot and murky, the conditions prior to a thunderous down pour. With a lot of luck on our side, we stumbled directly into the massive Dong Xuan clothing market in Hanoi, searching for shelter and nourishment just as the rain began to pelt. In Asia I always say, “where there are people, there will be food.” After 15 minutes of navigating the market mess, a couple of munching Vietnamese ladies pointed us in the right direction. The clock had just struck noon and the lunch room was hopping with tiny ladies, pushing, shoving, and boxing out around a table mountained with freshly cooked food.
Extremely excited to see people so enthralled in cuisine, I told asked my girlfriend to save a table and sit back. I grabbed a plate as non smiling man dipped a scooper in an ice chest, flopping a dollop of broken grain rice on my platter.
I tried to reach into the buffet line to scoop out the first thing that looked good, still dumbfounded by the attention and hustle the people were putting into their lunch (on another level). My eyes wide open and my nose inhaling all the aromas, I almost fell into a trance, then someone sneaked in front of me, grabbed the chopsticks from the dish, and quickly served herself. In order to fill my plate I realized I would have to get with the program, adapt to the culture, and fight my way to lunch.
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I muscled my way to the tables edge, in a nice yet forceful way. I could now see the glory of the freshly prepared Vietnamese dishes, the greens, oranges, and reds. The levels of food were rapidly decreasing and if there was no refilling, I began to understand why people were hustling to get their favorite dish. I grabbed a pair of chopsticks and fit right in as I leaned across the table, obstructing others, and trying to grab the last bits of everything for myself.
After filling my plate, I moved to the next line where a serious, no jokes, woman, judged the portion and demanded a price. I finally got a smile from a few ladies waiting in line who had equally conquered the buffet and could now loosen up after getting the dish they wanted. With a little laugh, they acknowledged my ability to get dirty in the buffet and thought it was hilarious that I would take pictures of this.
The lunch lady demanded 40,000 Dong (about $2) which in my awe I had no idea what I was doing and I was probably a little overcharged (though I didn’t mind). However, the food was superb, greasily fried and spiced meats, vegetables, and tofu. The blended flavors to a hungry stomach, the flock of buffet hustlers, and the ambiance of eating in Hanoi, led to my first meal in Vietnam. As we sat and gobbled down, I knew there were many more food ventures to come!
If you are in for a Buffet fighting challenge, head to the Dong Xuan Market in Hanoi right at noon.
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