36 Hours in Hanoi

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36 Hours in Hanoi
36 Hours in Hanoi

1. Coffee With a View | 5 p.m.

Hanoi infamous rush hours are best taken in from on high. At the edge of the Old Quarter, a narrow passageway at the back of a store displaying kitschy paintings leads to Ca Phe Pho Co. Occupying most of a picturesquely decrepit former merchant mansion, the cafe is known for its egg coffee, a strong local brew capped with a sort of sweetened condensed milk zabaglione (100,000 dong for two, or $5, at 20,400 dong to the dollar). Place your order downstairs (the menu also lists smoothies, shakes, sundaes and beer) before climbing three flights to a terrace with a sweeping view over thousands of motorbikes on their circumambulation around Hoan Kiem Lake.

36 Hours in Hanoi
36 Hours in Hanoi

2. Nostalgic Dining | 7:30 p.m.

Vietnam has been awash in a sort of wistfulness for bao cap, the lean years preceding doi moi, the government economic reform measures initiated in 1986. At State-Run Food Shop No. 37 (dinner for two, 485,000 dong; reservations recommended), that nostalgia is embodied in whitewashed walls hung with battered enamel lunch pails and a transistor radio emitting crackly period tunes. Diners orders are written on reproduction ration coupons. Luckily, austerity is not on the menu, which leans to northern home-style dishes, which you’d have a difficult time finding outside, well, homes. Highlights include salty-sour pickled mustard greens stir-fried with fat-limned strips of pork, and a tomato and pineapple-packed canh chua (sweet and sour soup) with tiny local clams. Fried rice is a surprise: an upturned hollow dome of crispy browned rice to crack into pieces and dip into mam tep, a pungent marriage of shrimp paste and minced pork.

36 Hours in Hanoi
36 Hours in Hanoi

3. Music, Dancing | 10 p.m.

Opened on a quiet side street in the Hai Ba Trung District by the music promotion company behind Hanoi annual Asean Music Festival, CAMA ATK (door charges vary, cocktails from 150,000 dong) hosts international bands and D.J.s and, unusually for bars in Hanoi, segregates smokers. It also has a menu of crafty cocktails like an old-fashioned made with bourbon hickory smoked right behind the bar. In West Lake, Madake is set in a white-painted brick loftlike structure and hosts everything from karaoke nights to swing dancing. Live music happens until the wee hours in a somewhat dungeonesque space downstairs.

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