Time and place: Hanoi Old Quarter Market, 5 pm

written by Ben Birchall September 30, 2023
a Hanoi market vendor serving food

As dusk starts to descend on Hanoi, this fresh food market springs to life – for the second time today.

It’s around 5 pm, and the intense Hanoi heat is finally giving way, sparking our appetites. Luckily, we’ve landed in just the right spot. Scooters zip through the narrow alleyways, their riders occasionally hopping off to grab some fruit, fish or a flawlessly crafted banh mi.

This lively scene is guided by our enthusiastic Intrepid leaders, Huyen Nguyen and San Tao. San effortlessly selects the best street eats for us as we navigate the tightly-packed stalls – that delightful banh mi, a deep-fried, sweet mung-bean-filled doughnut known as banh ran.

The crowd shows no sign of letting up, marking the second session of the day. ‘The market we have here twice a day, morning and in the afternoon,’ Huyen explains. ‘It’s our habit to seek out fresh ingredients daily, so we do it twice.’

If Huyen were a regular commuter passing through here, she would gather supplies for her own dinner too. ‘I’d grab some fruit, veggies and maybe some protein – meat or fish, you know.’

This particular market sits on the fringes of Hanoi’s Old Quarter, one of the five or six similar markets spread throughout the city. Vendors huddle together, offering an array of fresh produce, delectable snacks and street food (like that unforgettable banh mi), along with an assortment of bread, spices, fish and crabs. Skilled butchers work their trade, expertly carving fresh chicken and marbled pork. 

Under the sheltered area of the market, our eyes catch sight of stalls teeming with live crabs, turtles and fish. Others are piled high with sacks of dried beans, rice and an array of spices.

A crackling PA system makes an announcement, accompanied by the symphony of scooter horns slicing through the air. The setting sun casts a warm glow on the French-inspired architecture, and as dusk approaches, we find ourselves enveloped in shade, with lanterns and lights coming to life. 

The market takes on an end-of-day, almost festive ambiance. ‘That’s why it’s vibrant,’ Huyen says. ‘Everyone is happy because they know that they will be home soon.’

In about an hour, these animated stalls will be disassembled, shutters drawn and blue tarps pulled over the carts, temporarily putting a halt to the activity.

Tomorrow morning, it starts all over again.

Hungry for more? Get a taste for Vietnam’s capital with Intrepid’s small group adventures to Hanoi.

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