Wednesday, July 30, 2014

The Top London-centric Twitter Accounts and Newsletters to Follow

I love the diversity of Angloyankophile readers: some of you are friends of mine from college who read my blog from the US (thank you!), some of you are strangers (but friends in this capacity!) who read my blog from the US and the UK, others are expats living in far-flung countries, and one of you is a family member (hi Mom!).

However, I also know that some of you who follow this blog are either 1) thinking of moving to London 2) new to London or 3) moving to London imminently. So, I thought it would be helpful if I did a round-up of my favorite Twitter and email newsletters to follow as a Londoner. These are accounts I've found to be extremely helpful, fun and/or interesting during my time here in London - and I think you might like them too! I wish someone had clued me up when I first moved here, but I discovered these on my own and thought that I should, you know, spread the love.

So here goes: - this is the first Twitter account and newsletter you should subscribe to if and when you move to London. They handpick a selection of interesting and unique events (not stuff you'll find splashed across tube ads or newspapers) every day and send it to you in one, concise email. The emails are always a pleasure to read and even if you don't intend to attend any of them, they'll still make you go, "Huh! That's going on? How cool!" Whenever I find myself at a loose end, I consult Londonist for cool things to do - they do a special weekend edition too and the majority of events are either free or very affordable!

@londonisyours - this is a Twitter account that is curated every week by a different Londoner who gives his/her perspective on living in the city. I had the opportunity to be a guest curator last year and loved it. It was so much fun sharing my London and you meet some terrific Tweeters through interesting conversations.

@SkintLondon - similar to Londonist (but with an emphasis on free or very cheap events, hence the name), SkintLondon tweets free events and giveaways happening in London on a live, right-here-right-now basis. For example, they've tweeted about the free "tea dance" (whatever that is) that's happening in Spitalfields today at 12:30 pm. Random, yes, but possibly fun, no? It's a terrific way to stay connected to what's happening in London - especially if you're on a tight budget.

@londoneating - for someone who loves food as much as I do, London Eating is a vital account to follow on Twitter. I learn of most new restaurant openings (not just trendy, East London ones) via London Eating and the reviews (not to mention the food p**n images) in my Twitter feed always make my mouth water. - and while we're on the foodie path, Grub Club is one of my favorite food-related newsletters to subscribe to. It's essentially a directory of pop-up restaurants that are currently open in London and you can book and pay directly from the website. You might be dining at a Michelin-starred chef's home one night or enjoying a low-key brunch in a disused building the next day - I love the originality of it all.

@ESgoingout - this is the Evening Standard's (a free, weekday evening newspaper handed out to London commuters on their way home) arts, food, and culture Twitter account, which gives great suggestions of where to ... well, go out. From fine dining recommendations to ballet reviews, this is another wonderful account to add to your list of Twitter favorites.

@Townfish_London - once you become a seasoned Londoner, you can trade London recommendations by following this Twitter account, where London-centric questions for suggestions are retweeted and answered by helpful, like-minded Tweeters. A word of warning: some of the questions can be really random and others frustratingly vague, but it's always a good feeling to help out and/or share your favorite spots in London with those in need of a good recommendation.

Emerald Street - this is a daily newsletter from the team behind Stylist Magazine - London's (and other UK cities too, I think?) free, women's lifestyle magazine which is distributed on a weekly basis. The copy is witty, vibrant, and fun to read. Designed to give women a much-welcomed, mid-morning break from work (it's sent around 11:00 a.m. every week day morning), the content varies from a round-up of the best seasonal sale picks to book reviews and new restaurants/cafes to try. While it isn't solely London-based, it fits into the London lifestyle really well.

These are my personal favorites, but have I missed any? Let me know in the comments below!

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Do You Listen to Music to Cope With Your Commute?

Everyday after work - before I even open the office door to leave - I make sure my earbuds are in and my song is selected so I can press "play" as soon as the door swings open and I step foot onto the busy London pavement.

Abnormal? Dangerous, even? Perhaps, but listening to music is the primary way I cope with stressful city living. I couldn't imagine getting from point A to point B without a song to accompany my stride.

Once, I left my headphones at home and was so anxious about the possibility of having to take the tube from Oxford Circus tube station (arguably one of the busiest tube stations in London during rush hour) to a dinner, that I actually had a panic attack and ended up walking/taking the bus to my destination - tacking on an extra 40 minutes to the commute.

Big city living is anxiety provoking: living in London is often like running on a hamster wheel non-stop. If you do stop, the wheel will just take you with it, much like these poor guys (I make it sound so appealing, don't I?).

"I don't think I like London very much," confessed Debbie, a friend of my parents who was visiting England for the first time. "I mean, I loved York, I loved the Cotswolds, but London is just ... so busy. Plus, people walk at you from all different directions! I find it very stressful."

As someone who suffered from anxiety attacks throughout childhood (I was even checked for stomach ulcers around the age of 8 or 9), it's no surprise that I agreed with her sentiment. The difference is, I like living in such a big city - I just find ways to cope with the stress.

"I don't know how you do it," my friend Alice said as we walked home together one evening (this is after I ran breathlessly up to her from behind and tapped her on the shoulder saying, "OMG. I'm so glad I found you. I left my headphones at home." before realizing how incredibly rude that sounded - haha!). "It would freak me out not to hear all the road noises or the birds chirping in the morning."

And I totally get where she's coming from. If I lived in the countryside - like, from John's village in Leicestershire, for example - I'd never wear my earphones. I'd luxuriate in the clip-clop of horses hooves on the country roads or the gentle purr of a tractor making its way to a field. Heck, I might even learn to distinguish one bird call from another.

But the fact is that I live in a frantic, frenetic, pulsing, intense city - not the calm, slow-paced confines of the countryside. Music makes it all okay: the people too busy checking their phone to walk straight at me, the group of builders cat-calling me from across the road, the loud argument that's taking place on the corner between a man and his partner, the skin-crawling sound of a motorcycle engine being revved only a few feet away, the constant, angry honking of car horns on High Holborn, the aggressive dogs barking at the end of scary-looking chains held by scary-looking owners ... all of this disappears when I've got my music in.

I walk more confidently. A lot calmer. I'm able to react to situations with reason and sense (up to a certain extent - ha!) rather than anxiety and emotion.

Of course, I recognize the dangers of walking around with my headphones in. I try not to listen to my music at too high of a volume (though the point is sort of to drown out my surroundings) and I won't cross the street without waiting for the little green man to appear and looking both ways.

But I simply wouldn't know how to cope without my premium Spotify account or my trusty in-ear Sennheisers.


p.s. I covet this pair of BB x Frends headphones from Bauble Bar.

Friday, July 25, 2014

Plane Etiquette 101

Mm hmm. Oh yeah. I'm going there. You can't say you're surprised, are you? After all, I fly internationally at least three to four times per year. You knew this was coming.

On Sunday, I found myself in an empty row of an Air Canada plane, ready for takeoff. This had never happened to me before. At least, not on an international flight. I anxiously craned my neck into the aisle, hoping against hope that someone wouldn't come bumbling on at the very last minute and say those tragic words, "Um, I'm in there" while jabbing his/her finger towards the window (or middle) seat. In these situations, I usually stare straight ahead at the seat in front of me, silently willing the person approaching my row to not stop at my seat, until the inevitable occurs and I have no choice but to unbuckle my seatbelt and let them in with a tight smile but passive-aggressive sigh.

On this occasion however, the captain announced, "Flight attendants prepare for takeoff" and I was safely ensconced in my own little row. Score. I looked around guiltily at the other full rows (though mine was not the only semi-empty one) but simply thought it was karma to make up for the sadness I had experienced earlier in the morning after bidding my family farewell and the fact that I'd have to endure a whole week of living in an empty flat while John was away for business.

I started gleefully plotting my sleeping style in my head. Yes, since it was an overnight flight, I had hit the total jackpot: sleeping while lying down (obviously this is only an issue that people who travel in economy grapple with). Should I raise the armrests once the seatbelt sign had been turned off and immediately go for the fetal position? Or should I prop myself up at the window seat and stretch my legs out on the empty seats while enjoying a film with my meal? The options were truly endless.

20 minutes into the flight, I was happily reading my Kindle when a blond head of curls poked around from the seat in front of me. "Excuse me," she started, and a kind of dread rose in my chest. 'Don't do it,' a voice warned in my head. 'Whatever she asks, don't do it. It is bound to backfire on you just like it's backfired every single time you've done something nice for someone on a flight. Remember the time you offered to switch seats with someone so he could flirt with a girl because you observed a budding romance occuring? And you were left with a man who snored so loudly, that the people five rows in front of you turned around to stare as you helplessly shrugged your shoulders and mouthed apologetically but insistently, 'It's not me'? Or the time you switched seats with someone and ended up sitting across the aisle from a man who basically turned to cough directly in your face every few seconds and you ended up contracting tonsilitis two days later and had to pay $140 for a doctor's visit because you no longer had health insurance coverage in the US but your throat was so swollen you could barely swallow? REMEMBER THOSE TIMES?'

"Yes?" I replied brightly.

"Um, my TV screen isn't working so I was wondering if we could all trade seats? Like, all three of us [at this point, she pointed to her two girlfriends on either side of her who all looked like they were going on a gap year abroad to Thailand in their harem pants and barefoot Birkenstocks look] would move back and you'd just move forward to this row?"

I pondered this for a second. I would still have an entire row to myself. That was all that mattered. What harm could it do?

"Sure," I replied after a few seconds, as I stood up to let them through.

"Thank you so much!" she chirped gratefully, as she and her friends slid into the row.

I settled into my new place and opened my Kindle again when I saw a flash of bare flesh appear at my left elbow. Seconds later, two other pairs of wiggling toes appeared in between the middle and window seats to my left.

You have got. TO. BE. KIDDING. ME. Was this really happening? Did I just ... am I being punished for my good deed? Oh yes, yes I was.

"This is great!" I heard a girl squeal behind me. Yes, it's so much fun when you can stick your grimy (yes, there was visible grime) feet into the seats in front of you for the girl who just did you a favor to enjoy.

So, any sane person would have just turned around and said politely, "Um, excuse me, would you mind removing your feet from the armrests? Thanks." But I thought this might be a little bitchy, especially since (and I left this out the first time around) I had previously denied her request to move because I thought she had meant I was simply trading a single seat in front of me before I realized what she had actually meant and tapped her on the shoulder again to agree (but this had seemed too long to explain above, so I'm SORRY IF THIS IS CONFUSING).

Instead, I sat and stewed angrily for the next hour or so until ... the food cart came along. Ah yes, the food cart: here to save the day. There was no way they could physically eat AND keep their feet up, could they? I tested this for myself by putting down a tray and attempting to yoga-extend my left leg over the tray and mimic eating (no I didn't really, but for the purposes of this post, it's much more entertaining to imagine me doing so - I actually just envisioned the whole thing in my head). No, while physically possible, it certainly wasn't comfortable.

So as soon as the food was served, BAM! Those armrests went up, baby. But you know, I felt BAD for putting them up. WHY DID I FEEL BAD? WHY DID I FEEL BAD FOR NOT LETTING THEM PUT THEIR BARE FEET NEXT TO MY ARMS AND POSSIBLY MY FACE?

After the meal service, the lights dimmed and I got to work arranging myself across the three seats for a long nap. It was worth it in the end because I was able to sleep for four hours during the 8.5 hour flight, but I still felt guilty and annoyance for feeling guilty.

Planes, eh? Always a struggle. Seriously, though. Never do anything nice for anyone on the plane becuase it'll backfire in your face. Sometimes, literally.

p.s. having said that, I once traded seats with a woman's husband on a flight from Madrid so that they could sit next to each other and ended up being upgraded from business to first. That was a real win. But 1 out of 10 is still a risky business, IMO.

Vancouver International Airport: Botanic Garden or Airport? You Decide.

The prettification of international airports over recent years has astounded me. For example, the new(ish) revamp of Seattle-Tacoma International Airport (AKA SeaTac) sees vintage planes suspended from the baggage claim hall, oversized stained glass artwork, and floor to ceiling windows which let in much-needed light to the previously dark and cavernous terminal buildings.

And while it isn't the first time I've flown to Seattle via Vancouver (Air Canada flights are almost always cheaper than British Airways direct, non-stop fares, though it means a short layover and 30 minute connecting flight in Vancouver), I've never been happier to see the sight that greeted me there (above) when I stopped over in the airport last weekend.

Still tear-stained and a little sniffly from saying goodbye to my family at SeaTac security, the tranquil (and all very real! No artificial leaves used here) garden scene that greeted me after passing through security YVR cheered me up a little (that and I spied Hermes and a Longchamp concession not too far away, which helped distract me as well).

I managed to take a snap of this incredible aquarium, which I hadn't seen before:

I seriously could have spent hours gazing at the mesmerizing display of fish and sea anemone. I'm a nervous/anxious solo traveller anyway, so I deeply appreciated these extra features near the gates which helped take my mind off of things for a bit.

It's nothing compared to Koh Samui airport, however, which is akin to a luxury beach resort (minus the beach). The "gates" are housed in little huts positioned around the runway and you can literally put your feet up in a comfy straw chair whilst sipping complimentary fresh juices and helping yourself to cake, fruit, and an assortment of Thai snacks. Ding, ding, ding - winner! Hanging baskets of flowers dip from the ceilings of these huts and you're just encouraged to chill out, relax, and zone out. The nice lady at security even offered me aloe vera for my extremely burnt nose from one of the bottles a passenger had left behind. I was actually a little sad to board my plane after that magical experience!

What's your favorite airport?

Thursday, July 24, 2014

I Dream of American Sandwiches

I'm experiencing the worst jet lag ever after this flight back to London. I think it's a combination of the hot and humid weather, the fact that John's been travelling for work all week (I don't sleep well when he's away and start at every sound I hear), and the general lack of adjustment to GMT but my eyes pop wide open at around 12:30 a.m. and stay that way until, oh, 3:00 a.m. or so.

Lately when insomnia strikes, I've just been lying awake and thinking about all the foods and beverages I wanted to eat or drink in the States but forgot (or ran out of time) to have, namely: chicken tenders dipped in honey mustard sauce, mac 'n yease (vegan mac 'n cheese) from one of my favorite Tacoma eateries, Quickie II, tacos from the local taco truck, sandwiches from another Tacoma favorite, MSM Deli ('MSM' stands for Magical Sandwich Makers - I kid you not), a Jamba Juice smoothie, a so-thick-your-cheeks-hurt-from-slurping-it blueberry milkshake from our downtown burger joint, an onion ring tower from Red Robin ... the list goes on and on.

These foods aren't particularly healthy or even that tasty, but they're certainly far more indulgent (in terms of calories, at least) than what I normally consume in London. I did, however, have a delicious chicken and avocado sandwich on marble rye bread served with a cold, crunchy pickle on the side and a super refreshing raspberry iced tea from A Spoonful of Sugar (yes, there's a prevailing Mary Poppins theme throughout) in Milton.

I miss American sandwiches so very much. I miss having the choice of bread (aside from "white or wholegrain"), more than one slice of meat, and that ubiquitous crunchy pickle on the side. And Lays. Barbecued Lays. I don't think I've had Lays potato chips since field day at my elementary school. My brother ordered them to go with his chicken salad sandwich (which I also greedily eyed) and I commandeered the packet immediately (he let me - he's so nice).

I hear there's an American sandwich shop in East Sheen called Pickle and Rye (see? Two of my favorite American sandwich ingredients) and I am determined to make the trek over there to try them out. If I eat another limp sandwich with funny tasting bread and mayonaise from Pret-a-Manger, I might just ... I don't know. I'm being over dramatic. Forgive me. 

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

I Left My Heart In the Pacific Northwest

Ugh, you guys. To say that I have the post-holiday (or post-vacation, for all you Americans out there) blues is an understatement. I flew back to London from Seattle via Vancouver yesterday feeling sadder than sad. I was (and still am) down in the freaking dumps. I feel like the little boy who's crying outside my flat window right now because he was dragged from the park by his mom and dad when he was just having some fun.

Last night, I went to bed at 9:30 and woke up thinking that I had slept for hours on end and that it was at least 5:30 a.m. I was so sure of this, that when I gleefully picked up my phone to check, I actually sat right up in bed in shock/horror that the glowing screen read a smug 12:30 a.m. right back at me. Curses, jet lag! Curses!

To begin with, I sat on this deck with my family every night, chatting about nonsense and watching dragonflies dive bomb my brother's head until the sky turned purple and slowly slid into darkness:

I basked in the hot, dry heat of a Puget Sound summer and watched my dad barbecue chicken wings on that very same deck as the sky broke open and relieved us of the heat by pouring down a fragrant, summer rain. I sprawled out in the director's chair above, listening to the wind chimes at our front door and wondering why that familiar sound never followed me to England.

Everything seemed old and new all at once. When it grew dark outside, my brother and I retreated indoors to watch back-to-back episodes of Are You Afraid of the Dark?, a low-budget children's program which aired on Nickelodeon in the 90s that my brother routinely watched every Saturday while my parents made Chinese hot pot. We'd watch until the commercials, run out to stuff a piece of Chinese broccoli or a fishball in our mouths and jump back onto their bed, huddling in a blanket together like a big and small rock. This time, I still hid my face behind the blanket like I did when we were 5 and 10.

I touched everything: my old coloring pencils, secret diaries, and photo albums. I re-read my high school yearbook.

I watched the beautiful, majestic Mount Rainier appear and disappear as we ascended and descended the hills of Small Town, USA. My small town.

I left strands of hair scattered in the downstairs bathroom sink and my bobby pins everywhere. I didn't bother to clean up.

We played a game after dinner: my brother would ask my dad, "What were you doing in ..." and he'd insert a year. I found out fascinating things about my dad's childhood and recorded snippets of them on my iPhone so I could listen to them later.

I sat on that deck and closed my eyes, imagining the airplane seat I'd occupy six days later - smelling it, sensing it, grieving the loss of that moment in my mind already. I just looked at FlightAware online - that flight-tracking website - and burst into tears at the words, "Origin: London Heathrow, Destination: Seattle-Tacoma Intl, Duration: On The Way!"

What I wouldn't give to be on my way, right now.

I miss you too much.


Saturday, July 5, 2014

Happy 4th of July Weekend!

Happy 4th of July, folks! How did you spend your Independence Day yesterday? I was jealous of all the out-of-offices I received from my fellow American co-workers and the American publishers I work with. Plus, it was a beautiful, sunny day ... and now it's raining. All weekend. Sigh. The night before, I had good intentions of baking an American-themed cake and bringing it into work the next day, but I decided to have dinner and a glass of wine with a friend instead. Oh well.

Anyway, this is how I celebrated after work:

1. Dinner for one at Byron Burger

I went to Byron after work on my own and was kindly offered a seat in my own little corner. A waitress came over, like, 20 minutes later to take my order, citing almost accusingly that she "didn't even see me". Nothing like a bit of British customer service to perk up my American holiday. I was in such a celebratory mood however, I just chirped right back at her that I'd like "extra pickles, please".

Soon, though, I had my own little audience of middle-aged Northerners at a table facing mine, who all watched as I single-handedly devoured a Classic burger, a side of fries, and gulped down an A&W root beer. I also finished every single one of my pickles and licked my fingers clean.

2. G&T for one at The Islington

Then, I headed over to The Islington in ... Islington, to wait for the Julian Velard show to start, which I had tickets to. I've been a fan of his since my early days at Mount Holyoke, where I went to every one of his shows at Blanchard Student Center and the surrounding five colleges.

While I was waiting for John to arrive, I sipped a G&T on the edge of the pub at my own little table, which looked out over the busy Tolpuddle Road (and directly into a Sainsbury's parking lot - jeez, my fingers automatically typed "car park" there ... I've lived in this country far too long). I pretended I was on vacation (again, typed "holiday") instead, overlooking the sunset on a gorgeous, pebbly beach on the Italian coast and that the heavy breeze whipping up my dress and raising goosebumps on my mis-judged bare legs was actually a warm breeze coming off whatever exotic ocean imports warm breezes from the East.

3. Julian Velard concert for two (plus a roomful of lunatic fans)

Soon after John arrived and polished off his pizza, the doors to the show opened and we were treated to a couple hours of terrific music - first from Alex Dezen of The Damnwells, then Julian himself. I haven't been to a Julian Velard show since ... 2006 or so, but I must say, he has a very, erm, diverse mix of fans. They seemed to range from middle-aged men to teenage guys who looked no older than 15 or 16. The latter group seemed to know every single word to every single song and sang along enthusiastically, while heckling the performer at the same time (apparently, one of them has his own YouTube channel dedicated to his covers of Julian Velard songs). It was bizarre, confusing, and annoying all at the same time.

He was amazing, as always. If you want to hear some of his music, I'd recommend starting out with the album, Nitetime, which is what I loved listening to in college (and now). His new albums are just as good though - witty, often satirical lyrics combined with excellent music writing. It's just wonderful to listen to something that isn't mainstream, Ellie Goulding/Bon Iver/Rough Trade-recommended bullshit, but something that's honestly, refreshingly different.

Even John, who wasn't a huge fan before, was thoroughly impressed after the show. "His lyrics are so good! He's an amazing musician!" he enthused, which is a really big deal for him because he, like every other British person, shows tremendous restraint when sharing any form of enthusiasm whatsoever (i.e. shows minimal enthusiasm about anything, ever).

We caught a bus home and walked back in the rain, but it turned out to be a pretty good 4th, all around. I managed to see Julian after the show and told him that I'd been a fan since his early days. He asked me how long I'd lived in London and when I told him, said, "Well, you seem to have retained your American accent pretty well." I replied, "I know. I try so hard." Clearly, I need to work on retaining the vocabulary, however.

Happy 4th, everyone.

Thursday, July 3, 2014

These Dark Chocolate Covered Banana Bites: So Very Yum

I know, this blog is so random, right? One minute, I'm baring my soul to you and making you cry and the next, I'm chattering away about Vietnamese street food and magic teapots. Sometimes I write about deep stuff, and sometimes I write about fluff. That's just what goes on in my head.

So, here's your fluff for the day: these Pacari Ecuadorian Organic Dark Chocolate (yes, boost your jerk status by naming all those elements) Covered Banana bites. Somehow, the pronouncement of "RAW" on the package and the mention of antioxidants on the front makes me feel less guilty for nibbling on these post-Pilates class today.

But seriously. I don't even really like dark chocolate and this tastes so good. It's quite banana-y though (duh), so avoid if you don't like bananas (triple duh).

How did I come across this? Good question. We babysat for my sweet 5-month-old niece on Monday (who spent the first 20 minutes giggling and the next 40 crying her poor eyes out) to give Tom and Cristy a well-deserved break (and some alone time) and when they came back from dinner, I noticed this, plus a bar of Montezuma dark chocolate in my bag that hadn't been there before. So cute.

Since I'm staying away from milk chocolate and basically anything sweet at the moment (except for either Saturday or Sunday, which is my "cheat" day - I know, don't even ask), this little dark chocolate treat was a welcome "allowance" for me.

I posted this on Instagram earlier today and someone commented that she loved Pacari's salted chocolate range. Ugh. Why did she have to tell me that? Now I'll have to go out and hunt for it.

Are you a dark chocolate lover?

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

ChaCult Magic Teapot

On Saturday, we met up with Colin, Sofie and their adorable baby girl, Marley, at one of our favorite Dalston hangouts, The Proud Archivist. I've blogged about the gallery/cafe/event space before, but I just love spending time there - whether it's a rainy or sunshine-filled day. The way the light pours into the two-tiered, open space makes it feel light and airy and the long, communal tables make it a great place to catch up with friends. Oh, and the wall-to-wall bookshelves also give me interior-design envy.

Anyway, the point of this post is that John ordered a fresh mint tea with his brunch (so hardcore, I know) and was presented with this amazing, "magic" teapot by ChaCult when it arrived.

Isn't it cool? Too bad the server didn't give him any instructions (it doesn't look drastically dissimilar to other teapots, don't you think?), as John proceeded to pour the tea the "normal" way (i.e. from the top of the pot) and made a mess over the table. Oops. With this "magic" teapot, you simply press the base of the teapot onto your glass/mug, and the tea is released from the bottom of the pot. I'm not sure it would look as cool without the corresponding glass from Chash Tea, but you get the picture.

I think this would make a great gift for a kitchen-gadget-obsessed friend or relative (except my dad, who would wave his hand dismissively and call this sort of thing "a gimmick" - he's a traditionalist and takes his tea brewing very, very seriously!). What do you think? Are you a tea drinker?

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

"Pho-nomenal" (Sorry, I Had to do It) Vietnamese Street Food @ Pho Restaurant

Last week, I was lucky enough to win a meal for two at Pho, courtesy of lifestyle magazine, About Time, and Pho Restaurants.

One of my favorite memories from our trip to Vietnam last year involved waking up at 7:00 a.m. in order to search the streets of Hanoi for a noodle street vendor who was rumored by guidebooks as being incredibly difficult to find, but definitely not-to-be-missed.

After wandering for 20 minutes or so through the cramped and chaotic roads, we finally stumbled upon an unmarked, narrow room of a shop that spilled out onto the sidewalk (though the concept of sidewalks doesn't really exist in Hanoi - if you've ever been, you'll know what I mean) and a lone woman who sat on a small stool, stirring a boiling pot of water. We must have looked confused, but she nevertheless smiled and kindly gestured for us to sit down at the short counter inside as office workers and even police officers, beginning their shifts, shuffled in to the makeshift "restaurant" for some bun rieu - a Hanoi speciality.

Before long, the invigorating smell of beef broth filled our noses and two steaming bowls of aromatic, soup noodles topped with thin slices of steak and clusters of crab meat magically appeared before us. Needless to say, it was absolutely delicious and an experience I'll never forget.

I never thought this culinary experience (minus the crazy traffic, heat, and makeshift sidewalk "kitchen", of course) could have been replicated anywhere else, so I was very surprised - not to mention, thoroughly impressed - when we were served dishes at Pho that were so strikingly similar to those we had sampled in the backstreets of Hanoi.

To say that I was skeptical of the restaurant's authenticity is an understatement: I expected it to be another run-of-the-mill Vietnamese restaurant, indistinguishable to those peppering the streets of Shoreditch. But as soon as I bit into my bun cha gio chay (vermicelli rice noodles with herbs, mooli, and veggie spring rolls) I was deeply ashamed of my callous pre-judgment: it was so good. And tasted almost exactly like the bowls of bun I ordered in Ho Chi Minh City and Hanoi.

John's bun rieu (vermicelli rice noodles in a hearty, tomato and crabmeat broth with wafer thin steak and tofu) looked mouth-wateringly tasty across the table. It tasted nearly exactly like the bun rieu we had in Hanoi!

Of course, I can't forget to mention the amazing cocktails (it was Friday, after all), which were equally yummy: I ordered a Dua Colada (coconutty goodness in alcoholic form) - and John had the Hanoi Mule, a refreshing choice for a summer's evening with fresh apple, ginger, and lime.

For dessert, I was transported back to our last night in Hanoi, where we sat outside amongst throngs of tourists and locals alike on teeny tiny benches late at night, enjoying beers and street food until the police kicked us off the sidewalks and made us go inside (which we all disobeyed as soon as they rounded the corner) ... I opted for a favorite of mine, banana fritters served with coconut ice cream (in case you couldn't tell, I freaking love coconut!) and John had the fantastic pandan pancake with ginger ice cream and roasted coconut.

We basically rolled out of the restaurant after that, clutching at our stomachs and barely able to manage the 20-minute walk home, but I know that I'll definitely be returning to Pho every time I want my Hanoi street food fix.

Thank you, About Time and Pho, for an excellent meal! xoxo
© angloyankophile

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