Hanoi

After nineteen hours of travel, a stop in Singapore, and an estimation that I had peed in at least 5 time zones in a 24 hour span (certainly a personal best), I was in a daze as I stepped out of the Hanoi airport to catch the no. 86 bus into central Hanoi.

I often find that people’s descriptions of places, especially first impressions, are rooted in hyperbole. Except Anthony Bourdain, he fucking nailed it. The smell of grilled pork in the distance mixed with the pungency of motorbike fumes and still somehow a tinge of fresh air. Parts Unknown was right on the money with this one, and it was only the beginning.

As the bus motored on down the highway, the “meep meep” of a scooter passing by could be heard as it got more and more regular entering the city centre. It was a rainy morning and the roads were slick but this didn’t stop families of three or four people, sometimes with the family pet onboard from motoring along on their little Honda scooter, taking corners at alarming speeds and weaving in and out of the natural flow of traffic.

Hanoi is a city that when viewed from afar seems like chaos of the highest order. Mopeds, trucks and pedestrians weaving in and out of traffic in a seemingly random set of rules. Vendors of all sorts of food, clothing and other assorted trinkets set up wherever they can find space, spooning noodle soup out of large cauldrons on the side of the road. Up close, however, the chaos begins to fade as you realise how ordered it really is.

Traffic, although seemingly random, has it’s methods and it’s, shall we say, guidelines to it. This becomes abundantly clear when you first cross a major street. Walk steady, with purpose and the traffic flows around you like water around a rock in a stream. The thing most noted is that although there is noise everywhere, very little of it seems to be aggressive in any way, just more of a simple “just letting you know I’m here” sort of way. Even on Train Street, where patrons set up stalls and break them down away from the tracks, three or four times a day when the trains role through, has an order to it that seems almost rhythmic.

4:20 Train arriving on train street

Shops appear random until you notice each little street has a theme. Flower streets, shoe streets, hardware and other DIY items, clothing and streets of nothing but restaurants and places that turn into the infamous Bia Hois at night (Bia Hois are a Hanoi institution where kegs are brought out by the street and served on the cheap to anyone sitting nearby in the hastily arranged plastic kiddie furniture that dots the city streets at night).

Bia Hoi in Hanoi

And the food, my goodness the smells as you walk past the stalls. Morning smells of beef broth from the simmering of Pho noodle soups, afternoons and evening smells of duck, pork and fish mixed with lime, red chili’s and fresh lemongrass in assorted different combinations is enough to keep you exploring the city just by following your nose.

The best PhΓ΄ in Hanoi

Vietnam is a place that has only semi-recently become a common place for travellers to visit, especially backpackers and that is evident in the people who are friendly in a still-curious sort of way. Hanoi is certainly more used to Westerners due to it’s proximity to Ha Long Bay, Vietnam’s biggest tourist destination, but it seems to have not yet become weary of constant tourism like sadly places like Thailand and Cambodia have to a larger degree.

It is safe to say that thirty-six hours is not enough time to see all there is to see in a city of seven million people however, Hanoi, you have certainly captured me and I am certain that before long I’ll be back to you again.

60 Under 30 #7: Slovenia

“Do what you love and you’ll never work a day in your life.”

Sounds like something right out of a high school graduation speech to a bunch of teenagers with hopes that still feel like a distant dream. We dream of becoming pilots that fly rockets into space, doctors who cure cancer or famous athletes making millions of dollars to play their favourite sport.

The harsh reality that all but a very small percentage end up facing is that not everyone can save the world, be rich and famous or rocket into space. As we grow up, expectations become tempered and reality sets in. We take a job that pays well because it means security. Dreams become tangible goals such as buying our first house or getting that next raise. Every once in a while you’ll read about someone who quit their “ordinary” job to do something they’ve always dreamed of. To those people, I commend your courage, however, not everyone is wired that way. Some of us are just meant to be “ordinary”.

I promise this wasn’t meant to depress you. There is nothing wrong with ordinary. The wonderful thing about this world and being able to travel across it is that you meet people from all sorts of backgrounds and who possess a wealth of experience. Everywhere you go, you find a whole new definition of what can be seen as “ordinary”.

It’s during these experiences, that every once in a while, you’ll meet someone doing a job that they were clearly meant to be doing. These people take something ordinary and make it exceptional. Everything about the way they talk about their work, carry themselves while doing it and the way they interact with others conveys the feeling that they love what they do.

On this particular trip, I had been travelling through Croatia, Slovenia and on to Austria with my family. The previous stop had been Piran on the Slovenian coast where we had sampled some of the most incredible seafood in the Venetian city and were keen to experience the cuisine of the country’s capital, Ljubljana.

The Vander Restaurant is located alongside the Ljubljanica river. On this particular warm July night, my parents, brother and I found ourselves wandering the streets of Ljubljana after a day visiting Lake Bled. As we walked past the Vander, we noticed it’s lovely patio adjacent to the river and my brother, of course, noticed the delicious sounding steaks on the menu. Done deal. Almost immediately after being sat at a lovely table for four on the patio, we were greeted by the food and beverage manager, MatjaΕΎ.

I probably don’t need to tell you that MatjaΕΎ is the type of person I’ve been talking about all the way along. From the moment he greeted us he and his team turned an ordinary dinner into something exceptional. Not only was the food delicious but he took the time to ask about our tastes, making excellent recommendations that complemented the meal. Local beer and wine, an Irish whiskey that we still remember to this day, in fact, I have a bottle of the Irish whiskey sitting on my shelf in London.

 

The Meal

Of course, no dinner can truly be complete without food to match the experience and in this regard, there was certainly nothing to disappoint. Our appetizer (a recommendation, of course) was salmon marinated in rum with horseradish and red pepper oil. I honestly struggle to describe it other than an excellent way to start a meal. Guess you’ll just have to try it for yourselves. Make sure you ask for a local beer to taste as well.

For our main courses, my brother, father and I each had the Australian ribeye, while my mother tried the roast chicken fillets. Each was paired with deliciously recommended wines and cooked to perfection. Sometimes comfort foods just can’t be beaten.

We were on holiday so naturally we couldn’t possibly skip dessert, however, we did need to share as we were starting to feel our waistbands getting tighter. If you can only pick one thing, do yourself the favour of their signature Pavlova, and ask for some extra macaroons if you want an extra little treat.

Just writing this made me hungry…

Now I’ve worked in a restaurant before. For several years in high school and university, I spent my summers working at a high-end restaurant in Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario. I can say wholeheartedly and with a lot of experience that it is a tough job. High stress, on your feet all day running between kitchens, bars, dining rooms and patios often without a break for yourself. I’ve often said that everyone should be made to wait tables at least once in their lives and that you can learn an awful lot about a person based on how they speak to a server. Some people can be absolutely horrible to servers and often for things entirely out of their control. With all this said, I find it even more amazing when I come across someone in the food and beverage industry who is able to turn the ordinary into the exceptional.

So thank you, Vander Restaurant, MatjaΕΎ and your team, for giving my family an experience to remember by loving what you do.