After our amazing lunch at KOTO on Wednesday, we headed across the street to the Temple of Literature, a very old Chinese temple compound in the heart of Hanoi. We took a few minutes to explore the temple grounds, the last of many, many temples we saw in our time in Asia.
After cleaning ourselves up a bit at our hotel (I have never sweated like I sweated in Hanoi), we took a short walk around part of Hoan Kiem Lake to one of Hanoi's best-known tourist attractions, the Thăng Long Water Puppetry Theater. This northern Vietnamese tradition dates back to the 11th century, and there are still four performances every day in central Hanoi. I think all the guidebooks' praise of the show had overhyped it a bit, though, because it ended up being a bit of a letdown.
We took a short walk from the theater to one of Hanoi's best restaurants, Wild Rice, which focuses on Vietnamese cuisine. Its sister restaurant, Wild Lotus, has taken a more international tack, combining pan-Asian specialities with Western influence. We started with another Vietnamese chicken salad and prawn and cashew spring rolls.
The salad was just as phenomenal as the one from lunch, and it inspired me to try to find Vietnamese salads back home. Unlike Thai salads, which were mostly vegetables even if they contained seafood or meat as well, this chicken salad was primarily chicken, more like Western composed salads. Combined with vegetables and Vietnamese flavoring, this made for a very different texture than the salads we had been having. The fried spring rolls, though delicious, were somewhat unremarkable. One of the pitfalls of traveling to the other side of the world for amazing food is that fresh food tends to stand out much more than fried food, even if the latter is also state of the art.
We moved on to pork with chili and lemongrass and prawns in peanut and tamarind sauce. We also wanted a vegetable, but our waiter said our choice, an eggplant dish, wasn't their best, steering us to another eggplant item that also had pork and proved to be as hearty as either of our other entrees.
The pork dish exemplified the difference between Thai and Vietnamese cuisine, and was almost a return to some of our food in Hong Kong. The meat was tender and flavorful, in the same cooked-in manner asthe spicy Szechuan chicken we had, though with a very different taste. The accompanying vegetables were fresh and tasty as well. The sauce with the prawns was tangy, not spicy, but without becoming overly sweet. The eggplant was a full-bodied dish, with a delicious sauce and ingredients.
After dinner, we walked back to our hotel, and nightfall made Hanoi's thousands of motorcycles seem even more dramatic. We managed to get some good shots of them, too.
Dreaming of lakeside tai chi and spicy salads, we were asleep moments very shortly after returning to our hotel.