Life spills out into sidewalks

Hanoi, Vietnam.

A city with rectilinear mazes of narrow streets.

The negative space between the French colonial and Art Deco structures becomes increasingly narrow with the height of the structures until buildings practically touch, sometimes coming within centimetres of one another.

In these tight spaces, all sorts of items are stored; clothes are hung to dry, pots and pans dangle out of windows, crooked cages with colourful singing birds balance precariously between the grimy walls, while thick streams of tangled electric cables try and dodge their way between the walled canyons and out across the city.

Below, children play with friends, ride bikes, and practice football with cans. Peoples’ private live’s spill out into sidewalks, their homes wide open to the streets as they go about their daily live’s.
Before the early sun rises over the polluted area, and before any shop or cafe opens, the streets are already bustling. Women sing, everyone opens their doors to let in the morning air while still laying in bed. People are stretching and practicing their daily tai chi along sidewalks and lakes while others spit watery toothpaste onto the road. Fresh produce is sold for the days cooking, bakeries are overflowing with breads and pastries and delicious smells, entire pigs and goats are being slices open and dissected. Flowers are being spread across the city to homes and businesses as offerings to Buddha. All this, on thin streets.

Food is prepared on open fires and stoves in front of house, tea is brews on hot iron coal holders, coconuts are split open and sugarcane is crushed.
Clusters of small plastic stools line the streets for people to enjoy a hot bowl of noodle soup, with fresh herbs and salads or barbecue or fire-toasted baguettes or shelled peanuts with iced tea or fresh beer and a cigarette.

Throughout the day, women carry large baskets along the roads with ingredients to spontaneously prepare a meal in a china bowl, sell sweet fruits and flowers, or collecting discarded plastics and cans.
Men labour in the heat on constructions sites, often consisting of a entire concrete upper floor resting on a forest of vertical sticks. Others sit, smoke, people-watch and lay on motorbikes waiting for someone who needs a ride.

Restaurants are often simply a few stools, and sometimes tables, in the front room of someones home. And old lady or an old man sitting on the threshold between the street and interior space with a rectangle iron box filled with coal as he or she roasts and toasts foods all day.

On these small, often blue, stools —which are pretty much just a support for a seated squat— we’ve had soups, with tofu, crab paste, other unidentified seafoods and clear white noodles in spicy broth. This comes with a large basket of ngo (cilantro), ngo gai (culantro), rau ram (Vietnamese coriander), hung (mint), hung cay (spicy mint), hung que (Thai basil), kinh gioi (Vietnamese balm), Tia to (red perilla), diep ca (fish mint), la lot (wild betel) and rau diếp (lettuce). We’ve eaten fresh spring rolls and fried spring rolls. Coal-toasted sweet baguettes with dried salted and sweet fish. We’ve had ‘sizzling cake’, a savoury pancake made from rice flour and turmeric stuffed with vegetables, green onion and sprouts, wrapped in a dozen leaves, dipped in a clear spicy-lemony sauce. We’ve devoured flower hot-pots; broth with vegetables and plentiful plates of colourful flowers to drop into the broth that sits above a flame.

Vietnamese food is one of my favourites. It’s full of fresh greens, it’s light and delicious, it has a touch of French influence.

Hanoi is a relaxed city. People enjoy each others company. People enjoy food and drink.