I come from a city with a decent reputation for Vietnamese food, and though I knew the food would be better still in Vietnam, I couldn't fully understand how much better it would be. This is cross-an-ocean-just-to-eat-it good. This is last-meal-before-you-die good. The advertising method? A fan strategically placed behind the brazier where the pork patties were grilling, blowing the heavenly scent of caramelizing pig meat into path of passersby. Highly effective, highly delicious. 57 Hai Ba Trung, Hanoi.
Before our trip to Vietnam, I made a loose outline of the street foods I hoped to try - bun cha (grilled pork slices and meatballs in fish-sauce-based broth, with herbs, chilies and rice noodles) topped the list. It was the one thing I couldn't come home without trying. We searched for days, still eating like kings, but never stumbling across it at the right time. One day, as we toddled along, lost, trying to find the Lao Airlines office, the smell of grilled pork caught our attention. A smell like that is one that you follow, and so we did, ending up at 57 Hai Ba Trung, where we found a cook using this incredibly effective sidewalk advertising method. Lo and behold, that fragrant pork was being readied for bun cha. We grabbed a couple of low plastic stools and settled in for one of the best meals we had in Hanoi, for the price of about $2.