I had just three hours in Hanoi before my ride to Tam Coc and needed some grub. The hotel had suggested a restaurant which, when I took the precaution of googling, looked tourist-oriented, had lukewarm reviews at best, and the menu online bore shocking prices. I, being a Southeast Asian born and bred, who know perfectly well how to eat street food, bristled at this recommendation and went out and wandered about instead. Eventually I halted at a small streetside stall when the aroma of grilled meat wafted to me and the wise-looking crone beside the charcoal grill beckoned me over and I obediently sat down to have some bun cha.

It was not that this bun cha was in any specific way distinguishable from any other bun cha, but its very ordinariness (I use the word without perjorative) was what so pleased me. Locals arrived and plonked themselves down at my table without greeting or ceremony and were brought, without having to say a word, the same food I was brought, and I copied what and how they ate when I wasn't entirely sure what went where and whether to use hands, spoon or chopsticks. There were pork patties and pork belly slices both with a good char, and in the golden broth oodles of chopped garlic with a serious kick that lingered on the breath an hour later. A basket of (largely mysterious) fresh vegetables was set down at the table, some with varying sharp tastes akin to perilla and mustards and others mild and unobtrusive but satisfyingly juicy, all of which I ate happily and without hesitation because I have a penchant for strange vegetables. And at the end the stall owner patiently waited while I fumbled with currency and took a mere 35,000 dong off me, which would not have paid for a cup of juice at the other place. And it was with that small satisfaction that I started my day.

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