Ordering food can be a tall order

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VietNam News English - 39 month(s) ago 8 readings

A free waitress glides past my ankle-high plastic stool at a local bia hoi (draught beer) pretending to busy herself with other customers on the edge of the Old Quarter.

She's avoiding me because we're about to run through the common ritual of deciphering what cuisine is on offer – an exchange of blank stares and unfamiliar language.

Ha Noi is blessed with an unrivaled spread of streetfood stalls through the city, and a smattering of top-quality restaurants, but the process of selecting the delights on offer can be a challenging ordeal. Finding out exactly what is available and ordering it may seem simple beyond belief, but throughout my time in Ha Noi, things have rarely run smoothly.

Every Thursday Expat Corner is a space where expats can share their experiences of Viet Nam or events for the calendar and reach out to one another in the thriving expat community, so please email your stories or listings to life@vnsmail.com .

Even in the heart of the tourist-soaked Old Quarter, where one would imagine wait staff English ability to be high, streedfood vendors all too often offer bemused looks at what to give the tay (Westerners).

Every Thursday Expat Corner is a space where expats can share their experiences of Viet Nam or events for the calendar and reach out to one another in the thriving expat community, so please email your stories or listings to life@vnsmail.com .

I must admit, with hands raised, my efforts to learn Vietnamese have progressed very little since arriving, and this is largely the source of my ordering predicament. But this is precisely the problem, as many expats can no doubt understand, I've found myself in a sort of limbo situation – not a tourist, but struggling to be a local.

In many instances I've bypassed the ordering process by sneaking glances at the selections of other diners, and indicating to the waiter or waitress that I'd like the same. This wonderfully simple technique can of course severely limit your options, but for the no fuss approach it's a winner.

Like many aspects of Hanoian life that can easily frustrate, I've learned to remain calm, and accept the uncertainty. When the wrong dish comes out, or doesn't come out at all, there's often little you can do.

While the problems may resonate in my mind more than the straightforward moments, there are frequent occasions where ordering is a simple, no fuss affair. Stalls that specialise in one dish are blissful retreats where talking or hand gestures are often not needed at all.

One saving grace of my ordering ailment is the ever-present availability of beer, with its simple, universal name, that has been preserved ever so well in these parts as bia, to quell my frustrations and quench my thirst.

Despite all of these problems, the fine cuisine on offer in Ha Noi, be it on a street corner or in a luxurious restaurant, is undeniably exquisite, and worth any hassles involved. — VNS

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