There is something special about traveling to a place I have been to before. I love the familiarity. Feeling my way around the city without a map. Not looking like a deer in headlights because I know what to expect.
What I truly love about these experiences, though, is knowing where to eat. Returning to a restaurant that we have been to before. Ordering dishes I remember loving during the last visit.
As much as I travel the world, seeking new experiences, we are creatures of habit. Finding the familiar in an unfamiliar land.
It is why every time we are in Hanoi, we make the trek down Pho Hue to Chim Sao, in our old neighborhood of Hai Ba Trung. We take friends who visit with us down to Chim Sao Hanoi for a guaranteed good meal.
We first visited Chim Sao Hanoi with friends when we stayed across the street on Ngo Hue. We left our shoes on the first floor, climbed the antique wooden staircase, and emerged in a restaurant that looked more like an art studio. Local artists’ work littered the walls. The floor was covered with tiny wooden tables and square cushions to sit on. The meals are eaten while lounging.
The menu is eclectic, with traditional Vietnamese cuisine, often artfully prepared, and with some French twists. Although typical dishes include tofu, spring rolls, prawns, and duck, Chim Sao Hanoi also serves eel, tortoise, frogs, fighting cock, buffalo, and pigeon. The French fusion influences lean towards inclusion of sauerkraut, port wine, mustard, and pate. The truly adventurous can branch out to try ethnic minorities sausage, pork blood boiled with bamboo shoots, salted pork ears, and grilled pork tongue. A little something for everyone.
Hung, a 12 year old who dined with us during our first visit, couldn’t wait for the pigeon – his favorite. He refused to try any one of the ten other dishes that arrived, waiting for his grilled pigeon. He did not share, but you couldn’t blame him. When it arrived, he went to town. Much like Eric did with the grilled pork ribs during our most recent visit.
We even explored more of the menu when dining with friends, checking out the ground pidgeon and grilled buffalo, which was served steaming over sizzling garlic. Chim Sao also has some of the best banana flower salad I ever had. And, I love their fried frogs’ legs.
I always feel like I am splurging on a meal at Chim Sao, merely sitting indoors in Vietnam provides an air of elegance. The prices, though, are not much more expensive than eating at an outdoors bia hoi. Our meal with beer, water, and several dishes came to about $15. Okay, maybe that is a splurge in Hanoi, where pho on the street costs $2.
Most important, though, Chim Sao Hanoi is located in the Hai Ba Trung district of Hanoi, nowhere near the touristy Old Quarter or the expat enclave of West Lake (Tay Ho). I feel like it is a hidden gem, some place that makes me feel like a local in Hanoi.