Food Street, Tong Duy Tan was our Hanoi home for three months. Lined with boisterous shophouse eateries, busy food stalls and rowdy late-night local bars, the street noise didn’t bother us. But the daily karaoke like clockwork on the other side of our apartment wall drove us absolutely mad. But who wouldn’t sacrifice a little sleep and sanity to have an address like ‘Food Street’?
“You won’t hear anything – they’re soundproofed,” the Hanoi real estate agent lies to us about the karaoke bars adjacent to the fifth-floor apartment Lara and I were about to rent for three months on Food Street, Tong Duy Tan, in the Vietnamese capital, Hanoi.
The immensity of this fib will be demonstrated like clockwork every day at 2.15pm when a karaoke bar staff member proceeds to strangle to death a Vietnamese ballad with his bare voice, only occasionally hitting a note by accident in passing.
It’s not that we didn’t expect noise. We knew that the street was a lively one from the first time we stumbled upon it.
Food Street, Tong Duy Tan – Karaoke Like Clockwork at our Hanoi Home in the Vietnamese Capital
Lined with busy shop-front food stalls, boisterous local eateries and rowdy late-night bars, Tong Duy Tan, the lane that the locals call Food Street, turned out not to be the up-and-coming area of “trendy” cafes, bars and restaurants as Lonely Planet had erroneously predicted.
And while it’s closed to cars, it’s not the peaceful pedestrian thoroughfare that you might expect, as motorcycles treat it as a highway.
No two days start the same on Food Street.
Most mornings we are woken at 6.45am by announcements broadcast in Vietnamese on loudspeakers from the local Communist Party office, followed by rousing patriotic tunes inexplicably set to a salsa beat.
Soon after, female vendors on bicycles start moving slowly down the street, chatting to stall-holders and shop-keepers along the way, and occasionally making a sale of whatever is overflowing from their baskets, from fresh vegetables to ceramic vases.
Cooks begin to prepare food for the day ahead. One pho stall gets busy quickly with customers slurping bowls of the fragrant noodle broth soon after the cook sets up shop. Around 11am our favourite nearby bun cha stall opens, the aroma of chargrilled pork belly tempting us downstairs for lunch.
By mid-afternoon the number of customers on the street decreases, with only the occasional firing of a wok to be heard.
If things are really slow, the perfectly coiffured boys from the local hairdressing salon across the way will play a game of đá cầu (like shuttlecock, but with your feet), deftly dodging the breakneck bikers.
As night-time falls, groups of young Vietnamese diners begin to descend on our lane and bottles of rice wine and cheap local vodka are downed with ease to the chant of their toasts.
By 11.30pm things start to get really interesting. While our neighbouring karaoke bar is in full swing, the police arrive, doing their own version of barking into microphones to order eateries to shut for the night. There’s a midnight curfew that locals do their best to ignore.
Owners hastily comply, reopening immediately after the police have moved on. A young man appears in the shadows, directing hip young things on scooters down a skinny dark alleyway to an after-hours speakeasy.
The shophouse eateries stay open for as long as the tunes are belted out in buildings along the street. This can go until close to 5am.
The two hours of silence until the morning loudspeaker briefing are the best two hours of sleep we’ll get on Food Street.
Now that we’ve moved on, we’re actually missing the noise. Well, apart from the karaoke.
Food Street Tong Duy Tan Street, Hanoi
The street runs between Dien Bien Phu and Tran Phu. Mid-way down Tong Duy Tan a smaller perpendicular lane called Cam Chi has more bars and restaurants.
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