Downtown Hanoi, Vietnam. The early risers are driving from the suburbs into town, mostly Old Quarter, to trade their goods for cash. The outdoor salesforce has spent a good amount of time arranging their assortment to present it in an artistic way. Some stack up a variety of flowers from the local fair on the back of their bicycle. Others bring in their mobile kitchen to prepare savory food on the spot. And, not less are armed with barber equipment to offer haircuts on the sidewalk. When crossing the highway I’ve been observing the street vendors from above doing their daily business and became all of a sudden fascinated. With the curiosity for extraordinary lifestyles and in respond to my desire of Vietnamese streetfood I spent hours and hours on different bridges to capture the daily routine of street vendors on a bird’s eye view.Since I have been living in Hanoi for a good while, people often ask me, where to go and what to do when they are about to visit this fascinating blend of East and West, a city that combines fidgety Vietnamese activities within French architectural flair. My advice? Observe, get lost in the narrow alleys of Old Quarter and eat as much streetfood as possible. Even if you haven’t been to any of the major Asian cities, you’ve probably heard of the streetfood paradise, where plentiful choices remain unrivaled by any other continent. But yet, the street vendors are about to vanish and, with them a good part of the cultural dynamism which makes this megalopolis so unique. Richly stuffed Banh Mih sandwiches, delicious Bun Cha (barbecued pork patties with vermicelli noodles) or the worldwide famous Pho (beef noodle soups), will be served exclusively in restaurants, it’s just a matter of time. The sooner the better, pack your essentials and make your way to the chaotic capital of Hanoi before everything looks like sterile Singapore.

Since I have been living in Hanoi for a good while, people often ask me, where to go and what to do when they are about to visit this fascinating blend of East and West, a city that combines fidgety Vietnamese activities within French architectural flair. My advice? Observe, get lost in the narrow alleys of Old Quarter and eat as much streetfood as possible. Even if you haven’t been to any of the major Asian cities, you’ve probably heard of the streetfood paradise, where plentiful choices remain unrivaled by any other continent. But yet, the street vendors are about to vanish and, with them a good part of the cultural dynamism which makes this megalopolis so unique. Richly stuffed Banh Mih sandwiches, delicious Bun Cha (barbecued pork patties with vermicelli noodles) or the worldwide famous Pho (beef noodle soups), will be served exclusively in restaurants, it’s just a matter of time. The sooner the better, pack your essentials and make your way to the chaotic capital of Hanoi before everything looks like sterile Singapore.

Hanoi, together with Jakarta and Bangkok are enforcing new laws thoroughly and strengthening campaigns to promote public order as well as food safety. The current situation wasn’t predictable a few years ago when tasty and inexpensive dishes were all over the place. In Thailand’s capital, the number of licensed vendors had been cut in half within the past two years. By now, all the mentioned countries are sweeping the sidewalks and meanwhile threatening their culinary tradition to achieve modernisation, or even worse, to westernize their cities. Locals would name this progress „Singaporification“. The tiny sovereign city-state Singapore serves as a role model for cleanness but also for urban planning within Asia, and moved the majority of its street vendors already into regulated food courts back in the 1960s.

As times are getting rough for street vendors, it is also important to understand that, restaurant owners who feel deceived, because they have to pay their staff and bank loans to delight tourists and locals alike, while others just place themselves next to their spot with a minimum of prime costs. In Vietnam paying governmental taxes is not compulsory for the self-sufficient, and because social insurance pensions are insufficient to live on, the vast majority of elderly people still depend on their families to care for them regardless of whether or not they receive a pension. Street vendors, hawkers or outdoor barbers are solely defined as outcasts, living by what they do on the sidewalk. Nowadays, Hanoi’s policemen roam the streets encouraged by new regulations like the „sidewalk reclamation“ campaign, to either scare the vendors away or make them pay a fine worth a two-day income. It won’t take long until the street sellers can’t assure their livelihood any longer if not becoming part of the dashing development. For some, It became a cat-and-mouse game, in which they change their nonpermanent spot more often, or act as they would move, but instead just wait until the police have gone for the next minor incident.

Hanoi is the probably the most authentic blend of cultural heritage within Southeast Asia. And along with old cracked colonial buildings and hanging knots of electricity cables, Street sellers crowned with nostalgic conical hats are the most iconic appearance. Some of them have a permanent spot on a sidewalk while others expand their shop to the pavement and last but not least, there are those who constantly move around either by bike or on foot. In general, fruits, flowers, and domestic products are the most common goods. However, to bargain is literally a must for everyone, especially if you are a tourist the prices might be slightly different. Expect these prices sometimes to be double or more compared to what locals pay. Until now, Streetsellers can still be found anywhere in the city, they offer a decent and cheap alternative to supermarkets, local markets, and neighborhood stores. And although most Southeast Asian consumers start to crave for burgers, pizza, and fine dining, eaters of all social classes gather on the sidewalks to enjoy yummy streetfood. A Hanoian friend once complained with sarcastic overtones „They are poisoning us“. Streetfood might be considered as unhealthy fast food because the dishes are ready in no time, even it is obviously not mass-produced. It’s well known, that boosting the fruit and veggie production as well as the usage of tons of Chinese fertilizers isn’t a bless for a healthy stomach. Hence, many Hanoians start to trust the supermarkets more, they simply consider it as a safer choice, even the labeled products are more pricey and do not stick to their word at all, especially in Vietnam where label faking is one of the most common offenses. Food hygiene is a topic which can’t be concealed and therefore became the major reason for the recent ordinance passed by the government to restrict street vending.

Enjoy more bird’s eye images

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