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Hanoi’s Super-Cute Ex-Pat Cafes

“I’m analyzing your deepest fears and desires right now,” said the short-haired, middle-aged Canadian woman, staring at the drawings her French co-worker had scrawled on their paper placemats. The warm lighting in the Hanoi cafe made the colors glow.

The French woman smiled. “I just drew lots and lots of elephants. Not really any reason for it. I just did.”

Why the heck don’t more cafes employ the paper-placemat plus box-of-crayons technique of La Place Café in Hanoi’s Old Quarter? Drawing calms the soul. I would have jiggled my leg and tapped my chopsticks and grown angry at the world, waiting those twenty minutes for my shrimp and veggies to come, had I no waxy rainbow crayons in my paws.

As it was, the placemat became a high-fashion runway show, with voluptuous-lipped lasses pouting out from behind my food when it finally came. Delightful!

In general, the ex-pat cafes of Hanoi are utterly delicious. Most of Vietnam’s streets are lined with plastic stool squat sidewalk stands of local food, but in Hanoi the sizable ex-pat community— paired with a history of yummy French influence— has given birth to numerous artistic, scrumptious little Western-leaning eateries.

My favorite place (pre-researched online in the New Hanoian as the top cafe near my hotel) was a bakery called The Cart. The restaurant is tucked in a narrow alley behind Saint Joseph’s Cathedral (pictured, right) in the Old Quarter.

At The Cart, sandwiches are made of baguettes so fresh, they’re still warm. Fillings are all healthy but scrumptious, from the apple-celery-pork combo to the egg-cheddar-vegetable melange.

As you try to pay and walk out, the inhabitants of the baked goods case stretch their arms to you like children wishing to be picked up and cuddled. You really can’t say no to a fresh and cinnamon-y carrot cake wishing to be cuddled, can you?

The bottom line is that Hanoi may have ridiculous motorcycle traffic and it may be a long way from your home, but the cute little ex-pat cafes that blossom in the city will make you feel cozy and rapturously satisfied.

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