What It’s Like to Search for an Apartment (and a Good Kitchen) in Hanoi, Vietnam

(Image credit: Lisa Pepin)

Who cooks and eats here: Allen Coin and me, Lisa Pepin!
Where: Hanoi, Vietnam
Rent or Own? Rent

I’ve done my share of apartment hunting in North Carolina. I know how to avoid the big complexes with the bad reviews and click-baiting ads, screen out the euphemisms that mean “old” or “surrounded by loud students,” and write an email to a Craigslist landlord that actually gets a response. I scribbled a rental application in my car and beat out 20 other people to rent my last apartment, which had a huge kitchen at a great price. I feel like my apartment-hunting game is pretty good.

All that is out the window in Hanoi, Vietnam. My boyfriend Allen and I made the move here in February. We love the city, but it’s definitely different from home. After staying in short-term homestays, finding a space of our own quickly became a priority.

(Image credit: Lisa Pepin)

Apartment Hunting in Hanoi

Buildings tend to be very deep but narrow because of old tax laws that based property tax on the width of the front of the building. Most houses are off of alleyways, so it’s rare to see grass.

Apartment hunting here is a whole different animal. First, there’s the language barrier, so searching online meant we could only find the overpriced apartments aimed at English-speaking Westerners. Plus, the typical things we’d look for back home just aren’t common here, unless you’re willing to pay for them: dryers, closets, ovens, even a bedroom separate from the living area (“one bedroom” and “studio” seem to mean the same thing here).

Luckily, after living out of suitcases, we weren’t looking for much space. All we wanted was a decent kitchen, a desk with a view, and a bus stop nearby.

What Our Apartment Is Like

The apartment we moved into in March already feels like home. In true Hanoi fashion, the whole apartment is long and skinny, a little over eight feet wide.

The kitchen is much smaller than my last kitchen, but it has plenty of room for what we need. I’ll miss baking – there’s no oven – but they’re already starting to recognize me at the French bakery across the street (I’m going to pretend that’s a good thing). The cooktop is hooked up to a canister of gas, so there’s no monthly gas bill. We even have a section of countertop higher than the rest, and it’s just the right height for my tall self and my tall boyfriend to chop veggies comfortably. The best part is that we’re right above a furniture shop, meaning we have a beautiful wooden table and chairs.

We may not have found an oven, but we’re learning to be creative and cook new things without it: we’ve made Vietnamese fresh spring rolls, split pea dal, and now we eat Thai curry at least twice a week. I’m looking forward to trying to make mackerel with lemongrass – and trying new things is what this move is all about.

(Image credit: Lisa Pepin)

10 Questions for Lisa (and her Kitchen)

1. What inspires your kitchen and your cooking?

Honestly, whatever I can figure out how to cook here is triumph enough for me. Allen and I have slowly stopped holding on to the familiarity of shopping in a grocery store and now cook mostly with fresh vegetables and herbs from the local market and staples picked up in the many local mini-marts. We eat a lot of the same things, but that’s OK.

2. What is your favorite kitchen tool or element?

I never knew I could love a rice cooker so much. I’ve used it to make rice pudding, rice and beans, and ever since I read Rober Ebert’s epic blog post “The Pot and How to Use It,” I’ve wanted to try making vegetable stock and daal with it soon. It keeps the heat down in the kitchen, too!

3. What’s the most memorable meal you’ve ever cooked in this kitchen?

We invited four of our friends from all different countries — Vietnam, England, Germany, and France — to cook in our kitchen (more on that later). The food was delicious, and it felt like home to fill our kitchen with friends and good food.

4. The biggest challenge in your kitchen?

There are a lot of challenges, but it all goes back to having to make everything from scratch. There are no pre-packaged Trader Joe’s meals here, unless you count instant noodles, and even canned beans are hard to find. There’s no canned stock, no canned diced tomatoes — no shortcuts. It’s nice to know exactly what’s in the food I’m cooking, but sometimes I just want a quick dinner that cooks itself!

5. Is there anything you wish you had done differently?

I wish the hood and the ceiling were a little higher (Allen has to duck to get into the kitchen), but I’m really happy with what we found.

(Image credit: Lisa Pepin)

6. Biggest indulgence or splurge in the kitchen:

We only have one frying pan and one pot because we got nice, big, non-stick Korean-made pans. They were expensive (for here), but they were definitely worth it!

7. Is there anything you hope to add or improve in your kitchen?

I’d love to find a better place for the water bottle and a way to keep the floor from getting wet when we put dishes in the drying rack.

8. How would you describe your cooking style?

I wish I could say Vietnamese-inspired, but we actually make a lot of Thai food since we were more familiar with the style before coming here. I’m working on it!

9. Best cooking advice or tip you ever received:

Plan ahead! Buy food you can make multiple meals out of to cut down on trips to the store (or, in our case, trips to the local market early in the morning). Keep the pantry stocked so you can pull something together with what you have on hand when you sleep through the morning market.

10. What are you cooking this week?

Thai green curry, rice pudding, pad Thai, omelets, and Mexican rice bowls.

(Image credit: Lisa Pepin)

Resources of Note

  • Tea pot, tea bag holders, and tea cup from Bat Trang Village
  • Supor rice cooker
  • Pelia cooktop
  • Electrolux hood
(Image credit: Lisa Pepin)

Thank you so much for letting us peek into your kitchen!
Share your own kitchen renovation or improvement!
We’re always looking for real kitchens from real cooks.
Show us your kitchen here!