Busy all year round, sometimes I thought I had lost sight of what’s important to me amid this hectic life. But then, on an early morning in autumn, I unexpectedly received a message from a friend in the south: “Saigon is chilly this morning, like how it is in the faraway northern region. I terribly miss the tenderness of Hanoi in autumn…”
There are indeed many things about Hanoi that make people feel uneasy and sentimental when away, so badly that they long to come back here to retrieve the endearing moments, even those with joys mixed with hardships. And a lot of people yearn for a reunion with Hanoi when the capital city is in the best season of the year - autumn.
When autumn arrives in Hanoi, heaven and earth suddenly become tender. The reason why Hanoi is special in autumn is that it is getting pleasantly cooler by the day after a scorching summer, that the romantic atmosphere suddenly prevails in every corner, and most importantly, that Hanoi during the season when leaves fall fills the hearts of people with lots of emotions and their minds with lingering thoughts.
Probably, everyone has a private space they are fond of when it is autumn in Hanoi. But for sure, no one can refrain from falling in love with the charming space very typical of Hanoian autumn on Phan Dinh Phung Street under the shade of the renowned ancient dracontomelon trees. This is probably the most beautiful street for those who fancy autumn in Hanoi, with the sound of birds chirping on the branches, and beams of sunlight like pouring honey through the shimmering foliage. Time suddenly stops so the hearts can have a romantic escapade with the magical moment of space.
The autumn of Hanoi is not only enchanting with the gentle atmosphere, prompting people to slow down their pace, but this is also the season associated with green rice and dracontomelon (a fruit known as sấu in Vietnamese). Green rice is a common dish sold by traditional street vendors. Over the course of time, this simple dish has become a specialty of the capital city every fall. Today, green rice may be combined with various spices or other ingredients to create many special and tempting dishes, such as green rice cake, green rice sweet soup, sticky green rice, green rice rolls, or fried green rice, etc. Rustic yet extravagant, green rice always carries the soul of Hanoian specialties, a dish that awakens one’s emotions when the season changes, from summer to autumn, and urges people to enjoy it when taking slow steps along a street in Hanoi.
“Is dracontomelon ripe yet this season in Hanoi?” - Like a habit, autumn is the time to enjoy the pure sour taste of ripe dracontomelon in the capital city. Late September and early October is the peak time of dracontomelon ripening. Ripe dracontomelon in autumn is chubby and succulent. It has a pleasant aroma and is now more sweet than sour. Today, it is not hard to find delicious ripe dracontomelon when coming to Hanoi since this flavorful, rustic autumn snack is sold in most old quarters of this city.
Hanoi, in both the 12 seasons of flowers and autumn, is associated with yellow chrysanthemums and blackboard tree flowers. “As lotuses wither, chrysanthemums bloom.” For ages, chrysanthemum, particularly the yellow species, has been the typical flower of Hanoian autumn. Chrysanthemums bloom in autumn, the most brilliant in autumn, with the yellow blossoms standing out among the pure white flowers in the baskets placed along the streets, in every corner of Hanoi. On this occasion, there is nothing more fascinating than wandering through every street on a motorbike to see more clearly how splendidly the colors of autumn are blended into the flowers. For this reason, poet Xuan Quynh in one of her poems wrote the most earnest verses about autumn and chrysanthemums: “Cuối trời mây trắng bay/ Lá vàng thưa thớt quá/ Phải chăng lá về rừng/ Mùa thu đi cùng lá/ Mùa thu ra biển cả/ Theo dòng nước mênh mông/ Mùa thu vào hoa cúc…” (White clouds drift at the end of the sky/ Yellow leaves are too scarce/ Have they returned to the forest? / Fall travels with the leaves / Fall hits the sea / Following the immense waters / Fall goes into chrysanthemums…)
Meanwhile, blackboard tree flowers are in full bloom from September until early December, giving off an increasingly pungent scent. Each tree is adorned with luxuriant clusters of white flowers, having the autumnal cold breeze send the fragrance away. There are many streets in Hanoi famous for blackboard tree flowers, such as Quang Trung, Nguyen Du, Duy Tan, Quan Thanh, Le Quang Dao, Lo Duc and Dao Tan, etc. This species has made their way into poetry and music, becoming one of the symbols of Hanoian autumn for its tender yet exquisite charm, its scent and affection that are very typical of Hanoi. Nothing is happier and more relaxing than a leisurely walk in the evening, delighting in the scent of blackboard tree flowers to feel what autumn is like in Hanoi.
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