Air Asia Travel 3Sixty - Hanoi Feature

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An article by Connla Stokes with photgraphy by Aaron Joel Santos on Hanoi's best noodle dishes

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  • 55326_t360 Nov2011_2 94 13/10/11 2:27 PM

  • 55326_t360 Nov2011_2 94 13/10/11 2:27 PM

    Vietnams capital is home to a dizzying array of delicious noodle soups that have elevated the local culinary scene to equally dizzying heights.WORDS: CONNLA STOKES PHOTOGRAPHY: AARON JOEL SANTOS

    HANOI

    In Vietnam, pho is more than a noodle soup. Its a national icon and much-lauded cuisine, at home and abroad. Theres no better introduction to both cultural and culinary matters in Hanoi, than slurping down an early morning bowl before strolling around Hoan Kiem Lake the spiritual heart of this thousand-year old city, where pho (pronounced fuh,not foe) is eaten for breakfast, lunch, dinner, and even late night supper.

    NOODLING

    AROUND

    Your rst choice is whether to try pho with beef or chicken (most restaurants serve one or the other, seldom both). For the record pho bo (beef) is the original version. Either way you dont need a reservation. Just take your seat, call for your pho, and soon a steaming bowl sits before you and the ritual begins: Add a drop of nuoc mam ( sh sauce) if you prefer a salty kick, squeeze a wedge of lime to cut through the richness, scoop in a blob of chilli paste or, a sprinkling of freshly chopped red chillies to give it some ery oomph. Some like to add in an egg. Some demand a fatty broth. Others say easy on the onion. When it comes to pho, Hanoians are as picky as New Yorkers in a sandwich deli.

    According to the Vietnamese American food writer and blogger, Andrea Nguyen, Pho in Hanoi is almost ethereal in its modest portions and simple presentation. But with less fuss, you experience phos nuance and brilliance.

    While the genesis of pho remains subject to debate, the general supposition is that pho bo sprang from an unlikely marriage of Chinese and French culinary in uences in the early 20th century. Nguyen is often asked how Vietnamese cooks conjure up a delicate broth from leftover bits of beef and spices. No one is sure but without doubt, pho Bac (northern pho) embodies Vietnams food, which is refreshing, intriguing, and beguiling, she proffers.

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  • The Vietnamese Pasta While poets wax lyrical about pho, the citys entire population lusts after bun cha, a lunchtime-only affair of barbecued marinated pork patties and strips of lean bacon served with fresh bun (cold rice noodles), herbs and greens on the side and a bowl of nuoc cham (a sh sauce-based mixture with vinegar, lime, pepper, chilli and sugar). The 20th century writer Thach Lam claimed the scent of grilling bun cha on the sidewalk could inspire ailing people to rise from their sickbeds.

    Bun often translated a tad misleadingly as vermicelli is a uffy, airy rice noodle used in multiple dishes. Its the most versatile Vietnamese noodle, says Hanoi-foodie Dao Chi Anh, who posts recipes of home-cooked meals on her blog Door2MyKitchen. We enjoy bun in sour soup, salty soup, with chicken, sh, crabs, snails, pork ribs, goose, or

    even bamboo shoots. To me, bun is the pasta of Vietnam.

    Besides bun cha, you should add bun rieu (pronounced bun zee-o) to your must-eat list in Hanoi. Its a wonderful combination of sweet and sour avours with tomatoes, rice wine vinegar, pured water crab meat, a handful of fried tofu cubes and, a side of fresh herbs and greens. Its a hot soup, but a cooling and healthy one, explains Vu The Vinh, a local travel company operator.

    Another dish worth hunting out is bun thang, a traditional dish more commonly cooked at home. A bowl of bun thang is a symphony of colours, textures and avours, says Chi Anh. Paper thin egg omelette strips, slivers of home-cured pork and chicken, spring onions and herbs, uffy prawn meat oss are all arranged around a shitake mushroom in the middle.

    The soup, made from chicken stock with dried shrimps, is nourishing and comforting. A dollop of fermented shrimp paste (mam tom) is often added

    but for true connoisseurs, the nal touch must be a drop of lique ed male Belostomatidae a water beetle known to Vietnamese as ca cuong, which is now increasingly hard to nd.

    Often dishes must be made just-so. Bun rieu and bun cha ca (grilled sh with dill and turmeric) also bene t from a dollop of mam tom, which boasts a pungent scent that can turn the unacquainted green. But for many locals eating these dishes without mam tom is the equivalent of an Englishman contemplating sh and chips minus the vinegar. Some years back, one national paper ran a gushing tribute to bun thang in which the writer even claimed the dish should only be served in white porcelain bowls made in the city of Hai Duong. Thats haute cuisine, Hanoi-style.

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  • The Vietnamese Pasta While poets wax lyrical about pho, the citys entire population lusts after bun cha, a lunchtime-only affair of barbecued marinated pork patties and strips of lean bacon served with fresh bun (cold rice noodles), herbs and greens on the side and a bowl of nuoc cham (a sh sauce-based mixture with vinegar, lime, pepper, chilli and sugar). The 20th century writer Thach Lam claimed the scent of grilling bun cha on the sidewalk could inspire ailing people to rise from their sickbeds.

    Bun often translated a tad misleadingly as vermicelli is a uffy, airy rice noodle used in multiple dishes. Its the most versatile Vietnamese noodle, says Hanoi-foodie Dao Chi Anh, who posts recipes of home-cooked meals on her blog Door2MyKitchen. We enjoy bun in sour soup, salty soup, with chicken, sh, crabs, snails, pork ribs, goose, or

    even bamboo shoots. To me, bun is the pasta of Vietnam.

    Besides bun cha, you should add bun rieu (pronounced bun zee-o) to your must-eat list in Hanoi. Its a wonderful combination of sweet and sour avours with tomatoes, rice wine vinegar, pured water crab meat, a handful of fried tofu cubes and, a side of fresh herbs and greens. Its a hot soup, but a cooling and healthy one, explains Vu The Vinh, a local travel company operator.

    Another dish worth hunting out is bun thang, a traditional dish more commonly cooked at home. A bowl of bun thang is a symphony of colours, textures and avours, says Chi Anh. Paper thin egg omelette strips, slivers of home-cured pork and chicken, spring onions and herbs, uffy prawn meat oss are all arranged around a shitake mushroom in the middle.

    The soup, made from chicken stock with dried shrimps, is nourishing and comforting. A dollop of fermented shrimp paste (mam tom) is often added

    but for true connoisseurs, the nal touch must be a drop of lique ed male Belostomatidae a water beetle known to Vietnamese as ca cuong, which is now increasingly hard to nd.

    Often dishes must be made just-so. Bun rieu and bun cha ca (grilled sh with dill and turmeric) also bene t from a dollop of mam tom, which boasts a pungent scent that can turn the unacquainted green. But for many locals eating these dishes without mam tom is the equivalent of an Englishman contemplating sh and chips minus the vinegar. Some years back, one national paper ran a gushing tribute to bun thang in which the writer even claimed the dish should only be served in white porcelain bowls made in the city of Hai Duong. Thats haute cuisine, Hanoi-style.

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    55326_t360 Nov2011_2 96 13/10/11 2:27 PM

    Above: A woman ladling out chicken soup near Dong Xuan Market in Hanois Old Quarter.Left: Bun cha (grilled pork patties) on the grill at The Hanoi Cooking Center.Opposite page: A woman selling various chillies and spices at her street side market in Hanois Old Quarter.Preceding page: A bowl of beef pho at Madame Hien restaurant in Hanoi.

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  • Pho Ga 42 Quan Thanh, Ba Dinh District 32 Le Van Huu, Hai Ba

    Trung District

    Pho Bo 61 Dinh Tien Hoang,

    Hoan Kiem District 49 Bat Dan, Hoan Kiem District

    Bun Cha 67 Duong Thanh,

    Hoan Kiem District 22b Ta Hien, Hoan Kiem District

    Bun Rieu 48B Phan Boi Chau,

    Hai Ba Trung District 23 Bat Dan, Hoan Kiem District

    Bun Thang 29 Hang Hanh, Hoan Kiem District 37 Cua Nam, Hai Ba Trung District

    Bun Cha Ca Cha Ca Thanh Long, 31 Duong

    Thanh, Hoan Kiem District Cha Ca La Vong, 107 Nguyen

    Truong To, Ba Dinh District

    Mien Luon 87 Hang Dieu, Hoan Kiem District 40 Mai Hac De Street, Hai Ba

    Trung District

    My Van Than 86 Pho Hue, Hai Ba Trung District 22 Hang Phen, Hoan Kiem District

    AlternativesAt Restaurant Ngon, (26, Tran Hung Dao, Hai Ba Trung District), you can nd all of Hanois most famous noodle dishes in one destination, prepared at individual stalls. You can also sign up for a Noodle Stall Tour with Hanoi Cooking Centre, (46 Chau Long St.), www.hanoicookingcentre.com, for around US$50.

    Lesser Known Treats Around town, you will most commonly nd mien xao cua (stir-fried glass noodles with crab) or mien luon (a soup with eel). Its also an integral part of Vietnamese spring-rolls (nem), where it is wrapped with minced pork or crab meat, giving the spring roll its wonderful bouncy texture. Mien is another animal altogether, says Chi Anh. This glass noodle absorbs avours like a sponge.

    Another honourable mention must be reserved for my van than, which wears its Chinese in uences more evidently egg noodles (my) in a pork broth with pork- lled fried wontons and steamed dumplings, as well as slivers of pork, a chunk of liver, an egg and, as Mark Lowerson describes on his food blog StickyRice, some negligible greenery.

    Perhaps, because of its agrant Sino-characteristics, this dish is often overlooked even by Vietnamese food writers. Its the least dazzling noodle dish but certainly a bowl brimming with tasty morsels.

    So, how should you decide on a passing whim whether to venture into a noodle shop when visiting Hanoi? Lowerson offers some advice: I like busy places where division of labour is clear and a system is in evidence. I also like places where I can see tomorrows broth getting prepared, where there is care in the process.

    Look for a crowd and large steaming pots, too, but dont worry too much, as Anthony Bourdain once said, You dont have to go looking for great food in Vietnam. Great food nds you. You just need to noodle around.

    NOODLE RESTAURANTS IN HANOI

    A woman making chicken pho at her stall at Quan An Ngon restaurant in Hanoi.

    AirAsia ies daily from Kuala Lumpur and Bangkok to Hanoi. Visit www.airasia.com for full ight schedule.

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