Become a gourmet before you leave Hanoi, CNN exhorts

Sunday, March 3, 2019

In town for the Trump-Kim summit? Don’t leave town before you try five signature dishes, advises CNN.

Foreign tourists flock to Hanoi during the Trump-Kim summit. Photo by AFP

As U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un meet in Vietnam’s capital city to find ways to advance peace on the Korean peninsula, all eyes are on Hanoi.

The capital city, which celebrated its millennial anniversary almost a decade ago, has plenty to offer the history buff, the culture buff and the food buff.

U.S.-based news channel CNN has made five recommendations for the food buff. It urges foreign tourists and international reporters covering the Trump-Kim summit to try these five dishes at least once before leaving Hanoi.

Cha Ca, a unique fried catfish dish

The pan-fried squares of fish tossed with dill, onion, turmeric and galangal is a well known, much favored dish, but it also has a fascinating history that adds to its uniqueness.

Photo by VnExpress/Quynh Trang

In the Old Quarter, which has streets named after the vocation or trade they once hosted, Cha Ca Street stands out. In fact, it would stand out in all parts of Vietnam and probably most parts of the world as a street named after a popular dish that gained iconic status some time ago.

The street lies between Hang Ma and Lan Ong streets. On Cha Ca Street stands one of the oldest restaurants in Hanoi, La Vong, which been serving just one special dish for nearly 150 years: fried catfish.

Diners sit at a communal table with a skillet set up over a burner. Turmeric-marinated fish is added to sizzling garlic oil, and dill and shrimp paste is tossed in.

The diners’ job is to add herbs, marinated hot chilies, peanuts and vermicelli, which are all laid out on the table.

Photo by VnExpress/Quynh Trang

In the late 19th century, revolutionary soldiers met clandestinely at 14 Hang Son Street, where, during their 25-year resistance against French colonialism, Doan Phuc and his wife Bi Van welcomed the troops with a dish they called cha ca.

Today, Hang Son Street has been renamed Cha Ca.

The Doan family opened the restaurant in 1871 as a rebel hideout during French colonial times. They named it after Jiang Ziya (La Vong in Vietnamese), a Chinese noble who fished with a bare hook and helped King Wen of Zhou overthrow the Shang Dynasty.

Cha Ca La Vong quickly became a hot dining spot favored by the very aristocrats and colonial officials it sought to unseat.

La Vong Restaurant at 14 Cha Ca Street, which was named after the popular dish, in the Hanoi Old Quarter. Photo by VnExpress/Quynh Trang

Shrimp cake

Photo by VnExpress/Tan Cao

This deep fried rice powder cake with shrimp is believed to have appeared in Hanoi in the 1970s. Anytime someone mentions banh tom, everyone will think of West Lake, where this dish attained iconic status.

The most well known restaurant for the dish is on Thanh Nien Street, which lies between the West Lake and Truc Bach Lake. It is typically served with lettuce leaves for wrapping, plus chili, lime juice and fish sauce for dipping.

What made the dish special not too long ago that it was made with freshwater shrimp caught in the West Lake.

Photo acquired by VnExpress

Fish noodle soup

The Hanoi-style fish noodle soup has a light broth made with fish bones and is served with golden colored fresh fried white fish. At the bottom of the soup, is a bed of rice vermicelli noodles. On the top, covering the broth, is a delicate combination of spring onions and bean sprouts mixed with dill.

Mark Lowerson, founder of Hanoi Street Tours, recommends the  restaurant called Van at 105 Quan Thanh Street in Hanoi as “one of the best in town” to sample the dish.

Photo by VnExpress/Hung Tuan

Crab noodles soup

Photo acquired by VnExpress

A bowl of crab noodles, or bun rieu cua is a vermicelli soup with a tomato-based broth made by slowly simmering pork or chicken bones, topped with fried tofu, prawns, crab meat, bean sprouts and fresh Vietnamese herbs like perilla and cilantro.

The success of the dish lies in its broth, which has a slightly sour flavor that comes from vinegar mixed with tomatoes, balanced with a little sweetness of small crabs originally caught in paddy fields.  

A good place to try this soup is a street stall run by Ms. Thu in the Tho Xuong Alley near the St. Joseph’s Cathedral, CNN’s food editors recommend.

Egg coffee

Photo by VnExpress/Quynh Trang

Photo by VnExpress/Quynh Trang

The unusual combination of eggs and coffee makes this beverage stand out, and as the city of its origin, Hanoi, has become well known for it.

The father of the egg coffee in Hanoi is said to be Nguyen Van Giang, who was a bartender at the Metropole Hotel during the French colonial era. He later took cappuccino, added whisked egg yolk and gave it a Vietnamese twist to create the signature beverage, which has a well-crafted balance of fatty, bitter and sweet sensations.

 

Photo by VnExpress/dan trinidad

The drink starts with a layer of condensed milk at the bottom, over which strong black coffee is poured. Beaten egg yolk is added to it in a proportion that gives the drink a balanced taste.

The drink can now be found at many street-side cafés in Hanoi, but the Giang café, hidden in a small alley in the Old Quarter, is said to be the best place to try this unique beverage.

Each cup is placed in a bowl of warm water to maintain the heat. Giang café is open from 7 a.m to 10 p.m, and an egg coffee costs VND20,000 ($0.86) a cup.

Story by Nguyen Quy

Videos by CNN Travel, Nhung Nhung, Trang Bui

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