*Warning: This is going to be a photo heavy post!
I apologise for being away from blogging for so long. Thanks for being patient with me.
I’m back from Vietnam (Hanoi, Sapa and Halong bay) for a couple weeks now. It’s been a very good trip. Just to share with you some photos as well as some of my adventures of eating in the city.
Even though this isn’t my first trip to Vietnam, I must say that it is on this particular trip that I had the luxury of time to wander along the streets, sit by Hoan Kiem lake to people watch, and just to eat anything that catches my fancy (even though this means eating more than the standard three meals a day). But hey, it’s not like we are on vacation everyday right?
I’m glad to say that I did taste some incredible food on this trip. My taste-buds were running on steroids the whole time I was there – the flavour combinations impressed me and new ingredients excited me.
There’s so much to say but I’ll keep this short and sweet.
Below is a list of my top four things to eat when you are in Vietnam’s capital:
Bun cha is probably the most ubiquitous food you will find in Hanoi. It is probably Hanoi’s national dish if there had to be one. You can most likely find a bun cha store at every other street in the Old Quarter. The Hanoians love to have their bun cha for breakfast or lunch. I love it too, it’s one of my favourite dishes and I had them at different shops during this trip!
It’s basically barbeque pork patties serve with a dipping sauce and vermicelli. The pork patties are grilled over coals to give it an incredible rich smoky flavour. The dipping sauce has the elements of Vietnamese flavour: the acidity, the spicy kick, the smooth sweetness, salty and the umami from the fish sauce. This dish is usually accompanied with a bunch of fresh herbs – perilla (cousin of the Japanese shiso), Thai basil, mint which adds a freshness and took the dish to the next level.
Bun Cha Nem Cua Be Dac Kim
57 Duong Thanh St, Old Quarter, Hanoi
2. Ban Cuon
Think of it as the Vietnamese answer to the Cantonese dim sum ‘cheong fun’ or 肠粉. Ban Cuon is made from a rice batter . Its steamed thinly (crepe-thin) and filled with minced pork and wood ear mushrooms. It is then given a lavish dressing of fried shallots and cilantro. You will be given a dipping sauce (probably made with lime juice and fish sauce) and you dip these delicate rolls and eat it. The ones we had were just perfect. We had it twice on our trip, post-breakfast, pre-lunch. You will probably miss this store if you weren’t looking for it because it’s a hole-in-the-wall setup, very modest.
Banh Cuon Gia Truyen
14 Hang Ga, Old Quarter, Hanoi
3. Pho bo tai nam
This is probably the most famous Vietnamese export. It is the first Vietnamese dish I had out of Vietnam and I have always been very intrigued with the beef broth and the amount of spices used to cook it.
The Pho bo tai nam (beef broth vermicelli with rare beef flank slices) at Pho Bo Gia Truyen hits a sweet spot for the flavours of the broth were well-balanced and very flavourful. J and I noticed many locals eating at this unassuming store. The Vietnamese pho-eating culture is somewhat like the Japanese ramen-eating culture. It’s a one bowl meal that you slurp up pretty quickly.
I noticed that the Vietnamese like adding more than just the juice of a lime into their pho – they add chilli padi, chilli sauce, fish sauce, and even vinegar into their bowl of pho. I followed suit (sans chilli sauce because i don’t like it clouding my clear broth) and I found that it actually gives the broth a lift in flavours.
Pho Bo Gia Truyen
49 Bat Dan St, Old Quarter, Hanoi
4. Cha Ca
I did some research on this dish before heading to Hanoi and this is one of the most controversial of the lot. Not that it is weird/unusual in taste but because of many mixed reviews and complaints about this dish being expensive and touristy. The restaurant only serve one dish: Cha ca.
Marinated fish slices (usually with tumeric, fish sauce, ginger) are thrown onto a pan right before your eyes and cooked over coals and topped with a garden of herbs (mainly dill). You eat this topped with crushed peanuts, vermicelli and dipping sauce.
I’m not a great fan of this dish because I don’t like the anise flavour of the dill and the copious amount they throw in makes it too overpowering for me. That being said, I think that you should try this just once if you happen to stop by Hanoi because I think the concept of this dish is interesting and I think it allows one to understand see how the French had influence on Vietnamese food.
Cha Ca Thanh Long
31 Duong Thanh Street, Old Quarter, Hanoi
After a couple of days in Hanoi, we headed up north-west to Sapa, where a few ethnic minority tribes live. The views in Sapa are crazily beautiful and we were very fortunate to be blessed with clear blue skies and terrific weather while we were there. It was definitely a good respite from the crazy bustle in the capital city as well as Singapore.
Apart from trekking to the different villages, we manage to squeeze in a cooking class held in the beautiful Hmong Mountain Retreat. The retreat was situated against a mountainous backdrop in plain view of the cascading rice terraces.
Our cooking class started off at the local market where we were brought to to see the produce. I must say it is quite a sight (something that we would not find in Singapore)! Then, we had a hands-on class on how to make Vietnamese spring rolls, a fresh green papaya salad and a stir-fried lemongrass and chilli chicken.
This was definitely one of the highlights of our trip. Cooking our own meal using knowledge that we just picked up and then eating our our food amidst a tranquil mountain top. It really doesn’t get any better than that!
I shall end off this post by sharing the recipe of these crispy Vietnamese spring rolls.
Vietnamese spring rolls
These spring rolls are really crispy and the dipping sauce really gives it a refreshing punch. I believe that these would be perfect as party finger food or an elegant starter to a dinner menu.
100g shiitake mushrooms, soaked in hot water and drained, chopped them into small pieces
100g dried yellow noodles, soaked in hot water for a few minutes and drained, run your scissors through it a few times to cut them shot
100g fresh prawns, diced
100g fresh pork minced
1/2 cup of carrots, diced
3 stalks of spring onions, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 yellow onion, diced
2 egg yolks
2 tbsp fish sauce
2 tbsp soy sauce
1/4 tsp salt
sugar, to taste
1/2 tsp ground black pepper
12 rice paper sheets
oil for frying
1. Combine the noodles, mushrooms, spring onions, carrots, onions in a mixing bowl and add in the seasoning (fish sauce, salt, sugar, black pepper, soy sauce) and mix well to combine. Set aside.
2. Whisk eggs and add it into the mixture of ingredients. This will be used as the filling for the spring rolls.
3. Dab a little water to moisten the rice paper sheet (so that they would not tear so easily) keep them under a damp towel when not using. Place about 1 tablespoon of the filling onto onto the middle of the bottom edge of the wrapper and fold the two adjacent sides, one on top of the other into the center. Roll toward the apex to form a nice firm roll, and secure with a dab of water. Set aside and repeat for the remaining rice papers. Do not stack the rolls on top of one another when you are done.
4. To deep-fry, heat enough oil in a wok. The oil must be enough to completely cover the spring rolls. Make sure that the oil is hot enough (about 180 degrees) before you place the rolls into the wok. Do not crowd the wok with too many spring rolls. Fry until golden brown about 3 mins o
n each side.
5. Remove the spring rolls and drain on paper towels. Serve with Vietnamese dipping sauce.
Vietnamese dipping sauce
4 tablespoons fish sauce
3 tablespoons freshly squeezed lime juice
3 tablespoons rice vinegar
1/2 cup of water
2 tablespoons sugar
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 bird’s-eye chili, chopped
2 tbsp chopped carrots
1. Combine the fish sauce, rice vinegar, water, and sugar in a saucepan in a small pan over medium low fire. Stir and cook until just below boiling point.
2. Allow mixture to cool before adding chopped garlic, chilli, lime juice and carrots.