Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Fried soup I have lost

You come across dishes that stick with you forever even if you never eat them again; fried soup (what I call it) is one of those dishes I for me. I came across it in Hanoi in 2008. I searched for the restaurant this time but it had changed owners; also lost was a great little snail soup place across the street. We stayed at a hotel on the same street at the time so we knew we had to go back and find it. The pictures I have here are from 2010. The name I give it is half true as the meat and vegetables are the only fried part of the dish; the rest is a beef broth Pho.

I should have taken more photos when I was there as I only have a few of a dish I really liked. I have pushed to get this dish included in our menu but there are a few hurtles to get over first. I am the only one really into this dish as yet but I will try to find a way to get it on the menu someday.

The soup is special as the frying of the beef and vegetable gave an added flavour that you do not get with the other Pho. The taste of caramelization of the meat juices and sugars present in the ingredients gave it a special taste. Now the problem for us is it also gave a good measure of fat to the dish that is kind of counter to what we normally do. I also suspect that the soup may not be a traditional Vietnamese recipe rather a new or invented dish. 

A roll in the rice

Banh Cuon Gia Truyen Thanh Van restaurant

Across from our Hotel in Hanoi is a nice small restaurant specializing in rice rolls, It seems to be well known as it has had a couple of positive foreign reviews (proudly displayed on the wall) that are well deserved. The place has been updated and is very clean; the woman assembling the rolls even wears plastic gloves. While retaining its authentic taste they have made the food more approachable to the tourist market.

Like most establishments the food is cooked in the front where passersby can see the whole delicious process. The rice roll batter is cooked on a linen covered streaming pot of water. This allows the steam to cook the rice roll batter when it spread thinly on top of the linen. The container is covered and the batter cooked. At the end the roll is either covered with the fried ground pork and cloud mushroom then rolled or taken off the pot then dressed. It depends on the place which way they do it. Lastly the crispy onions are placed on top along at this place pork fluff. 

They also added fresh cilantro but one customer who complained explained that it should have been fresh basil as it tastes better. There was a slightly salty dipping sauce based on soya sauce rather than on the sweet fish sauce based one we find in Vancouver. I liked their sauce better but once I started eating the rolls I found the sauce was not needed. The onions, pork filling and pork fluff (salty) were more than enough taste for me.

There was also pork roll to eat along with the rolls, both types very good.

Have to say their positive reviews were well deserved and I would recommend this place to even the less adventurous travelers.

Pho Gia Truyen at 49 Bat Dan

My wife’s uncle (our restaurant manager and taste guru) visited this place when he was in Hanoi ( He tasted six different places in one morning) and said this is the best he tasted that day. We had to try it and after two attempts to go there; it was closed, we finally sat down and had a bowl.

Now this place is busy and a bit different than most of the other restaurants around; you stand in a line (or what passes for a line in a non-queuing country) to get your order and carry it yourself to an available table. There are no available tables, rather spots at tables you have to hunt for and squeeze into with other customers. So if you’re by yourself you have to carry a steaming and overflowing bowl of Pho around looking for a spot to open up. It must be worth it as the place was packed.

The bowl came with a plate of (chinese) donuts for dipping and a nice mound of beef that was cut from the handy hanging piece next to the cook. This place has one person getting the soup, one getting the meat and one doing the final assembly; it is crazy busy. 

I'll have the mound of meat on the right

Must go through gallons every hour

The taste was fabulous and the best Hanoi style Pho I have had yet; beefy goodness in a bowl. The other prominent taste was the added Vietnamese green onions. Again I qualify this as Hanoi style Pho as it was not what would be called Pho in the south or at home. This is the original taste of what our Pho was when it started its evolution into the Pho we recognise in Vancouver.

My belief is that food evolves along with the people and their environment. Traditional dishes and a cuisine like the people are a product of their environment. Vietnam is rapidly evolving as is  the cuisine that is part of that changing society. Ideas, like people are moving and changing at an amazing pace as such the food is being influenced by that change. Food and the ways to prepare it is moving around the country and changing the menus in even the smallest village.

The Pho we serve at Mui Ngo Gai is a result of people moving around Vietnam and during the Diasporas have occurred 1) during the separation of North and South in the early 1950s 2) after the end of the Vietnam War with its the mass movement of people overseas. You can taste the influence of this change of environments on the taste of the soup and on what we expect it to taste like. The north serves up a bowl of Pho that is beefy but has very little spicing (not spice as in hot rather in strength of added spices) of the broth. It is a good satisfying bowl of soup with the right noodles and beef but lacks the aroma we expect. In the south the soup takes on a bit of a more spicy tone but not as much as in Vancouver. The broth in Vancouver is much more aroma and better quality of beef.

In each place we have had Pho over the years (North, South and at home) we have found each taste authentic to the place and each bowl satisfying in its own way. When you look at the journey this soup has taken with the people who have made it, I am very appreciative at evolution of various tastes of this soup and of the strength of the people who took it with them to their new homes. There is no one right taste of Pho, there is just the taste you know to be Pho.

Another blog about this restaurant smittenbyfood.blogspot.com

Youtube video http://www.youtube.com

Chicken Pho (Check mark)

Com 40 Cau Go

By check mark I mean our soup has an authentic Hanoi taste (we knew that when we developed it) as found on the streets of Hanoi. We have a favorite place we go and have a few bowls of Pho Ga every time we stay in Hanoi; it is in the old town close to Com Que restaurant. When we first went there it was an impressive little restaurant that had tables right up to the street, but the rules have changed and they have to keep the tables off the side walk. Amazing when you see most of the one pot restaurants set up on the side walk and they never have an issue with the police.


2013 showing prep area


The one thing that has not changed is the Pho Ga, it is near perfect as a chicken soup can be made. There are couple of  different variations at this restaurant and other dishes too. We tried some of the ready to eat food but were not very impressed so we will stick with the soup we love.

The soup base is like ours and the meat they served us was cut from the breast; except for the skin on the meat the soup tasted like ours. I was impressed with the work of the family in keeping our taste so close to the real street taste of Hanoi. The soup was a reminder of home and the many bowls of chicken soup I have eaten at the restaurant. All I needed was our satay oil to add at the end to spice it up and blast my senses into overdrive. Of course if I had did that I could not have tasted the other bowls we ordered to eat too. In Vietnam the portions are much smaller than ours so we normally have a couple of bowls if all we are eating is soup.

Regular pho ga

Bun Thang
Chicken soup with Vietnamese ham, egg, white radish, onion, cilantro. New to me and I think could be easily reproduced at the restaurant. I will discuss it with the actual masters of our cooking and advocate for a trial of the soup. 

Duck soup

Duck soup with bamboo, pork blood and duck meat

Of the two chicken soups we ate that time one was new to me and I think could be easily reproduced at the restaurant. I will discuss it with the actual masters of our cooking and advocate for a trial of the soup.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Snacking part II

Well as you walk around the city you keep finding little tidbits to eat, some great some good and some.... Here are a few more we sampled over the days we were in Hanoi.

These looked very promising

Grilled sausage

A pork skewer that looked better than tasted 

The night market in the old town

Dried then grilled squid (yummy)

Deep fried breaded pork (greasy  but tasty)
Drive in :)

Friday, January 18, 2013

A little snacking Hanoi style

As you walk around the town you can find snacks to munch on as you walk or sit down and eat. Over a couple of days we tasted some of the treats (some not a treat) that are available.

First up some fried cheese; not much is expected in a mostly non-cheese eating country.

Greasy and nearly flavourless

Now get some stronger cheese and a bit more spice; this would be a good snack. We could do it but I would use a better cheese and dip.

Next ice cream, a maybe secret location (not many tourists) that is filled with Vietnamese people enjoying a treat that has been in Hanoi since 1958    Google site: Kem    Their website: Kem Trang Tien.

Loved the ice cream, the rice ice cream bar was great, texture and favour was unique. I did not take photos of the ice cream as it just looked like ice cream.

Drive in too

The list of ice cream bars

They have good coconut flavoured cones too

Thirdly we had a couple of snack stops while visiting a clay village (produce things from clay).

The muddurn facilities
They look better than taste, but I have had better ones here
Ground Cassava root with coconut (good but dry)

Rice rolls (needed more fish sauce)
This lady was frying up sweet treats
A bit oily but nice to try one
Here a corn fritter and a banana one

Thursday, January 17, 2013

One day, two great meals

When in a great city you can always find great food; Hanoi is one of those cities that has great food around just about every corner. You walk around until you spot something your want to eat (signs up every every where), you sit down and enjoy. Of course some places sitting is difficult as the chairs are kid size and western butts barely fit them. You have to half squat to get down to them, then hope they hold your weight.

The first place we went was Lẩu Nhất Hà - 4C Cấm Chỉ 

View from the outside

The Pho was missing the spicing that you find in the south but it was a good  bowl of soup

Good Vietnamese style fried rice 

The modern kitchen was across the street

Much like the rest of Hanoi, there are a lot of birds in cages

Next up for dinner Com Que one of my favorite places that I go to every time I am in Hanoi. It is a small grubby place with great food, a perfect Hanoi hole in the wall restaurant. Never disappoints my expectations and it is located in a great spot where you can watch the river of people walk by. This place is you pre-cooked food on display restaurant were there is a great selection all day long.

The fancy place 
All the food on display, notice the microwave for reheating

Pork and eggs done in coconut juice (great)

Bamboo and pork stir fry (ok)

Squid in a tomato based sauce (Good)

Ground pork wrapped in a leaf and grilled (yummy)

Tuna in a tomato sauce (good)