Friday, 6 August 2010


“Rice is a beautiful food. It is beautiful when it grows, precision rows of sparkling green stalks shooting up to reach the hot summer sun. It is beautiful when harvested, autumn gold sheaves piled on diked, patchwork paddies. It is beautiful when, once threshed, it enters granary bins like a (flood) of tiny seed-pearls. It is beautiful when cooked by a practiced hand, pure white and sweetly fragrant.” -
 Shizuo Tsuji

Another full and exhausting day in Hanoi, visiting several important landmarks, but also once again weaving our way in and out of the labyrinthine streets of the Old Quarter. Two important sights we visited, were the temple of Literature and the National Fine Arts Gallery. More about these on Sunday!

The traffic, congestion, smells, thronging crowds and the exotic atmosphere are constant assailants on one’s senses. The offensive odour of an open drain mingles with the fragrance of incense burning at a small shrine in a shop; the cacophonous and never-ending beeping of car and motorcycle horns is interrupted momentarily by the jingling of bells and wind-chimes when passing a temple whose curved roof and characteristic gate invites one into the peaceful courtyard. The milling crowds and never-ending stream of motorcycles drives one crazy, and yet one may pop into the gardens of a pagoda and momentarily escape, seeping oneself in history.

One of the most amazing things we have seen is the hundreds of vendors of street food. On every sidewalk, under each awning, on every street corner, one finds impromptu kitchens often consisting simply of a charcoal burner and a pot in which cooks every sort of imaginable comestible. Noodles, rice, bits of meat, poultry, vegetables of all sorts, soups, fish, spices, herbs. Unidentifiable bits and pieces are chopped, minced, cut, dressed, wrapped, or otherwise prepared for cooking and then boiled, steamed or fried right there on the street by women who seem to have cooking under such difficult circumstances down to a fine art. Around them are small plastic stools where the customers sit and enjoy the food, which is ladled out in plastic bowls. Once they finish the washing up is done in a large plastic tub filled with suds.

Beside such impromptu ‘restaurants’ may be open drains, shops selling all sorts of goods that may not be so appetizing. Right next to one of these street food stalls yesterday, we saw two men slaughtering chickens, the blood collected carefully in little bowls once the neck was cut. No doubt, even the blood will be used to prepare some tasty recipe. Every now and then some horrible smell wafts from a sewer, or the omnipresent pollution and car exhaust fumes will intrude into the cooking smells. For a westerner to eat from these street stalls is inadvisable, however, there are more up-market eateries and restaurants to choose from. The prices are extremely cheap by our standards and the quality of the food is good.

In Vietnam, “com” (boiled rice) is eaten at the main meals of the day (lunch and dinner). Rice is eaten together with a variety of different dishes and the rice can be of different types. Typically fragrant rice is used, such as Tam Thom and Nang Huong. An ordinary meal may consist of boiled rice and the following: “Mon an kho” (meal without soup) consisting of dishes of pork, fish, shrimp, and vegetable cooked in oil, as well as vegetables, pickles, etc. “Mon canh” (meal with soup) consisting of a soup made with pork or spare-ribs, crab meat, and fish.

In the past several years, people in urban centers have begun to go out for lunch at the food stalls on the street. Consequently, there has been a proliferation of temporary food stalls along many sidewalks and public spaces in the cities. Some stalls are open until early in the morning to cater to regular customers. Around noon, owners can be seen arranging tables and benches along the pavement to form makeshift shop floors. After two or three hours, when there are no more customers, they begin to remove all of their wooden furniture, so that the place resumes its former appearance. A well-served lunch for one is very inexpensive, but once again I stress that westerners will eat in the street at their peril.

“Pho” (noodles) is the most popular food among the Vietnamese population. Pho is commonly eaten for breakfast, although many people will have it for their lunch or dinner. Anyone feeling hungry in the small hours of the morning can also enjoy a bowl of hot and spicy pho to fill their empty stomachs. Like hot green tea which has its particular fragrance, pho also has its special taste and smell. Preparations may vary, but when the dish is served, its smell and taste is very characteristic. The grated rice noodles are made of the best variety of fragrant rice called Gao Te. The broth for Pho Bo (Pho with beef) is made by stewing the bones of beef and pork in a large pot for a long time. Pieces of fillet beef together with several slices of ginger are reserved for Pho Bo Tai (rare fillet). Slices of well-done meat are offered to those less keen on eating rare fillets. The soup for Pho Ga (pho with chicken meat) is made by stewing chicken and pig bones together. The white chicken meat that is usually served with Pho Ga is boneless and cut into thin slices. You could consider Pho Bo and Pho Ga Vietnam's special soups. Pho also has the added advantage of being convenient to prepare and healthy to eat.

1 comment:

  1. I have a Viet restaurant close by where I live and I often get take outs. Very good food!!!