Banh Duc Nong
When I first arrived in Hanoi I was invited along on a food crawl with a group of new friends. After about three seconds I became utterly lost, and simply followed my companions sitting where they told me to sit, eating what they told me to eat. This marathon dining session was for a magazine article, so I assumed I’d be able to relive the best tastes from the day when it was published. Unfortunately, the output was mediocre and omitted the one memorable meal of the session, the one that I’d wish to eat again, if only I knew what it was called and how to find it.
Fast forward three years and the narrow alley entrance to 8 Le Ngoc Han is familiar. After selecting the correct eatery (it’s the middle one) we are greeted with smiles. This is a kitchen out the front, eat in someones living room affair, and the place is packed. We sit locked in by the crowds, next to a fish tank, chatting with young Vietnamese ladies and surveying the menu. A range of noodles (bun, mien, banh da) in various seafoody incarnations are available, but we, and most of the customers, are here for the bánh đúc nóng.
Bánh đúc nóng is difficult to describe, but delicious to eat. A thick glutinous rice flour mass, tender enough to be broken easily with a spoon, but with enough structural integrity to hold its own fills the bottom of the bowl. It’s hidden by meaty minced pork cooked with wood ear mushrooms, bright herbs, fried shallots, puffs of fried tofu and just enough mild soup. Add chilli sauce, mix the whole lot, then spoon up this savoury mess. The rice flour slurry is dense without being heavy, enlivened by the textural and lively toppings.
I cleaned my bowl and considered ordering another. But if this joint with it’s smiling older-lady workers has been here this long, it’ll still be around next week for another bowl of bánh đúc nóng.
8 Le Ngoc Han, Hanoi
Bánh đúc nóng: 15,000 dong.