I may be wrong, but I think fried rice is a cross-cultural comfort food. It could be the variety from my childhood, the Australian small-town sweet-and-sour-pork Chinese restaurant kind: an oily melange of cubed carrot, ham, corn kernels and peas with the occasional tiny prawn thrown in. Bland but soothing, a meal with a couple of prawn crackers on the side. Or Korean style bokkeumbap, where after you’ve finished your meal, the rice is fried with kimchi, seaweed and bean sprouts and is flavoured by the saucy remnants of your main dish. And it’s even comforting if it’s fried street-side in big woks over terrifying licks of flame, by grizzled cooks with scarred arms and eaten on tiny stools in the wake of a million motorcycles.
Pho Yen, a street corner eatery, makes a mean cơm chiên (fried rice). It’s simple, just rice, eggs and pickled green vegetables with grease and wok hei. Chicken or beef are cooked separately and piled on top. A plate of mint, perilla, baby sprigs of coriander and the youngest hearts of mini pea-green lettuce to be dipped in fishy sauce accompanies and freshens. You can flavour it up with the fish sauce, blended chilli sauce or my favourite garlic, chilli, vinegar condiment. A different version spied on neighbouring tables was fried with lạp xường, a dried sweet sausage, Vietnam’s version of lap cheong.
Ignore the Pho in Pho Yen, every table spilling out across the sidewalk here has at least one plate of fried rice at lunch, and dinner, though I hear they make a fine pho xao (fried pho noodles). If you’re on the lookout for fried rice in Hanoi, check for cơm chiên or cơm rang on signs, and let the flaming woks and crowds draw you in.
66 Phố Cửa Bắc, Ba Đình, Hà Nội
Beef or chicken fried rice: 50,000VND