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.

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Fried rice

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.

Phở Yến
66 Phố Cửa Bắc, Ba Đình, Hà Nội

Beef or chicken fried rice: 50,000VND

Posted in Vietnam, Vietnoms | 1 Comment

Hong Kong

Hong Kong is packed with food. I just mistyped that sentence to read “Hong kong is packed with good”. Which also works. I’ve flipped in and out of Hong Kong on multi-day stopovers over the last few years, here’s what I found on my last two trips to this exceptional city.

Congee

Sang Kee Congee
G/F, 7-9 Burd Street, Sheung Wan, Hong Kong. Opening hours: 6:30am – 9pm
There’s no English sign and this place is hard to find. But persevere. The congee is thick and well cooked, and is eaten almost reverentially. There is an English menu, but even with it my attempt to order the fresh fish congee failed. The fish balls that arrived were bouncy and flavourful, but not quite what I was after. Fried doughnut (you tiao) slices are available, but are so tough that extended soaking is required.
Congee ~$21HK, fried doughnut $5HK

Wai Kee Congee
G/F, 8 Stanley Street, Central Hong Kong
A divey congee joint with an English menu and great you tiao. My fish congee had loads of very fresh slices of mild white fleshed fish, but the best thing about the place was the fried doughnut wrapped in rice noodle. The very fresh you tiao was dense and chewy with crisp outsides dotted here and there with drips of soy sauce, wrapped in rice noodle sheets. Easily the best you tiao I had in Hong Kong, and friendly service to boot.
You tiao $9, Fish congee $14.

Wontons

Mak’s Noodle
77 Wellington Street, Central, Hong Kong. Opening hours: 11am – 10pm
Springy noodles, fish-scented broth and small-ish wontons filled with crunchy prawns. People complain about the small portions, but I find them a perfect size for Hong Kong sampling. Come to this famous joint for a solid bowl of good.
Prawn wonton $32

Tsim Chai Kee
98 Wellington Street, Central, Hong Kong. Opening hours: 8am-10pm
For tasty prawn wontons in a slightly upmarket setting. Most people I spoke with have a preference between Tsim Chai Kee or Mak’s across the street. Why not try both?
Prawn wonton noodle soup: $21. Green vegetables with oyster sauce $12.


Prawn wonton noodle soup, Green vegetables with oyster sauce from Tsim Chai Kee

Sam tor noodle
30 Pottinger Street, Central
This joint is famous for its chilli sauce, whose spiciness overwhelmed complexity. A blot in your wonton noodle soup provides as pleasant a heat as any other. The noodles are typical, but it’s the 3-bite huge wontons that I’m here for. Different beasts than the typical delicate crystals, these are hearty and rammed with a mixture of multiple whole prawns and prawn paste.
Wonton noodle soup: $24

Dumplings

Tim Ho Wan.
It goes without saying, right? Go early, order as much as you think you can jam in and enjoy. My favourite dish was the surprising steamed dumplings in chiu chow style. Filled mostly with whole peanuts and cubed water chestnuts for a textural shock, with just enough pork and chives to keep it interesting.

I didn’t visit any yum cha/dim sum joints as I was travelling solo, though I did hear good things about Fu Sing Shark Fin Seafood Restaurant and Maxim’s City Hall.

Roasted Meat

Joy Hing’s Roasted meat.
Block C, G/F, 265-267 Hennessy Road, Wan Chai. Opening hours: 10am-10:30pm, closed Sundays.
For smoky, sweet, tender and fatty cha siu and roast duck. This is a small place, be prepared to share a table in cramped conditions. I visited around 11am and 3pm and didn’t have to wait. The service is friendly and some English is spoken. Order char siu fan, or some mix of meats. You’ll see a jug of soy sauce on the table, use it to season your rice and don’t miss out on the exemplary chilli sauce.
Cha siu fan $24, roast duck and cha siu fan $24.


Kaya French Toast and milk tea at Wai Kee Noodle Cafe (check the map, visit if you’re in the neighbourhood)

Desserts

Hui Lau Shan
This dessert chain is famous for it’s mango desserts, and rightly so. Mango puree with fresh mango, mango ice cream and rice balls is a favourite. And I recall a particularly fabulous mango, sago and pomelo concoction from a visit to Hong Kong in 2008. Just steer clear of anything with harsmar.

Honeymoon Dessert
Cheaper than Hui Lau Shan, and with a much larger menu. I actually prefer this place for its herbal jelly and sticky rice desserts.

Kung Wo Dou Bun Chong
G/F, 118 Pei Ho Street, Sham Shui Po
Tofu everything, no English menu (as far as I could see). I ate a smooth, supple tofu fa, topped with red sugar at the table. Cold and comforting. A neighbour was eating fried soft tofu stuffed with meat, which looked delicious alongside a glass of chilled soy milk. Like I said, tofu everything.
Tofu fa $7

Yee Shun Dairy Company
506 Lockhart Road, Causeway Bay, Hong Kong. Also in Jordan.
Order ginger milk curd, an enormous bowl of shimmering velvet pudding, powerfully ginger. It’s served hot or cold, your choice, just come with an appetite.
Ginger milk curd $24

Coffee

Knockbox Coffee
21 Hak Po Street, Mong Kok, Kowloon. http://www.knockboxcoffee.hk/
For a nice coffee in kind of uncomfortable/industrial surrounds.
Long Black: $20

Rabbithole Coffee
2/F, 26 Cochrane St., Central, Hong Kong. http://www.rabbitholecoffee.com/
A communal table surrounded by coffee machines, and a menu listing locations of single origin beans, lets you know this place is serious about coffee. Espresso variations and different brewing methods are available. Pour overs are prepared at the table by friendly staff.
Some fancy coffee $58

Crema Coffee
Shop LG17 Lower Ground Floor Hilton Tower, 96 Granville Road Tsim Sha Tusi East.
For a good old-school espresso based coffee in a room that reeks of small-town Australia in the 90s. Naff latte art, but free wifi.
Latte: $25

Travel tips

- Get an octopus card. If you’re not going to be returning anytime soon, get your refund at the train service desks at the airport.
- Wifi is pretty limited, so buy a sim card. But don’t buy them from convenience stores, who know nothing of the plans. I’d recommend buying your sim from the actual 3 shop.
- Check openrice, download the app, but don’t feel constrained. There are incredible meals to be had all over the place.
- If you want to visit the peak and don’t want to wait in line or pay up big, catch the number 15 bus
- Visit the markets, they’re fabulous.

Here’s a google map with all the above places and more: Hong Kong Map.

Big thanks to Tom from TomEats, yygall and indiaonmyplate for hints, itineraries and eating tips.

*All prices are in Hong Kong Dollars.

Posted in Hong Kong | 3 Comments

Return to Hanoi

Yesterday Hanoi’s air was like a smog-scented foam at some ostentatious restaurant. The drive from the airport was the usual honking and unexpected lane changes, passing dusty food shops and booming tea stalls. Some factory had just let out and a section of the road was full of blue and white uniformed workers, looking like lego-men until they piled onto motorbikes.

The house was sparkling in the damp dreary grey, full of apricot roses and purple orchids. It’d be an oasis of calm if it weren’t for the karaoke music and construction happening right next door. There was cut up apple at in the fridge, peeled and cored, sweet and crunchy. Boxes of pomelo segments and perfectly peeled pineapple too, spirals cut out of the sides in that way the sellers can do with their eyes closed. Mum and I snacked, a much-needed respite from airplane food,  and gossiped and I layered on more clothes.

We went out into the drizzle and sat at a local expat bar, drinking gin and surprising acquaintances who didn’t know I was back in town. The menu was all takes on western food, a good thing as local food in a place like this is usually half-hearted at best. The nachos were crisp, cheesy, spicy and lacking only in avocado, a deficiency I find more often than not.

This morning, on closer inspection, I realise the fridge is bare. A few bendy carrots and a large packet of garlic, leftover from when I was here last. There wasn’t even any coffee, so I’m drinking earl gray, sweetened from a glass 70′s-style jar kept in the fridge with memories of the last several bags of sugar stuck up the sides, the different varieties mottled. And with, embarrassingly, high-calcium, low-fat UHT milk. I really need to go shopping.

But first, I’ll stop for my favourite hidden local bun cha. They play music and serve up a particularly garlicky brew washed down with glasses of strong, icy green tea. Every visit there are different tiny creatures in the fish tank, crabs, frogs, see-through prawns. Then I’ll brave the traffic and the expats and sit on my favourite balcony for thick sweet coffee, preparing me for the supermarket shopping. Tomorrow, early I’ll head to the market, no preparation necessary.

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Che Hoang Anh

Hanoi traffic is the kind of thing tourist nightmares are made of. But once you become a part of it, and as a pedestrian you’re likely already playing, you notice that the zig and zag of the bikes runs along some kind of demented reason. Same goes for the bikes that block up the footpaths and cause you to enter the maelstrom. Some are codified parking zones, others are reserved for patrons of certain shops or restaurants. So when we were denied parking in one of the latter places, all hope for dessert was lost, until my friend uttered the secret code ‘chè’. The parking boy perked up, filed away the bike and as we crossed the road, he followed, excitedly navigating us to Che Hoang Anh.


Chè is a general term for Vietnamese puddings, sweet dumplings and drinks. They come in countless varieties and are enjoyed as snacks, rather than after-dinner treats.

A colourful sign for Che Hoang Anh marks the narrow entrance. Walk past someone’s living room and an interior courtyard parking lot/washing up area. Go up the stairs that make you feel like you’re walking into someone’s house and around the corner is the bright box full of sweet treats. We visit in the afternoon, and sit in the tiny dining room – a cool pre-fab fluorescent cell – and devour the speciality: sua chua mit (yogurt with jackfruit).

Ice-capped bowls are handed over by giggling girls. Underneath is tapioca, jellies, sour and berry-like red versions of basil seeds and vivid slices of jackfruit. These components have been prepared and portioned with a steady hand, though I’d like to throw the balance out with more jackfruit. Sua chua means yogurt, and the milky liquid in this bowl has the suspicion of coconut. You could almost pretend to be on some tropical island paradise, if it weren’t so hilarious to be sitting on a mini-stool in a box suspended in a crumbling Hanoi house, eating a wonderful dessert soup.

It could be the novelty of the experience or the actual dish, but this sua chua mit is extraordinary. It’s even enough to turn a jackfruit-casual into a fan.

Che Hoang Anh
22 Ba Trieu
Hanoi

We went after lunch and the place was deserted, but I hear it’s pumping in the evening.

Order:
Sua Chua Mit (17,000 dong ~$0.80AU)

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