Mien Luon Tron

mient

Lunch in Hanoi has been getting boring for me recently. You’re probably looking at your soggy sambo with wilted lettuce, or oily foodcourt noodles and thinking I’m a spoilt cow, but when you get used to the exotic, it no longer is. So lunchtime for me lately has either been bun cha or rice from a range of com binh dan joints I’m testing out, but my bun cha habit is getting bad. So one recent morning, a Hanoi lunch starts just past 11am, I took a chance and sat at the only busy market stall around and ordered what the other customers were greedily digging in to: miến lươn trộn.

Mien noodles are quick-cooking, chewy and translucent. Made from mung bean, sweet potato or cassava, they are the basis for dishes from Korean japchae to spicy Thai salads, are eaten everywhere in between and have just as many different names. The word is that these Vietnam produced noodles differ from the rest as they’re made from the starch of the canna lily.

The luon (eel) here is sliced into long fingers that curl and tangle together when they’re deep fried crunchy. Off-putting perhaps, but these spiny lengths taste mild and are well and truly inanimate. But, if it’s all too much this dish can sometimes be ordered with stir fried beef instead.

Tron means dry, but this dish is anything but. It’s just served with the soup on the side.

mien-2v3t

The still-hot mien noodles are joined in the bowl by blanched bean sprouts, the crisp twists of eel, roasted peanuts and deep-fried shallots with a handful of herbs freshly scissor snipped in. Glugs of this and ladle-fuls of that are added to loosen and flavour it sour and salty. Pickles, sometimes the regular pickled carrot and kohlrabi (củ su hào), other times an almost salad of marinated cucumber, can also be added. A big bowl of chilli sauce, furious red and topped with a layer of oil the same colour tempts, for extra flavour that’s not especially required, but I add it anyway. Mixing this dish turns it into a sparky noodle salad, bright and full of interest, with a portion size perfect to start an afternoon of grazing.

And it just happens to be lunch time now.

 

Miến lươn trộn.

Available around town.
This version which comes from my local market, Cho Yen Phu, is available from breakfast until early afternoon, and costs 25,000 dong (~$1.15 AU).

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Bot Chien

Bot Chien

Vietnamese cuisine changes with latitude, and the south is a wonderland of long-forgotten specialities and new tastes for this new Hanoian. But with only a fleeting moment in Ho Chi Minh City, this trip became an extended grazing session.

When I first moved to Hanoi a friend from Ho Chi Minh City gave me a list of things to eat if I were to ever visit her hometown. High on that list was Bot Chien, a popular after-school snack. When mid-afternoon hunger struck and with no destination pre-researched, I google maps searched ‘bot chien’ and headed to the closest location.

I’m often confused about how to eat a new meal, especially with language barriers and cultural misunderstanding. So on an initial visit, I take cues from other tables. Sometimes servers will intervene, showing their preferred way to mix a dipping sauce, or flavour a bowl of noodles. Other times, like with bot chien, it’s anything goes.

At Bot Chien Dat Thanh, the situation was confusing. There was a plate piled high with shredded green papaya and carrot. A soy based dipping sauce. Three little pots of chillies, raw, dark oily chilli sauce, and a smooth fluorescent red condiment. A plate of crisped rice-flour-cake fried with egg, steaming hot fresh from the skillet. A quick scan of the room, mostly single male eaters, showed myriad eating styles. Pile the salad on the rice cakes and drench the whole thing in sauce with added chilli. Or dip alternating mouthfuls of the bot chien and salad into your chilli spiked soy sauce. Or a mix of the two.

Whichever method you choose you’ll get a mix of crunchy rice cake edges and chewy centres, mild and steadfast, held together with unremarkable egg and just enough grease. The crunchy, fresh salad and rice cake are enlivened by a dip in the outstanding sauce. Mainly soy, with a touch of sour and sweet, unexpected in this land of fish sauce. Alternate mouthfuls of cool, salty, crunchy salad and hot, spicy, chewy rice cake were my eating choice. And it worked, we ordered another serve before the first was complete.

After this meal I started spotting bot chien stalls everywhere, and it turns out it’s a popular late night snack as well. With good reason. Next time I’m in Ho Chi Minh City, bot chien, whichever way you eat it, is on the list.

Bột chiên Đạt Thành
277 Võ Văn Tần- Quận 3

Bot Chien 18,000 dong (~82 AUCents)
Also, fresh spring rolls and papaya salad with dried beef.

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Banh Duc Nong

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.

Banh Duc Nong

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.

Banh Duc Nong

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.

Banh Duc Nong

 

8 Le Ngoc Han, Hanoi

Bánh đúc nóng: 15,000 dong.

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Fried rice

Fried Rice Com Rang

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.

Fried Rice Com Rang

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

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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.

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