Sunday, September 5, 2010

Phở cuốn and 日本料理 (Vietnamese beef and lettuce rolls & Japanese food)

The other day was a good eating day here in Hanoi. (But really, what day isn’t?) I don’t really remember what I had for breakfast, and I don’t really expect anyone reading this really to care what I had for breakfast, so I’m not going to wrack my brain trying to remember. But I do want to share a little bit about my lunch, phở cuốn, as it’s the specialty of the neighborhood where I live – there are no fewer than 50 phở cuốn restaurants within a five-minute walk from my apartment – as well as my dinner, because Vietnam has some of the best, most exciting, and cheapest Japanese food outside of Japan that I’ve ever seen.

The first place I’m going to share in this post is, in my opinion, the best phở cuốn restaurant in Truc Bach.

It might not look like much from outside, and I wouldn’t blame anyone for smacking the restaurant touts on the side of the road when they literally try to pull you off your motorbike to eat at their establishment (they’re actually nice kids…usually, anyway), but the food is excellent.

For me, what sets this place apart from others is the quality of the meat they use. One often sees it cooked right on the sidewalk in large woks. Through clouds of heat and smoke you can watch the cooks add salt and various seasonings to the meat, which is then cooled in a large bowl and spread thinly across the middle of a rice crepe. Lettuce and herbs, such as mint, are added, then all of this is tightly rolled and served in stacks of ten. A small bowl of fish sauce with sliced green papaya accompanies the phở cuốn, and one dips, even double- and triple-dips, the phở cuốn in this, munching on the green papaya as one desires.

Here, a plate of ten phở cuốn costs about 30,000 dong ($1.54). It’s a pretty healthy meal, too. The lettuce and herbs wrapped in the rice crepes are really packed tightly, so with ten pieces you’re basically getting a small salad with your beef. I could seriously eat this every day, but there are too many other interesting options always competing for my attention.

This particular phở cuốn shop doesn’t have a name, but it’s located at 75 Truc Bach St. They also serve fresh seafood and fighting cock, but again, they’re more famous for their phở cuốn. If you live or are staying in the area, and can speak Vietnamese well enough to order – or know someone who can speak Vietnamese on your behalf – they deliver within the general Truc Bach area. The telephone number here is 0904164059.

For dinner my Hanoian friend Mai and I joined our Japanese friends, M and T. (They prefer not to be named.) Although most of us live in Truc Bach, where a few Japanese restaurants grace the culinary landscape, we decided to head to Khang, a restaurant a bit south of Hoan Kiem Lake. (Go south down Ba Trieu Street and it’s opposite Viencom Shopping Mall.)

It’s always a treat to enter a nice Japanese restaurant in a city like Hanoi, if only for the calmness and beautiful interior it offers. The bars are always well stocked in such wet pleasures as sake, too, and it’s not exactly hard to spend a lot of time at one.

In any case, we gathered in a private room on the second floor and almost immediately immersed ourselves in the extensive menu.

We were given a complimentary serving of halved green beans in a very light sesame dressing.

Then, after not much debate – though there should have been more of a debate considering the price – we ordered matsutake mushrooms (nấm thông in Vietnamese), fresh from Japan where they’re already a delicacy, at 228,000 dong ($11.69) per 100 grams. As you can see, they were weighed on a scale at our table, then sliced and put on a grill right before us.

We dipped them in salt, drizzled them with lemon, and groaned with our eyes half-closed in a chorus of delight as we gobbled them down.

After that came a plate stacked with soramame, which resembles an edamame bean removed from its pod, but is larger and seems to be wearing a bean-jacket. Or a bean-hat…a beanie? These were excellent; kind of meaty, in fact, as they were dense and somewhat chewy.

After that came sliced cucumbers with a ball of red miso, which, though incredibly simple, was also incredibly satisfying.

At my urging we also ordered okonomiyaki, which again elicited grounds of delight from all of us.

At my urging again, this was followed by an 8-piece order of sushi (the pickled, vinegared ginger, different from most ginger served at sushi restaurants, was almost as good as the sushi itself).

M then ordered okoze (stonefish) sashimi, which came with the head and fins balanced somewhat precariously along the perimeter of the plate. It was incredibly fresh and was served with a special dipping sauce similar to soy sauce. The head was a bit scary, as it looked like the head of a frog – in any case it looked alive, and I was a bit cautious reaching over to eat slivers of its delicious flesh.

Once we’d finished the sashimi, a waitress came by and removed the dish with the remaining fish head, fins, and tail, only to bring back all those parts after having deep-fried them. We polished that off, bones and all, only for another dish to find its way onto our table.

This was seaweed wrapped around glutinous rice with a forest-green mix of salt and green tea powder for dipping. This was an amazing dish. Using green tea powder and salt as a dipping agent is brilliant – nori, rice, and green tea is a surprisingly winning combination. Or maybe it’s not surprising at all!

We also had salmon onegiri, repeat glasses of sake, beer, and small, complimentary fruit cups at the end of our meal. This sounds like an expensive meal, right? Well, it was...for Vietnam, especially. The grand total for all four of us ended up being 1.5 million dong ($76.92). That’s just over $19 a person, a price that might, but probably wouldn’t have, gotten me an order of run-of-the-mill, previously frozen sushi in Hawaii or California. This place is a serious find for me and I can’t wait to go back.

So, M, what did you think? Was it oishikatta?

I guess that picture says it all...ahahaha.

Khang, by the way, is located at 322 Ba Trieu Street in Hanoi.

I'd like to imagine that the fireworks pictured below happened on the same night, but the evening wasn't that perfect. The fireworks actually happened the next day, in celebration of Independence Day. I took this from behind the window of my balcony. I had the best seat in the house...

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1 comment:

  1. Year, That was so nice & so delicious , ne !!!
    But....What a agree man I am ....