Friday, October 29, 2010

Bún Chả, Ryukyu Glass, and Sữa Chua Nếp Cẩm

Last Sunday we planned a little afternoon escape from Hanoi. Our friends at Hanoilife had told us about a Japanese glass factory in Gia Lam, just over the Red River, and their recently opened showroom. The factory specializes in Ryukyu glassware, which comes, as readers may already know, from Okinawa, Japan.

But no decent trip can be made on an empty stomach, so before braving Long Bien Bridge and the dusty, beat-up roads of Gia Lam, we decided to have bún chả and nem. There are several places in the Truc Bach area that specialize in this, but one place I particularly like is on Pho Duc Chinh Street, at the corner of Ngo 64. I like this sidewalk eatery; the crumbling, paint-faded walls add an extra dimension to the streetside atmosphere, and besides, the women running this place work hard and their food tastes good. They also refrain from overcharging me, which happens at about 50% of the sidewalk eateries I go to.

Bún chả is basically just rice vermicelli and charcoal-grilled pork. One sees the pork being grilled on the sidewalk often, usually by women squatting over charcoal fires and fanning the meat with bamboo fans. Driving a motorbike through Hanoi one also often passes through clouds of its grill-smoke, which then stays in one’s clothes and hair. The chả (grilled pork) is served in a medium-sized bowl filled to an inch of the rim with a savory mixture of fish sauce (nướoc mắm), vinegar, pepper, and lime juice. The idea is to take clumps of the rice noodles and place them in the bowl, then add whatever you like from the basket of herbs that accompany the bún chả.

In the basket of herbs pictured below, we were given lettuce, bean sprouts, cilantro, mint, lemon leaf, and probably other things, too – as usual, I ate too quickly to pay close attention.

We also ordered two pieces of nem rán, or fried spring rolls. These came to our table hot and crisp, and they stayed that way, even after a lengthy dip in our bún chả bowls.

Across the street from the bún chả place is a cat that always stares longingly at customers eating. By the looks of it, it could stand to eat a couple bowls, too. If it could find a way to come up with 54,000 dong ($2.77), it too could have a meal for two, including two iced teas.

From here we went directly to Long Bien Bridge, which is kind of a scary conveyance over the Red River. This is partly because it’s incredibly beat up – it was bombed in two different wars – and also because, even though the narrow, right and left lanes are for one-way traffic, one often comes across a few motorbikes going the wrong way. (Idiots! Seriously, how much trouble is it to drive an extra twenty feet to get in the correct lane?) But, once in Gia Lam, which is a district of Hanoi, one feels they’ve escaped the city. Here it’s more open, with fields and hills and views of the river, various old temples one can stop off at, less traffic (but worse roads), and, at least on the way to the glass factory, dozens of 50-foot-tall, silo-shaped, papered-over lanterns – which are apparently used at night. I wish I’d gotten a photo of them, but after my experience on the Gia Lam bridge I just wanted to get to the factory as soon as I could.

The factory is located in the Vietnam-Ryukyu Cultural Technological Village – a mouthful, for sure, but worth learning to say so you can make the trip here.

Because we went on a Sunday between three and four p.m., it was very slow here; the factory itself was closed, though the showroom was open. Often, if you come during a weekday, you can take a tour of the factory and see how the many types of glass are made.

I intend to come back here soon, and when I do I’ll write an addendum to this. Until then, I’ll just go ahead and show pictures of the showroom and some of the pieces I thought were particularly nice.

This is one of two areas comprising the showroom. You would not want to let a bull roam around inside.

These glasses here are intended for various kinds of use. In general, for glasses like these, prices ranged from around $5-$8. Expensive for Vietnam, but cheap by Japanese standards.

The glass here is produced primarily for Japanese consumers. Once made, the factory ships it back to Japan for sale.

A lot of sake glasses. I'm proud of myself for not succumbing to the temptation of buying a new set...

The Vietnamese workers are trained by Japanese glass-making artists. We were told that the factory employs about 200 Vietnamese people.

I liked these paper weights. Arigatou and Shiawase wa itsumo jibun no kokoro ga kimeru were commonly inscribed on them.

This dark blue glass was made by a Japanese artist named Kiyoichi-san, who came here to train Vietnamese glassblowers.

I loved this one. At $80, it's probably a great price, but it was too pricey for me.

Glass slippers, anyone? Or rather, glass flipflops?

Vietnam Ryukyu Cultural Technological Village can be found at 93 Duc Giang, Long Bien. Tel: (84) 4-3877-0262. Fax: (84) 4-3877-0263. Web: Hours: Monday-Saturday 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Closed on Sundays and holidays.

As everyone knows, a trip to a glass factory in Gia Lam requires a visit to a yoghurt shop afterward. With that in mind we headed to Sữa Chua Nếp Cẩm, between the Old Quarter and Truc Bach Lake. Not only did they have about 50 yoghurt items on their menu, but also flan, small cakes, and tea and coffee.

We ordered sữa chua nếp cẩm (plain yoghurt with ice and sweet, black, chewy, immature rice). I really like this dessert. The sweet, chewy rice goes well with yoghurt, and the ice, which is basically shaved, mixes nicely and keeps it all cold.

We also ordered sữa chua xoài (plain yoghurt with ice and fresh mango). The two yoghurt drinks totaled a mere 24,000 dong ($1.23).

The place is cozy if not exactly sparkling clean. There was a Japanese group filming their yoghurt- and flan-eating experiences here. I don’t know who they were. Perhaps just fellow bloggers, but if so, they were a lot more sophisticated. They interviewed a Vietnamese woman who had led them here, and got some close-up shots of their desserts.

On the way out, I snapped a quick photo of one of their refrigerators. As you can see, they have a fair bit of sweets on hand, and like anything in Vietnam, it’s easily ordered as takeaway.

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  1. Bun Cha here looks great & Yummy !!
    Take us there , D !!!

  2. Waw!! What lovely pictures,..hahahaha, slippers!

    Thanks for sharing with us, Sapuche!

  3. Hanoilife: It's great, M! I'll take you guys there anytime ne. Demo Vietnam ryouri amari suki jya nai, deshou??

    Sophie: Thanks very much, Sophie! Yes, the glass slippers were cute, weren't they. Very appropriate for Vietnam, too! :)