Thursday, January 19, 2006

Dinner Cross-Legged or Otherwise

Flying by Tiger Airways (a budget airline) direct from Singapore to Hanoi can really work up an appetite. The no-frills flight does not come with complimentary drinks or meals and a hungry passenger will have to part with a couple of dollars for either a cold-looking sandwich, a cup of instant noodles, or maybe a packet of pretzels. Since the flight was only about 3 hours and ETA at Hanoi would be approximately between 7.30 - 8 pm (Hanoi time), our group of six made do with two very small packets of pretzels (not highly recommended and only to be taken if you really have to munch on something for want of in-flight entertainment or anything else to occupy your time).

We touched down at Noi Bai Airport, cleared immigration, located our local guide with placard, made the intros and the first unanimous request of the 6 Gorge(ou)s - "we are very very hungrryyy.... can we have dinner first?". I'm very certain that we did not leave Robert (our local Vietnamese guide) with any first impression of dainty proper behaviour. In fact I'm now wondering whether he had any inkling then that this very first question had set the stage for our culinary adventures which eventually earned us that moniker.

Robert's first recommendation that night was Highway 4, at 5 Hang Tre, Hoan Kiem, Hanoi - a restaurant serving traditional Vietnamese food and liquor located in an old colonial 3-storey shophouse (somewhat like our old long and narrow-in-width coffeeshops along Killiney Road and in Chinatown, Singapore). Entering the ground floor, we saw a couple of empty tables and chairs and only one seated couple - hmm.. not a good sign. Ushered up the winding stairs to the first floor, we discovered where the real action was. Low bamboo tables made two parallel lines (cutting the room in half) and straw floor mats with cushion seats were strewn on the floor. Diners were seated cross-legged (with their shoes off) and some lounging against the side walls, with quite a nice din of merry-making underway.

Ordering was easy as the menu is bilingual, Vietnamese and English. Sitting down cross-legged for the duration of dinner required a tad more effort - do stretch and lightly thump the legs once in awhile to ensure they haven't gone to sleep on you, or you may end up with pins and needles!

Catfish Spring Rolls
We started with the Catfish Spring Rolls (a Highway 4 specialty) (Nem Ca Xa Lo4) at 48,000 VND (or SGD4.80). I didn't know it then, but it was actually almost like miniature Cha Ca (grilled fish, which we had the next day) wrapped in rice paper together with some herbs and rice vermicelli. Being my first rice paper rolls for the trip, I did like the combination of meaty fish with fragrant fresh herbs and the light fresh rice paper.

Caramelised Pork in Claypot
Caramelized Pork simmered in fish sauce in mini-claypot (Thit Kho Tau) 28,000 VND (or SGD2.80) was not too bad either (portion good for no more than 3 pax if light meat-eaters). The pork cubes were tender and flavorful and the sauce went quite well with rice - have no idea what's in the sauce though other than the obvious fish sauce and palm sugar, and maybe a touch of coconut milk or evaporated milk for that milky texture. A very traditional Vietnamese dish, I'm told.

Morning Glory (kangkong)
At this juncture, I have to say that the Vietnamese do a splendid job with their vegetables. Apart from their creative fresh salads, their cooked vegetables are never cooked to death until totally wilted and limp. Back home in Singapore, ordering a dish of stir-fried kangkong (water spinach or water convolvulus) can be a 'hit or miss' experience as the kangkong may be cooked too long, or if tender shoots are not used, may end up being quite fibrous. Simple stir-fried morning glory (which is what kangkong is called in Vietnam) or any other green vegetables is beautifully done here, the cooked vegetables retain their lovely green color, tender in texture with a slight crunch and sometimes, one plate is just not enough. Should you have the chance to visit this beautiful country, one piece of advice - do NOT pass on the vegetables even if you are a die-hard meat-lover.

Dinner (which included a couple more dishes) plus juices for 6 pax did not exceed 500,000 VND (SGD 50) in total.

And if you have the time, stay awhile longer, stretch out your legs, order the Son Tinh traditional Vietnamese liquor (comes in various flavors) produced from rice wine (which we tried later back at our hotel, compliments of our most hospitable local guide - a nice warm kick to end the evening) and make friends with your fellow diners at the next bamboo table.


Anonymous umami said...

Wow, six gorgeous hits Vietnam. Wish I was there! Nothing worse than going on a holiday with people who don't like to eat.

1/19/2006 10:22:00 AM  
Blogger fooDcrazEE said...

lolz.....what a comment umami...wih i can be your guide in Ho Chi Minh City and bring you all to some wicked makan spot.

1/19/2006 11:02:00 PM  
Blogger slurp! said...

they always seems have fresh supply of veggies & herbs daily, and probably one reason why they taste great.
I have something similiar to Thit Kho Tau, but mine is fish instead (ca kho to) which written as "Fish cooked in bowl" in the menu. it was great, I think the fish sauce makes all the differences.

but generally, I think you are eating in upper class resturant & that's probably why it cost a little more. but i guess it's safer to dine there. just for comparison what i had in HCMC ...
ca kho to 15000bht comes with rice & salad
Bi cuon (pig skin fresh roll) 3000bht/pcs
Goi cuon (fresh salad roll) 2500bht/pcs
Bun Oc (snail noodle) 9000bht
Banh Mi 5000bht
wet towel 1000bht

keep the reviews coming, cheers ...

1/20/2006 12:04:00 AM  
Blogger eatzycath said...

hi umami - I so so totally agreed, love of food is another way of experiencing a different country and culture - trip companions must be foodies who are adventurous!

dear foodcrazee - when are u planning to visit HCMC, maybe we piggyback in your suitcase!

hi slurp - one of our travelling companions had compiled this list of must-visit restaurants in Hanoi, so we really did try quite a few of the more well-known restaurants. We also tried street food but our first attempt with the banh cuon (my earlier post) landed us with giant water-bugs *heehee*, so we exercised a little more caution thereafter - still, we had lovely pho bo, bun cha and bun po in little hole in the wall-type of places - will update along the way!

1/20/2006 12:31:00 AM  
Blogger dave said...

I am on that big diet of the year but this one has been waiting for over 7 years. I wasn't sure I should read your blog this week but I had too. Now I am going to go and eat something.

1/21/2006 06:28:00 PM  
Anonymous spots said...

sigh... i miss food in hanoi so much :( thanks for the great pics!

1/24/2006 07:24:00 PM  
Blogger eatzycath said...

hahaa, dave, resistance is *useless*.. that 4-letter word starting with D should never have been in our vocabulary!

hi spots, look out for the promotional airfare on Tiger Airways and make your way to this food haven!

1/24/2006 07:53:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks for the good commentary and nice pictures! Do you have the contact of the local guide there? How much did he charge you?

1/31/2006 10:36:00 AM  
Blogger eatzycath said...

hi anonymous, glad u enjoyed the post - do send me an email and I will try to revert to u on the contact details!

1/31/2006 10:17:00 PM  
Blogger shazam said...

gosh cat.. you should soooo be a photo journalist. your pics and captions are great!!

2/24/2006 10:45:00 PM  
Blogger eatzycath said...

thanks shazam, your praise is making me *blush* :)

2/25/2006 01:06:00 AM  

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