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Northern flavors cure homesickness in Saigon

People from Hanoi and Saigon recognize each other as compatriots and share almost everything from their language to their customs, and most certainly their food, despite the 3,000 kilometers that separates them.

Having been in Saigon for more than 20 years, the kiosks at the end of Chu Manh Trinh (District 1), Tran Quoc Toan, Vo Thi Sau and Nguyen Thong Street (District 3) have almost every northern specialty for sale.

Having been in Saigon for more than 20 years, the kiosks at the end of Chu Manh Trinh (District 1), Tran Quoc Toan, Vo Thi Sau and Nguyen Thong Street (District 3) have almost every northern specialty for sale.

Food such as dried bamboo shoots, fragrant mushrooms, arrowroot noodles from Bac Kan and hundreds of specialties all find their way to Saigon, mostly by train.

Food such as dried bamboo shoots, fragrant mushrooms, arrowroot noodles from Bac Kan and hundreds of specialties all find their way to Saigon, mostly by train.

Food with a short shelf-life like tofu from the famous Mo village in Hanoi, salted pork and hand-ground squid cakes are treated with care and get here by air.

Food with a short shelf-life like tofu from the famous Mo village in Hanoi, salted pork and hand-ground squid cakes are treated with care and get here by air.

Instant food like the sweet dessert 'che' and sticky rice also secure a seat on the planes that shuttle between the regions.

Instant food like the sweet dessert ‘che’ and sticky rice also secure a seat on the planes that shuttle between the regions.

Hanoi’s square ‘banh chung’ still reigns supreme and takes up the most space. According to shop owners, despite being brought from the capital, the price here is still not much higher than in Hanoi.

Hanoi’s square ‘banh chung’ still reigns supreme and takes up the most space. According to shop owners, despite being brought from the capital, the price here is still not much higher than in Hanoi.

Processed foods such as ground meat cake ‘gio’ and ‘cha’ are also easy to find for northern people living in Saigon.

Processed foods such as ground meat cake ‘gio’ and ‘cha’ are also easy to find for northern people living in Saigon.

Not everything sold in these markets is exclusive to the North. Many shop owners still want their goods to be shipped from their home towns. Housewives can find all kinds of food that remind them of the scent of Hanoi here like ‘sau’ (dratoncomelon).

Not everything sold in these markets is exclusive to the North. Many shop owners still want their goods to be shipped from their home towns. Housewives can find all kinds of food that remind them of the scent of Hanoi here like ‘sau’ (dratoncomelon).

Northern style pickles, sauces and pastes are available all year round.

Northern style pickles, sauces and pastes are available all year round.

Some shops offer the beer lovers’ favorite snack: ‘banh da’, the thin crunchy crackers riddled with black sesame seeds that has become a part of after-work culture.

Some shops offer the beer lovers’ favorite snack: ‘banh da’, the thin crunchy crackers riddled with black sesame seeds that has become a part of after-work culture.

Fresh lime leaves, the most important aromatic compliment for the popular boiled chicken, found on every corner in the north but almost nowhere in the south.

Fresh lime leaves, the most important aromatic compliment for the popular boiled chicken, found on every corner in the north but almost nowhere in the south.

Northern fruits are also a good seller. Everything you need is within reach.

Northern fruits are also a good seller. Everything you need is within reach.

Even if the fruit you are after is not available, a quick phone call will quickly satisfy your craving.

Even if the fruit you are after is not available, a quick phone call will quickly satisfy your craving.

Food

A bowl of fish cake noodles that will leave you wanting for more

A Hanoi restaurant serves steaming bowls of various kinds of noodle soups with three types of vegetables to warm your stomach.

When the weather starts to turn chill, nothing can be as satisfying as slurping on a steaming bowl of delicious sour and spicy noodles soup. Besides bun rieu (salty tomato broth, served with crab or fish) and bun oc (snail noodles soup), another popular choice among Hanoians is bun ca (fried fish cake noodles soup).

When it opened a decade ago the fried fish cake noodles soup restaurant on Le Van Huu Street was just a small eatery, but it now has branches in several other places. But the original one still attracts the most customers.

A full bowl of noodle soup, fish cakes and fresh boiled carp.

A full bowl of noodle soup, fish cakes and fresh boiled carp.

For just VND35,000 ($1.5), each bowl is served with a plate of vegetables, including giant elephant ear plant, water dropwort and mustard leaf. Customers can ask for just one kind of vegetable if they want.

Like most fish cake noodles soup restaurants in Hanoi, this one serves crunchy fried fish cakes to eat with a variety of noodles like rice vermicelli, flat rice noodles and cassava vermicelli.

At the restaurant, the cake is made with climbing perch fish. The pieces of cake are about match-box size, the outside is fried to a crunchy golden color while the inside remains soft and flavorful.

On order, the soup also comes with pieces of freshly boiled carp. They are firm and don’t taste fishy. This is what makes the restaurant stand out for its regulars.

Another signature dish of the restaurant is the fried fish cakes dipped in sweet and sour fish sauce. Since the fish is fried on order, the pieces remain thick and tasty

The fried fish cakes are made on customers' orders. Photo by VnExpress/Tuan Dao

The fried fish cakes are made on customers’ orders. Photo by VnExpress/Tuan Dao

With a little bit of kumquat, chili sauce and pickled garlic, there is a delicious bowl of noodles soup that customers usually polish off to the last drop. The restaurant owner said since the broth is made from fish bones and marrow bones, the broth is clear and naturally sweet without needing any added artificial flavoring.

Duc, a first time customer, said: “I think the broth here is really nice. The fish cakes are thick and warm, and not shriveled like at other places.”

The restaurant also does takeout of fish cakes, fried eel cakes, crunchy fried fish, boneless fish and more.

This small restaurant has been attracting a large number of customers for a decade. Photo by VnExpress/Tuan Dao

This small restaurant has been attracting a large number of customers for a decade. Photo by VnExpress/Tuan Dao

Source: Tuan Dao(VNEXPRESS)

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Food

Coconut sticky rice a rare treat on Hanoi streets

The dish emerged decades ago, but it remains difficult to find a place in Hanoi that makes it really well

On the outside, the coconut sticky rice, xoi dua, is a very simple, tasty dish, one of several varieties of the dish that is a popular breakfast choice of many in Vietnam, including Hanoi.

However, there’s more to this particular variety that makes it difficult to get one that has the right taste.

Basically, the dish is a combination of glutinous rice with sesame, shredded coconut and a dash of brown sugar. It has a light sweet taste, great fragrance and does not “fill” you like other, more well known sticky rice varieties.

Despite its great taste and looks, the coconut sticky rice is not a ubiquitous presence on the street because making it is a relatively difficult, time consuming process.

The cook has to steam the rice twice after adding a pinch of salt. Then, the white strands of grated coconut and the sesame, essential to the dish, have to be roasted carefully. If the fire is too strong, they will get burnt, and the taste and fragrance of the dish will be lost. The second steaming happens after the rice has been mixed with the grated coconut and coconut milk.

Following the second steaming, the roasted and ground sesame, is sprinkled on top of the rice with a little touch of brown sugar and all this is mixed up before the dish is served.

A dish is both shiny and bright, with both the dark rice and white coconut having a glossy finish.

One of the few places that aficionados of this dish will recommend is Hoa’s coconut sticky rice stall on Ngo Van So Street. She also sells other sticky rice varieties including the xoi gac (with gac fruit ), xoi do den (black beans), xoi lac (peanuts) and xoi dau xanh (mung beans).

Hoa highlighted one more “difficulty” in making the coconut sticky rice. “Preparing the rice is what takes the most effort, you have to wash very carefully to make sure that every single grain is of good quality.”

Source: Viet Nguyen (VNEXPRESS)

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Food

Coffee that’s been brewing for 50 years in south Vietnam

Customers of a nameless, unassuming coffee shop in An Giang are drawn by the ‘scent of time’ it exudes.

Near the Long Xuyen canal and Ong Manh bridge, Ho Thi Hanh has been running her coffee shop for 50 years. Her café has no sparkling billboard or even a clear address, but its simplicity, neatness, unchanged ambience and special coffee flavor have won the hearts of many customers.

Local patrons refer to the shop “Muoi Ngau café”.

Hanh prepares the coffee after the customers place their order, so that every cup has a fresh, strong flavor. She brews the coffee in an earthen pot on a brick stove fuelled by rice husk. She uses an aluminum spoon to take the coffee powder from a tin container. None of her brewing tools are made of plastic.

Once the coffee is brewed it is strained through cloth mesh before being poured into cups.

Many customers said they can smell the “scent” of time as they wait for and enjoy their coffee.

Before pouring the coffee, Hanh warms the cups by dipping them in boiling water, so the beverage retains its heat and warmth for longer.

There is also a tea pot in the café that is usually refilled with boiled water. Hanh only uses one stove to boil the water for brewing coffee and tea. She is always busy brewing, pouring and serving. In the morning when the place is packed, she seeks some help from her two children.

Despite the incessant work flow, Hanh attends to each and every one of her customers. She can notice who has finished their drink, and promptly refill their cup with coffee for free.

“Should drink some more for fun,” she said, smiling.

At the end of the day, the cloth filters are washed and placed on the side of the house to be dried by the sun and wind that blows from the nearby Hau River.

The café’s takeaway options are simple, too. The coffee is poured into a plastic bag tied with rubber bands. A bag of tea that is double the size goes along.

The shop is part of an old house, with unpainted walls. It can accommodate just three sets of wooden tables and chairs, all weathered by time.

The aroma of coffee has been lingering on the ceilings walls for more than 50 years.

People usually order a hot black coffee with some sugar and ice. The milk coffee here bears the southwestern coffee style: the milk portion almost equals that of the coffee, creating a refreshingly sweet drink.

“In the past, when we first came here and asked her permission to take pictures, she would give us free coffee,” said Phi Thong, 22, a local resident.

A cup of coffee costs just VND5,000 ($0.2). Most of the customers are local workers, who drop by for a takeaway drink in the morning, or sit and relax to get some rest during a long working day.

The café is also the rendezvous for everyone from different walks of life to gather, have breakfast and engage in some chit-chat.

The milk coffee.

Ut, 44, a vendor living nearby, has had coffee from Hanh’s café for more than 20 years. “Every day I buy a takeaway coffee bag. In the past I used to buy it for my dad, but now, I myself enjoy the drink.”

Source: Linh Tam (VNEXPRESS)

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