The Hanoi Street Food Edition
On choice, copycats, and just the right amount of char
Gabe Brosbe (GSB) works as a seller for enterprise software startups. He’s currently traveling internationally and writing about his culinary experiences at Snackventures. We used to work together, and he was always guaranteed to make me laugh. - Noah (NRB).
Gabe Here. I was lucky to be back in Hanoi in October and once again pop a deep squat on a tiny red stool before biting into legendary street food. The beauty is in singular focus:each place tends to do one dish especially well. You don’t even need to think about what you are going to order, you go to the pho spot for pho, you go to the bun cha spot for bun cha etc…Places become famous for their specialties like the Bún Chả at Tuyết Bún Chả 34 whose pork patties had just the right amount of char. It’s that fatty char: think of the edges of some good Texas brisket, combining with the gingery broth and fresh noodles that really makes everything hit a harmony like Boyz II Men in their prime.
Why is this interesting?
Places are known for their famous dishes and people line up for the specialty. But because there are known leaders, competitors frequently set up shop across the street or next door. They copy their logo with a slightly different wording and sow confusion (chaos!). Bun Cha Dac Kim’s crafty competitor has nearly identical signage across the street. This happens all over Hanoi and there are even TripAdvisor reviews warning people not to fall for subpar competitors.
Sneaky! Make sure you go to Bun Cha Dac Kim.
My fiance fell in love with the dessert chè in Vietnam. Chè is essentially dessert soup. You take a bowl, add coconut milk, ice, sometimes ice cream, and a range of toppings from jellies, fresh fruit, even corn. The quirky combo somehow works as the mouth is greeted with a range of textures from the fruit and candy.
Tasty fruit and jellies swimming in ice and coconut milk combine to make chè
We were on our way to a highly reviewed chè spot but when we arrived we found not one, but three chè spots with identical signage and barkers out front trying to recruit people to eat their superior dessert soup. One restaurant owner was chastising her employee for not barking hard enough. We ended up eating at one of the copycats by accident (still delicious!).
Caption: Will the real Ché ngon 93 please stand up?
Copycats aside, I love this way of eating. You decide what you want to try, be it bun cha, bún ốc (snail noodle soup), pho ga etc…and go eat the perfect version of that dish. It's effectively a menu-less system. There’s no trying to figure out “the move” on a menu, as is the case in New York. You just walk in, place your order, and slurp it down as the scooters whiz on by. And if you end up at a copycat location like us; don’t fret, it is truly hard to find a bad meal in Hanoi. (GSB)
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Thanks for reading,
Noah (NRB) & Colin (CJN)
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