Salty or sweet? This common question for your favorite breakfast is actually for a light meal before dinner here or just when the people are in the mood for some snack/junk food instead of a full big one. As the cradle of the country's culture for thousands of years, Hanoi and its creative residents invent a lot of small food that make your mouth water every time you think about it.
Thanks to rice and nuoc mam (fish sauce) - the quintessence of the country's traditional food culture which is indispensable for the well-known dishes of Nem (spring roll) or Bun Cha (rice noodle with grilled pork), there is a plenty of salty dishes, like beautiful wives of the King Nuoc Mam.
The first one to name must be Banh xeo which could be regarded as his Queen, thanks to her fame. The rice pancake which is popular all over the country is made in the way similar to making French crepe with the thin rice batter pouring into a hot pan. Unlike crepes, banh xeo is loaded with filling ingredients including shrimp, pork and bean sprouts. With lettuce and some fresh herbs, the crispy cover and tasty filling, the Vietnamese “crepe” is a healthy dish which amazes diners when it is dipped in the mixed sauce of nuoc mam, sugar, lime, garlic, chili, pepper and slides of green papaya.
The similar sauce is also the soul of the well-known “beauty” Banh goi. It is actually the Vietnamese version of Samosa, the fried pancake well-known in Southeast Asia, Middle East and Africa. Inside the cover in the shape of a pillow made from wheat flour (hence the name “gối” translated to English is pillow) – there is a tasting filling, made of a mixture of minced pork, wood ear mushroom, vermicelli noodle, egg and lap xuong (a kind of Vietnamese sausage). Right from the first bite, you can savor all of the crunchy exterior and the soft delicious combination inside that you can't wait to have the next one.
With the same filling but more basic and without sophisticated elaboration, just minced pork, wood ear mushroom, and vermicelli noodle, however, banh ran brings another street-side delicacy. Thanks to the cover made of glutinous rice and fried deeply in plenty of hot oil, the ball pancake is both crunchy and glutinous at the same time. It is usually served with the mixed fish sauce as well or more simply with chili paste.
Particularly, banh ran is also a sweet “girl” when “she” comes with the filling of green bean paste. More interestingly, it persifies in the cover, including being sprinkled with either sesame seeds, sugar, or fried honey. Each provides a unique sweet yum-yum.
Another beauty in this list, an evidence for the healthy and balanced food of Vietnam, is Nom. The green papaya salad mixed with carrot, beef jerky, peanuts, herbs and mixed fish sauce is “voted” by almost all local people. The most popular place in Hanoi for the dish is at 23 Ho Hoan Kiem Street, Hoan Kiem centre district.
For those who are more into “chubby beauty”, nem chua ran (fried fermented pork sausage) is always their first choice. Fermented pork sausage is a common beer food for a long time. The fried version is regarded to appear in Hanoi about nearly two decades ago. That's why the food is also called “nem chua ran Hanoi” when it spreads to other cities and provinces. The crispy and chewy sausage dipping with chili paste soon had a word of mouth for its nice new taste and became one of the best junk food of the locals. Later, the grilled version was added for more selection of flavor for the gastronomes.
Beside the sweet genre of Banh ran, there are dozens of other “honies” that please your palate.
Among them, it is indispensable to name Che (sweet dessert), a fresh eat with ice cubes for summer. The basic Che is made from beans including green, black or red ones which are cooked with sugar. Later, thanks to the variety of plants and fruits in the tropical country, a bunch of Che are made, such as corn, taro, longan and lotus seed, grapefruit, banana, mango or mixture. Different kinds of jelly are also added for persifying its toppings.
Together with Che, a mixture of fruit, jelly and yogurt is also a common choice for those who want something fresh and less sweet. Particularly, a simple but unique dessert is also favored for its fresh taste: tao pho. This tofu pudding mixed with sweet syrup, black jelly, white pearl and ice cubes is definitely the “Miss” of summer to many people.
In addition, fans of jelly cannot miss that of the coconut. The way of making coconut jelly and serving it is special as all inside the coconut. The whole shell is offered with a full coconut-sized jelly that can make you full for both the size and fresh tasty savor. The advice is you better share it in two, especially if you are also a fan of ice-cream. Because then your stomach will have space for the sweet yummy coconut ice-cream served in another full shell.
Like all kinds of food, the quality of each dish is based on the ingredients and the way of elaborating. However, most of them have quite similar good quality and cheap, starting from half a dollar for a yummy afternoon.
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