Seafood Vendor #33 – Hanoi, VN


Seafood Vendor #33
Old Quarter – near Hoan Kiem Lake on Hang Gai at Ly Quoc Su
Hanoi, Vietnam

Street food is a basic way of life in Vietnam. Vendors, who typically specialize in only a few dishes, prepare the same limited menu day in and day out. A market visit in the morning. Long hours of preparation. Then they serve – their hours depend on the type of food, and the popularity of the vendor.img_62671 Seafood vendors usually open around 4pm, and serve till they are sold out, or 10pm, whichever comes first. Seating for street vendors is typically just a stool on the sidewalk. These aren’t high maintenance operations.

There are clearly a lot of advantages to this model. While diversity and selection is not one of them, it is more than made up for in their expertise in preparing these dishes, as well as their ability to utilize a minimum set of ingredients- helping to keep costs down.

Hanoi, while not on the coast, has like most Vietnamese cities a large seafood presence. From the seafood streets south of Hoan Kiem on To Hien Thanh, to various seafood vendors at markets scattered around the city, seafood is quite popular, and for good reason. It’s fresh. And cheap.

img_6264

OC Vendor #33 doesnt fall in any of the high traffic seafood areas in Hanoi. Located near the heart of the tourist district, it’s a fairly non-descript operation on a sidewalk in front of their residence. They specialize in Oc – snails, but also carry steamed clams (ngao hap), grilled squid (muc nuong), and Trung Cut Lon – the Vietnamese version of Balut. They werent carrying squid nor Trung Cut Lon this day.

What drew my attention was the steady stream of business that they did. Always locals, two or three at a time. Her steps, and 2 stools were always occupied. When i pulled up, they quickly ran into the house to find me something suitable to sit on.

I order two bowls. A small bowl of Oc Luoc – better known as cockles, and a bowl of steamed clams. Immediately a stock pot goes onto the charcoal brazier, while she prepares the other ingredients.

img_6265

The clams are prepared first, and are definitely cooked to order.  The basic flavouring of lemongrass, chili, and lime leaves are crushed together, then added to the stock. Once the broth is boiling, the clams are added – steaming quickly under the intense heat. After the clams have opened, they are removed from the broth, and the broth is allowed to reduce. The broth is poured over the bowl, and finally served with a dipping sauce of fish sauce, lime, vinegar, and some form of sweetener – likely sugar.

img_6274

As for the taste? It’s as good and as simple as it sounds. The clams were fresh – any that failed to open were discarded by her before being served. The broth a perfect balance of the sea (from the clam juice) sour, sweet, and spice. Great balance, great taste, i wolfed these down in a heart beat, and proceeded to drink down the broth. A small baguette was excellent in soaking up any remaining sauce. A heart warming bowl indeed.

As I was eating the clams, she got to work on the Oc Luoc. These were boiled, with a slightly different preparation. The ubiquitous Vietnamese lemongrass, was accented with ginger, chili and lime. These come with the same dipping sauce, this time with additional condiments of lemongrass, chili, lime, and salt and pepper.

The cockles were good, but a bit sandy. The flavour is wonderful – the ginger adds quite a different dimension to it. But it didnt have the same heartwarming feeling the clams did. Some cockles were definitely on the mushy side, and not the freshest i’ve had. Good in a pinch, but the clams were better.

Total price for this extravagant meal? 60,000 dong. Or, roughly $4.00 CAD.

At the end of the day, it wasn’t the best seafood i had in Vietnam, but if you find yourself walking around the Old Quarter, and want a quick snack of seafood, this is a good alternative to the tourist restaurants that abound. It’s cheap, and it’s as tasty as anything else served in the Old Quarter. I think for cockles and snails though, i’d go to To Hien Thanh – much larger volumes mean higher turnover, and thus fresher Oc. The clams, however, were excellent, and well worth a visit.

Foodosopher note: I apologize for the lack of correct accents. I do not have a Vietnamese keyboard. And really, i wouldn’t know exactly which accents to use either!

Advertisements

The Foodosophy of Vietnam – General thoughts


Hi Everyone,

I finally have a reasonably stable internet connection for a day or two, so I just wanted to drop everyone a quick line to say hello from hot and humid Vietnam. I’m leaving the country in a few days, so i thought this would be a good time to provide some general thoughts on my observations of Vietnamese cuisine.

It’s been a great time eating thus far. Vietnam is a fairly diverse country, with an abundance of wonderful food. If you are a food lover, this is definitely a great country to visit. I flew into Hanoi, and travelled from North to South, giving me a broad perspective on the diversity of dishes, and regional interpretations on many of the dishes available across the country. From meat to seafood, to fruits and vegetables, Vietnam has it all. Even though the country is generally quite poor monetarily, they have a very rich food culture.

Im a bit out of practice in writing, so i’ll try and summarize in point form to help structure my thoughts:

  • The first thing i noticed about Vietnamese food is how fresh it is.  Even on the street, there is great pride in serving frsh ingredients. Everything needed is bought the morning of. Nothing is kept overnight. While some dishes are par-cooked to speed up the process, for the most part, things are cooked ala minute.
  • Balance is the key to a successful Vietnamese dish. They do an amzazing job of it.
  • Vietnamese food in North America is very heavy handed. Overly strong flavours, with big impact in servings. Vietnamese food in Vietnam is a lot more subtle. More complexity, more interesting, but a lot less in your face.
  • Definitely a better balance of flavours, and served in much smaller servings, i find myself savouring food more, than gorging on it.
  • They use a lot more lemongrass than North America does. Other ingredients that show up a lot more than i would’ve expected are fried onion tops and mint.
  • Fishy flavours are extremely well balanced by citrus – salt, pepper and citrus make a great accompainiment for seafood.
  • A very distinct lack of MSG in most places here – i didnt realize how much restaurants relied on MSG in North America, until i ate food that didnt use it, or used it sparingly.
  • Restaurants in tourist areas are almost uniformly bad – no matter what the guide books say. Do yourself a favour – if you want a sitdown restaurant, get out of the tourist areas.
  • Many restaurants in tourist areas have no kitchens – they are just a place to sit, and a menu with pictures, or English. They run out to your local street vendor and buy the item in question when you order it. Makes it decent, but is a 100-200% markup worth it?
  • If i had to generalize quality of establishments, i’d say local restaurants in local districts, market food, street food, then restaurants in tourist districts
  • Vietnamese share a lot of dishes in groups, and eat fairly often. I’ve had trouble adapting to eating 5-6 times a day with the local family i’ve been hanging out with.
  • Beef on the street here is pretty bad. Cows are skinny. Beef is imported from Australia for higher quality establishments. That should be a pretty good indication that don’t expect much for your Pho Bo/Pho Tai that you paid 75 cents for on the street. On the streets, i would stick to pork, chicken, and seafood.
  • Food here is cheap – even for huge splurge meals, if you avoid tourist traps. I shared a late night seafood family meal with 4 others yesterday that was amazing. Cockles, snails, clams of all kinds, we ordered 6 or 7 dishes, 6 beers, and the total came out to under $30 for 5 of us. In comparison, 6 coffees/juices at a Western hotel with a view added up to more than this meal.
  • There are pretty big regional differences in food. You can definitely see more ethnic influences here in the south than in the north.
  • Many establishments, especially on the street, specialize in only one or two dishes. This makes the general quality of the food you get squatting on a sidewalk to be very high.
  • Smiling goes a long way when you can’t speak the language.
  • Vietnamese people are passionate about their food, and very very friendly.
  • I still don’t like Asian sweets.

Anyway, i hope you enjoyed my preliminary thoughts on the food of Vietnam. I look forward to providing you with much more specific recommendations on where to eat.

I would like to thank all the other writers at Foodosophy for picking up all the slack in my absence. Their time and commitment are greatly appreciated.

And lastly, and for me, most importantly, I would like to thank Foodosophy reader CH and family for all the time and effort you’ve spent showing me the cuisine of Southern Vietnam. It’s been an amazing experience for me to learn more about your culture and cuisine first hand. I can’t thank you enough for all the time spent driving, explaining, and tasting. I couldnt imagine having a better vacation than this!

Best wishes everyone!

Foodosopher