HCMC Dining Guide

Thursday, February 26, 2015

A Hanoi Feast

Last night my friend Katie and I were treated to an incredible feast through a company called Plate Culture, which connects people to home cooks around Southeast Asia. We were told to meet Tom at his house way the hell out in Go Vap District - it takes a lot for me to get lost in Saigon, but by the time we arrived I had no idea where we were. (Although we were obviously near the airport, as airliners roared over regularly on their final approach before landing.)

Tom, who is from Hanoi and has lived in Saigon for four years, was a wonderful host. He didn't realize only two people were coming and had cooked enough Hanoi specialties to feed a small army, but we assured him we would do our best. I've been to Hanoi a few times but don't know a whole lot about the city's food, so this was an eye-opening experience. I had never eaten any of the dishes Tom prepared - unfortunately he didn't know the English names for any of them, and I don't know what the Vietnamese names mean, so this won't be particularly helpful. Know that everything was delicious though.
There was a plate of stir-fried pork with carrots, baby corn, beans and succulent pork skin.
 This is nem chua rang, or fried nem chua. (Whatever nem chua is.)

 This is a salad of cha lua and something else we couldn't figure out the word for.
 By the time all of this was on the table (plus boiled chicken and, not pictured, sticky rice with rooster meat) I knew there was no way we'd be able to finish everything. I hate wasting food, especially amazing food, but this was too tall of an order.
And then Tom served up a hearty bowl of soup containing chicken, egg noodles, herbs and more cha lua. It was awesome, and unlike any soup you would have Saigon, but after a few mouthfuls I was about to explode. Fortunately he didn't force us to finish everything, or I would've have been able to walk away from the table. At least I was able to finish the light dessert of lotus seeds placed inside longan, served chilled.
This was one of the best meals I've had in a while, and gives me some dishes to look out for the next time I'm in Hanoi. I enjoyed talking to Tom as well, as he likes living in Saigon but is very proud of where he is from. He talked at length about Hanoi's beauty and way of life and why the food there is better - simpler recipes, fresher ingredients, etc. His descriptions of the food were delightful - the meat used with the sticky rice came from specific roosters that are castrated ("they cut off the cock's balls" in his words) so they won't be distracted by female chickens and can focus on getting fat instead. As the feast digested on the long drive back to District 5 I realized this was an experience I won't forget any time soon.


  1. Hanoi has a few specialties but there's a reason 99 percent of foreigners, and all central and southern Vietnamese think Northern food sucks balls

  2. I agree with you Mike. Everybody is different. Some like spicy foods and some don't.

  3. Do you use any of the Vietnam banks Mike? If yes which one would you recommend?

    1. I use Sacombank, but last week I tried to transfer money and they wouldn't let me because my signature wasn't exactly the same as when I opened the account over 4 years ago. About to write a post on this, actually.