It’s hard day’s night, and I have been working like a dog. It’s time to unwind and get a long cold one in the sweltering heat of Hanoi. My hosts had the same in mind and arranged a long evening of Bia Hoi.
Hanoians drink Bia Hoi (draft lager) for long sessions to cool off after a really hard-working day on a swelteringly hot summer. Meanwhile foreigners enjoy this drink not just because of the taste, but also as a means to socialise.
Bia Hoi Culture, which can be loosely translated to a biergarten, is one of the main staples for Vietnamese, one may say. Restaurants, big and small, formal and casual, are found in almost every street corner in major cities and a handful here and there in the country. And they serve some of the best local cuisine at a very reasonable price along with ice cold beer.
Gà tre quay mât ong | Honey roasted bamboo chicken
The pickled green bananas stole the show, but the roast chicken was a great start to the evening.
Salad raw ranh tong hop sôt chanh leo | Green salad with passionfruit dressing
The passionfruit dressing made from mixing passionfruit pulp with Japanese mayonnaise was not exactly Vietnamese but the salad was just made right.
Hoa thien ly xäo | Stir-fry angelica flowers
When I was young, we grew these vines in our garden and the flowers can be made into an egg drop soup. Because it was so fragrant and bloomed in the evening, I was told it was called Yelaixiang 夜来香 “Fragrance in the night” Telosma cordata . Only now I found out that this is a common dish in Vietnam and they also cook them in soup or stir-fry as a vegetable dish.
Bò Fuji Nhat sôt tiêu ranh | Japanese beef with green pepper sauce
Vietnamese call them Bò Fuji (Japanese beef) but I don’t think they are wagyu beef. I believe it was just a piece of very well marbled imported beef pan seared and poured over with a savoury green peppercorn sauce. This was very delicious. We finished it in record time because as you can imagine, we were still trying to acclimatised to local food.
Dau tam hänh | Fried tofu cooked in scallions
There is another Teochew dish that looked like this one. Called Puning Doufu 普宁豆腐, it is a simple dish of deep fried tofu served with a dipping sauce of chopped chives in saltwater. Dau tam hänh is simply deep fried tofu cooked in a simple broth with scallions. Similar in flavours.
Cha cá lâng du món nuong rieng mé | Grilled lemongrass pangasius chopped into pieces
The locals told me that this was salmon, but I did not think so. In fact cá lâng is in fact pangasius or shark catfish. They have soft bones and very fatty and mushy meat. Normally catfish is not a good fish to eat because it can taste quite muddy. But the way it was prepared – grilled with a lemongrass marinate – was quite tasty. The way to eat it like a local is to get a piece of the rice paper, put some of the lettuce, herbs and blanched rice noodles, and finally the fish. Then you wrap it like a burrito and dip it into the spicy fish sauce prepped on the side.
Sam câm die món lau | “Ginseng bird” hot pot
At first I thought we were having duck hotpot, which was a rather rare choice of poultry for the genre. My host tried to explain that it is called sam câm in Vietnamese and literally translated to “ginseng bird”. At first I thought it could be the Eurasian teal, but then upon closer observation I realised it was the Eurasian coot.
The Eurasian coot is considered a delicacy and only offered to the most worthy guests. Their meat is tender, bright red, and can be mistaken as duck but they do not have webbed feet. This dish is suitable for people who do mental labour, are overworked or anaemic, for women who just gave birth, for the elderly, and for those with weakened organs. In addition, foods made from ginseng birds also help men increase vitality, women can prolong their youth, fight aging, and have smooth, young and beautiful skin and a slimmer figure. OK, it’s a damn good eat.
Thank goodness we were seated in the aircon comfort, or else I would be melting in the humidity and heat of the evenings of Hanoi. And right in the middle of dinner, my hosts jumped straight into the other national pastime – karaoke. And that’s when the night got better.
Đỏ Beer Garden
52 Nguyễn Bỉnh Khiêm, Lê Đại Hành, Hai Bà Trưng, Hà Nội, Vietnam
Tel : +84 855 988 989
Visited in Jul 2022