Hanoians have balancing flavours down to a fine art and Vietnam’s capital is a haven for fresh ingredients and honest cooking. Take a look at our top five feasts for a day in the city.
1. Pho Bo at Pho Gia Truyen
Noodles for Breakfast? It’s the only way to start the day in Vietnam and this place has Hanoians queuing round the block to sample their fragrant rice-noodle soup. Beef bones are boiled for hours to create a rich stock to which meat, fresh greens and noodles are added.
2. Bun Cha at Bun Cha Nem Cua Be Dac Kim
This tiny one-room cafe set off a busy street is staffed by one surly but efficient old lady who serves up some of the tastiest, freshest and best value food in the city.
Seasoned pork balls in a fragrant broth served with crab spring rolls and a mountainous fresh herb salad make up this Hanoi favourite popular with locals and tourists alike.
3. Pretty much everything at Quan An Ngon
This slightly more upmarket street food experience comprises tens of stalls, each representing the best street food recipes from around the country. Choose from dishes such as sticky rice, crispy pancakes or squid with lemongrass. It’s a great introduction to a whole range street food Vietnam has to offer.
4. Coconut Ice Cream at Kem Trang Tien
If you fancy a bit of dessert head down to the city’s ice cream district (yes Hanoi has an ice cream district) and visit this popular hangout for Hanoi youths who roll up on their scooters in droves to enjoy the best coconut cones you’re likely to taste. Think Quadrophenia with ice cream.
5. Iced Coffee at Café Pho Co
Hanoi is famous for its coffee culture and there’s no better place to sip some of Vietnam’s home-grown brew than at this well-kept city secret. Enter through an old silk shop to find this hidden arcadia filled with birdcages and tropical plants.
It’s three stories high meaning you can watch the mist settle over Hoan Kiem lake while enjoying coffee like the locals do, iced with condensed milk.
I don’t know about you, but for me the best part of any day at work is lunch time. It’s an opportunity to spend the morning thinking about what you’re going to eat in that golden hour, before eating it and spending the rest of the day thinking about what you’re going to have for tea.
Sometimes my lunchtime quandary can be easy solved as I’m lucky enough to work next to South East London’s worst-kept weekday lunchtime secret, Bangkok Kitchen.
To sum up briefly Bangkok Kitchen is a slightly ramshackle duo of huts set off an industrial-looking back street in Southwark. A row of surly old ladies line up behind a row of hot plates, nonchalantly scooping your choice of food into plastic trays. It’s cheap and it’s full of flavor and spice.
I had the green curry, bravely (if I do say so myself) opting for the spicy version which skirted just on the right side of comfortable with regards to heat level.
Maybe the reason I love this place is that, even with the grey chilly skies and the crumbling red brick archways that surround it, there’s an underlying essence of an Asian street food experience.
Don’t forget to load up on the free spicy crackers lovingly served out of giant plastic storage boxes. – Jodie
It was my birthday on Friday. I normally hate my birthday but this year the pain of growing another year older was eased slightly by my acquisition of a dolsot – gifted most generously by Foodboar Colleen.
A dolsot is a stone bowl commonly used in Korean cuisine to make bibimbap – which should (but doesn’t) translate directly as ‘the most delicious rice in the world’. I think it actually translates as ‘mixed rice’ – it’s being far too modest.
It’s something of a national dish. A simple affair made up of steamed short grain rice topped with as many as you dare of the following ingredients: softened bean sprouts, julienne carrots, spinach, sesame seeds, tofu or meat (commonly beef), egg (cooked or raw) cucumber, mushrooms, courgette and pickles.
The magic of this dish is that you can just about add anything you darn well like but you’d be missing the point if you didn’t add a good few lashings of Korean red pepper paste to stir though.
What makes bibimbap so special is that the sizzling stone dolsot turns the rice slightly crispy as you eat it. Now more than once I’ve been accused of guzzling my food too quickly and my justification is always the same: it’s not the same once it goes cold. The brilliant thing about bibimbap is your food stays wincingly hot for a long time, meaning guzzlers like me can eat at their leisure.
To make bibimbap for 2 people:
Dolsot (or a ceramic bowl if not)
Korean hot pepper paste
Pickled cucumber (or kimchi/some other asian-style pickle)
Tofu (or a meat of your choice)
Dried shiitake mushrooms (or fresh if you can get ’em)
Combine 250 g of sushi rice (short grain) with 375 ml of water in a pan – bringing it up to the boil and then letting it simmer with the lid on for 20 minutes. Use a bit of the water you boiled to hydrate the mushrooms in a small bowl
Put the dolsot in a cold oven and gradually let it heat up to 200 degrees (so as not to crack the stone). If you are using a normal ceramic bowl skip this step and just warm it gently as you would normally.
Steam a handful of bean sprouts for 20 minutes, adding the spinach halfway though.
Fry the tofu and set aside. Stir fry the carrots with some garlic and sesame oil and set aside. Stir fry the mushrooms with some sesame seeds and more garlic.
Remove the bean sprouts and spinach for the steamer. Squeeze the water out of the spinach if you want to.
Using gloves remove the hot stone from the oven and fill half way with rice. Place the carrots, mushrooms, bean sprouts, spinach, cucumber pickle, tofu and a dolop of hot chilli paste in neat piles around the edge of the dolsot and crack a raw egg in the centre.
Stir quickly so the stone cooks the egg. – Jodie
Image left: Left over bibimbap prepared in a ceramic bowl for my housemate
Image Right: Stone bowl bibimbap stirred up and ready to eat
I don’t know if you know, but my favourite food happens to be a well cooked curry, so last month I purchased a rather tattered copy of Madhur Jaffrey’s 1975 masterpiece An Invitation to Indian Cooking. I have spent pretty much every Sunday since this landmark acquisition trying to achieve true depth of flavour in my Indian cooking. Here are ten things I have leaned thanks mainly to Madhur, forums, trial and error:
1. Toast your spices– dry, in a pan, until they turn a few shades darker. It really brings out the flavour and aroma.
2. Use gee– It gives a great flavour to the sauce. Oil doesn’t separate as easily from the mixture as gee, and it doesn’t carry the flavours as well.
3. Chapatis are really easy to make– For months I was experimenting with combinations of flour, milk, oil, water, butter. In the end I decided that chapati flour and water are all you need. Make a dough, leave it to rest for half an hour, and roll into thin discs. Cook them quickly on a hot iron tava or pan before holding over a raw flame until they puff up. I like to spread a bit of butter on them and leave them to rest under tin foil until they soften.
4. A blended onion does wonders– Cast that jar of shop-bought muck to the wind. Blend an onion with some garlic and ginger, then toast and add spices of your choice. This makes for the perfect curry paste, and very quick work indeed. Stock and/or tomatoes can be added to turn it into a sauce.
5. Buy your spices in small amounts–Many ground spices like coriander lose their intensity after a few months in the cupboard. An alternative is to buy whole spices and grind in them a food processor, or pestle and mortar, before you start cooking.
6. Give it time (left-overs are even better)– Pretty much every time I cook Indian food I’ll have a taste after it’s been bubbling for 20 minutes and I’ll condemn it to blandness, only to come back an hour later and be delighted by how the flavours have developed in spite of my impatience
7. Heat for the belly not the mouth – A very proud Indian chef once explained this fact to me at great length. Warmth in an Indian dish is better if it comes from spice rather than excessive amounts of chilli.
8. Sometimes we need to start again– So many dishes we think to be authentically Indian are not. ‘Chicken Tikka Masala,’ ‘Jalfrazi,’ Balti’, and ‘Korma’ have all become very British phenomenons. Personally, I am an endeared fan of our clumsy but impassioned adoption of the Indian cuisine. Just don’t always expect your korma to be as sweet and yellow as you may have thus far experienced.
9. Our pesky export tomatoes are not good enough– They’re just so flapping bland! I’m also loathed to used tinned tomatoes, which I’m convinced taste unnatural and slightly metallic. As a compromise I use fresh tomatoes with a dollop of puree.
10. I will always be a novice– Despite all this I acknowledge it take years, if not generations, of experience to truly learn the art of Indian cooking. Nevertheless we must soldier on in hope of palak perfection.
I’d love you hear your opinions on these points, especially if you love cooking South Asian food. Perhaps you have something to add or vehemently think I should remove. – Jodie
The Food boars went to Polpo this week to try out some Soho-Venetian joy. We reckoned that any establishment with six different types of meatball on the menu is alright by us.
What Colleen has to say:
The Polpo website is not to be perused when hungry. The background photo transition filled my 23 inch monitor with giant meatballs and cosy restaurant interiors and the menu was packed with ingredients I love such as pancetta, balsamic and parmesan.
I didn’t know much about Polpo before visiting with fellow Food Boar Jodie and two friends, but I did know of their beautiful recipe book cover – the one with the hand drawn octopus.
The non-virtual-menu did not disappoint and I chose the Eggplant & Parmesan involtini to start and the Duck & green peppercorn ragu, pappardelle for main.
The food came out at different times, which meant three sets of hungry beady eyes staring at honorary Food Boar Julian’s Spicy pork & fennel meatballs. My involtinis soon arrived and proved fresh and tasty – though not as delicious as honorary Food Boar Will’s Potato & Parmesan crochette – I openly stole one. Left to my own devices I could devour at least four plates of the golden wonders. The Duck & green peppercorn ragu was rich but not overly spectacular.
Julian says “Enticing dishes were in abundance, but our party of four did not conquer all the Venetian’s tapas – decidedly boar by name not by nature. A second visit is probably in order. The stand out dish for me was the bruschetta, covered in a mountain of artichoke, prosciutto and ricotta. If I had the authority to cast such judgement, it would be a four acorn sort of place!”
Well he doesn’t, however…
Acorns out of 5:
What Jodie has to say:
As Julian rather theatrically informed us, the bruschetta was by far the best thing we ordered, so much so that the following day I tried to recreate it…
Recipe: Ricotta, artichoke and pancetta bruschetta
Perhaps more assembly instructions than recipe for this Polpo-inspired hors d’oeuvre, but it is an assembly I dare any dinner guest not to be impressed by. That’s right, a dare.
1 loaf of nice bread
1 jar of artichokes in oil
1 tub of ricotta
4 garlic cloves
4 slices of thinly sliced cured Italian ham
Extra virgin olive oil
Step by step…
Cut the bread into 1cm thick slices, drizzle in oil and place on the griddle pan. Meanwhile cut the tomatoes into small slices and place on the griddle pan with the bread.
Once the bread is lightly toasted on one side, turn over. While the other side is toasting cut the cloves of garlic in half and rub lightly into the bread. Check the tomatoes; we’re aiming for soft but still retaining their shape.
Once you have some nice lines on the bread and the tomatoes are cooked, take of the heat. Spread a generous layer of ricotta on each slice and sprinkle with black pepper, lay on the tomatoes and artichokes and then fold one the ham. Drizzle generously with olive oil and you’re done.
Simple, quick and horrifyingly tasty.
Ever since I was a young un I’d always quietly salivated over the thought of tasting real Asian street food and finally, in January this year, I got my chance. I packed my bag, ate my last cheese and Marmite sandwich for three weeks, and hopped excitedly on to a 14-hour flight to Vietnam.
…14 hours later, tired, ravenously hungry and harrowed by ‘moderate turbulence,’ I was on the streets of Ho Chi Minh City. It was certainly no disappointment. There were food carts all around the streets selling everything from Pho, Vietnam’s national Noodle dish, to delicious peanut-topped mussels to half-fertilised duck eggs. The latter, it was decided, were to be eaten in more adventuresome spirits.
I decided to head straight for the food section of Ben Thanh market in the heart of Old Saigon. I pointed wearily to a picture of a crispy pancake and a noodle dish with a crab claw poking out. They arrived seconds later and they were stunning; fragrant, complex, perfectly balanced flavours. This was my first taste of my 21-day odyssey, and it was good.
Before I set off I’d done a bit of research on the basic principals of Vietnamese food. It is considered to be one of the healthiest cuisines in the world and works on five fundamental taste elements: spicy, sour, bitter, salty, sweet. These in turn correspond to five organs: gall bladder, urinary bladd… you get the idea. Chefs will try to cook with five colours and attract all the five senses. To cut it short, It’s basically all about balance.
After my first taste of food in Ben Thanh, I decided market food was the way to go. By the time I’d traveled up to central Vietnam they’d provided me with everything from clay pots and fried noodles to a rather tasty intestine soup. It was the market at Hoi An where I had one of my favourite meals of the trip; an east-Asian Smörgåsbord of favours and textures was pilled on to a plate and served up for the equivalent of £1.50. There was pork belly, marinated prawns, vermicelli noodles, omelette, spring greens and more. I hurriedly preserved the moment for prosperity (see below) and wolfed down the lot.
The thing I was learning about Vietnamese food was how well considered many of the dishes were; it seemed so triumphantly considerate of its regions and resources and so respectful of its ingredients. Meats and vegetables, I learned, are cooked for as briefly as they allow so as to preserve their original flavours and textures. Season and climate are considered in order to achieve an over all balance. Duck meat, for example, is considered cool and eaten in the summer, Chicken (warm) and pork (hot) are eaten in the winter. I reflected on all those BBQ’d sausages I wolfed down last summer in a new light.
By the time I got to Hanoi it had gotten quite cold and I was in the mood for some comfort food. I found it in a local dish called Bún Cha, pieces of pork fat and pork patties in broth served with rice noodles and Thai basil salad. I promise when I get round to making it I’ll post up a recipe. It was sweet and light but filling and the perfect way to end the trip.
There’s so much more I could say about Vietnamese cuisine but I only wanted to provide something of a clumsy introduction. If you haven’t already, look up some regional recipes, pick up some fresh ingredients from your local Asian supermarket and have a go at making some yourself. – Jodie
I’d heard fantastic things about Franco Manca but never journeyed to their Brixton, Westfield or Chiswick branches. Yet when news spread that one was being assembled in Clapham Junction’s Northcote Road (only 10 minutes from my house), my laziness could no longer compete with my curiosity and I resolved find out what all the fuss was about.
My two friends and I opted to share a tomato and cured organic chorizo pizza and one with tomato, mozzarella and basil accompanied by three Budvar Pilsner beers.
My seat proved the most exciting, with a clear view of the beautiful flaming brick oven and the mesmerizing actions of the three pizza creators, sliding pizzas into the oven and scattering fresh ingredients onto the pizza bases from a height. Franco Manca pizzas are all made from slow-rising sour dough which gives them their distinctive flavour.
I saw a gigantic plastic tub of pizza dough expertly emptied one handful by another onto some scales – I’m a sucker for fairness with food so this pleased me greatly.
On at least three occasions, when asking people where to find the best pizza in London – Franco Manca was the answer. I didn’t want to think about this, as there’s nothing worse than a dish built up so much only to be unfulfilled, but when the cheerful and passionate waiter placed our pizza in the front of us my eyes and nose were not disappointed.
And neither was my mouth.
The sourdough base was delectable and the high quality ingredients – organic cured chorizo from Brindisa and organic tomatoes from Italy – resulted in a top-notch mouthful. The tomato, mozzarella and basil pizza (seasonal) was delicious also -my vegetarian friend was to speak about it for days afterwards.
In reference to my introduction and hearing ‘fantastic things’ about this pizza kitchen – this turned out to be an understatement. My chums and I have quickly joined the legions of people, who when asked where the best pizza in London can be found answer without falter ‘Franco Mancas!’.
Try it out for yourself – you won’t be disappointed.