SOME FOOD SPECIALITIES

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Cha Ca (grill minced fish)
The vitality and popularity of this speciality food was recognised by a particular event which occurred 100 years ago in Hanoi. The former hang Son street in in the old quarter of the city was renamed Cha Ca street in tribute to the delicious dish. The creation of this famous food, which has bought so much fame to the capital city, was attributed to the Doan family who lived at 14 Cha Ca. To make clients notice their shop the Doan family took the initiative of placing outside a statute of La Vong (an old fishermen), with a fishing rod on one hand and a bamboo creel on the other hand. Hence the name Cha Ca La Vong.

To enjoy this kind of time consuming and meticulously prepared food there is a piece of advice offered to you: if you've got little time for lunch or dinner because you are in a hurry on a business mission, you should not order a plate of cha ca. A dish of cha ca for one costs as much as a dish of bun cha for twenty. Bun cha in a single dish of rice vermicelli with fried minced meat.

Once you have your seat a waiter will place on the table various auxiliary dishes: a small bowl of tasty mam tom (shrimp paste) mixed with a few drops of rice liquor and lemon juice, then carefully stirred with some added slices of hot chilly. A plate of roasted ground nuts, which are a rich brown colour following the removal of their flimsy covers. Accompanying the two dishes will be a plate of pure white rice vermicelli and a plate of spicy vegetables.

Having a starter so full of colour, guests are certain to be happy waiting for the slow arrival of the main course. Here comes the chief chef holding a small burning coal stove in his hands. On top of the stove is a pan of boiling oil. He places the stove on the table in front of you and then opens the grilles to allow pieces of grilled fish to drop in to the oil. Things are done in this way to ensure that connoisseurs receive piping hot food.

Nem Ran or Cha Gio (fried spring roll)
It is called nem ran by northerners and cha gio by southerners.

In Hanoi the introduction of nem ran dates back to a time when cha ca had not even been heard of. Although it ranks among Vietnam's speciality dishes, nem ran is very easy to prepare. Consequently it has long been a preferred food on special occasions such as Tet and other family festivities.

Ingredients used for nem ran comprise lean minced pork, sea crabs or unshelled shrimps, two kinds of edible mushroom, nam huong and moc nhi, dried onion, duck eggs, pepper, salt and seasoning. All are mixed thoroughly before being wrapped with transparent rice paper into small rolls. These rolls are fried in boiling oil.

Pieces of freshly fried spring rolls, dipped in spicy, sweet and sour fish sauce and can offer connoisseurs a tasty hot food to be eaten with a variety of pickles including slices of papaya and lettuce, cucumber and other spicy vegetables.

Nom (salad) 
Is a combination of a variety of fresh vegetables, considered to be salad in Western countries. yet, the make-up of nom is slightly different.

The main ingredients include grated pieces of turnip, cabbage or papaya and slices of cucumber with grated boiled lean pork. Other auxiliary ingredients are grated carrot, slices of hot chilly and broken roasted ground nuts. These are used to make the dish more colourful. All are mixed thoroughly before being soaked in vinegar, sugar, garlic, hot chilly and seasoned with salt.

The presentation of the dish is also very meticulous. The mixture of ingredients is put into a dish before being covered with some spicy vegetables.

To try a mouthful of nom is to enjoy a combination of all the tastes life has to offer, including sour, hot, sweet, salty, and fragrant. The dish helps digest at meal and party times. it can become an addictive aid to assist the real connoisseur to enjoy more food.

Banh Tom (crisp shrimp pastry) 
The dish is available almost everywhere in the country but it is the best to have it at the Nha Hang Ho Tay (Ho Tay restaurant) on the banks of Truc Bach Lake, close to Ho Tay (West Lake). While connoisseurs are awaiting the arrival of the hot fried shrimp pastry they can enjoy picturesque land and lakescapes offerd by the tree-lined Thanh Nien Road and the vast expanse of water in the West Lake.

The dish should be enjoyed as soon as it reaches the table and the fried pastry topped with red shrimps eaten together with the waiting dishes of spicy vegetables and mixed sweet and sour sauce.

To remind you of the local crimping business, waters could tell you that shrimps you have for your meal had just been netted from nearly Ho Tay. That would surely make you remember your stay in Hanoi and your Banh Tom Ho Tay 

Pho
Pho is the most popular food among the population. Pho is mostly commonly eaten for breakfast, although many other people would have it for their lunch or dinner. Anyone feeling hungry in the small hours of the morning can also enjoy a bowl of hot and spicy pho to fill their empty stomach.

Like hot green tea which needs its particular fragrance, pho also needs its special taste and smell. Preparations may vary but eventually when the dish is offered its smell and taste are indispensable. The grated rice paper is made of the best variety of fragrant rice called gao te. The soup for pho bo (pho with beef) is made by stewing the bones of cows and pigs for a long time in a large pot. Pieces of fillet mignon together with several slices of ginger are reserved for a bowl of pho bo tai (rare fillet). Slices of well done meat are however offered to those less keen on eating rare fillets.

Meanwhile soup for pho ga (pho with chicken meat) is made by stewing together chicken and pig bones. White chicken meat served with pho ga is boneless and cut into thin slices. You could regard pho bo and pho ga as Vietnam's special soup. It has the added advantage of being convenient to prepare and healthy to eat.

Bun (rice vermicelli)
Like pieces of grated rice paper for pho, vermicelli is made of rice flour which is turned into small, circular and white threads wrapped up into small coils called con bun (coil of rice vermicelli).

There are a variety of ways to enjoy rice vermicelli, each dish having its own unique taste. Bun cha is made with grilled pork, while bun oc includes pond snails. Last but not least comes bun bo which is made with beef.

Bun cha
Ingredients for this dish include rice vermicelli, grilled pork and spicy, raw vegetables and well mixed fish sauce. For a dish of bun cha you take a dish of rice vermicelli, a dish full of vegetables and a bowl of fish sauce combined with vinegar, sugar, hot chilly, garlic and pepper. The sauce will then contain all the essential tastes, sour, hot, salty, and sweet. To cap it all there would be the a healthy smell from the garlic and pepper. Grilles of well cooked pork would be opened and the contents dropped into the bowl of fish sauce. There are two kinds of cha (grilled pork) used, depending on the cut of the meat. If the pork is cut into small pieces it is called cha mieng (piece of grilled pork), but if it is minced prior to being shaped into small cubes it is named cha bam (minced grill pork).

Bon Oc (rice vermicelli with fresh water snail)
The main ingredient to this dish are fresh water snails. These snails will have been kept in clean fresh water for about ten hours before being boiled for the dish, to allow sufficient time for the snails to release any organic matter they may have in their shells. The boiled snails after being taken out of their shells would be cleaned. The soup for the dish is made from the water in which snails have been boiled in. To the soup is added tomatoes and several kinds of flavour and vinegar. (The vinegar used is made from distilled rice to add a distinctive flavour to the soup).

Mien (vermicelli made of cassava)
made from a kind of tuber plant familiar to cassave, mien threads are very long and tough. When being served these long tiny flour threads are cut into smaller pieces.

Like rice vermicelli this kind of cassave vermicelli is used to make several different dishes, the most popular being mien ga (chicken cassava vermicelli), mien bo (beef cassave vermicelli) and mien luon(eel cassave vermicelli).

Cassave vermicelli is also used for different dishes stirred in fat such as mien xao thit (vermicelli and pork stirred in fat), mien xao long ga (vermicelli and chicken tripe stirred in fat) and mien xao cua be (vermicelli and sea crab meat stirred in fat).

Com (boiled rice)
To the Vietnamese people com is used for the main meals of the day (lunch and dinner). Rice is eaten together with a variety of different dishes.

Com is made from different kinds of rice. Typically fragrant rice is used, such as tam thom and Nang Huong.

An ordinary meal may include boiled rice and the following:

Com (premature rice grains)
In September when the first cold winds begin to blow gently, bringing with them clouds of early morning fog, it is the time when local inhabitants begin to notice women peddlers going from street to street selling com with two baskets of com hanging on either end of a small bamboo stick on her shoulders, a com vendor walks slowly along the street calling her wares. Local inhabitants are sure to know of her presence as they recognise the traditional melodic call of the com seller.

Com making is a time consuming and labour intensive job. Consequently only small quantities are made at a time. However not many people would choose to buy such a rice derivative product in large quantities, preferring instead to buy a little at a time in order to savour the practicular fragrance that com has to offer. 
Rice growing farmers are the only ones who truly understand when it is time to gather young grains to make com. The young grains are formed after rice plants reach their earing stage. it takes two or three weeks to form the right shape and when they reach this stage the young rice grains are harvested, roasted and ground down to become com.

The young rice grains are put into a large firing pan under small flames and stirred slowly for a specific period of time. They are then poured into a rice mortar and slightly pounded with a wooden pestle, rhythmically and at quick intervals until the husk is removed.

Following this, the young rice is removed from the mortar and winnowed before being poured again into the mortar and the process repeated. This is then repeated exactly seven times so that all the husk is removed from the young sticky grains. If the pounding is done irregularly and in haste, or it is not repeated for the prescribed seven times, the green colour of the grains will disappear and be replaced by an unexpected brown colour. Then the whole process will have been to no avail because customers will refuse to buy such produce. This should go some way to explaining exactly how difficult the whole process of com making is.

Com is regarded as a purely pastoral gift. This may explain why from time immemorial no one has used chopsticks or spoons to lift the food to the mouth. Rather fingers are used in order to gain the maximum amount of pleasure from the whole experience, and prolong the eating time. To enjoy com, it is advisable to chew it slowly so that one can feel the stickiness of the young rice and at the same time enjoy its sweet, fragrant taste.

Vong village in Hanoi's outskirts has for many centuries been ranked first among the country's com making circles.

Visitors to Hanoi during the com making season are invited to go to Vong village, about five km from the city centre. Here they will have a chance to listen to the special rhythmic pounding of wooden pestles against mortars filled with young rice and see women shifting and winnowing the pounded young rice.