Vietnamese street food : Mien banh da cua (brown rice noodles with crab)

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In Hanoi, a lot of the food you encounter is noodle orientated and seemingly tourists go crazy for phở and Bún noodles – which are both great, by the way – but what about other noodles? Mien or bánh đa?
Although bánh đa is, like the aforementioned a rice noodle it’s brown, with a chewier texture. It’s a really nice variation when you’re a little noodled out with the more popular soft, white rice noodles.

The dish itself eaten is mien bánh đa cua. Mien refers to thin noodles, usually known to westerners as glass noodles, or vermicelli. Bánh đa is the thick, flat brown rice noodle with visual similarities to tagliatelle. Cua as in crab refers to the broth.

a bowl of delicious mien banh da cua

a bowl of delicious mien banh da cua with Dill fishcake (top left) wilted greens (centre) cha lua (middle right) and tofu (bottom and right hand side)

Traditionally, the meal is from Hải Phòng, on the coast near to the well-known attraction of Hạ Long Bay – it is something you can find in the bigger cities.

The mixture of noodles are served with sausage shaped chả lụa (seasoned pork ground to a paste before being wrapped in banana leaves and steamed until a sausage-like loaf is made) some crumbed crabmeat, flakes of soft meat, greens (it may be morning glory, or a type of water spinach – I’m not sure) beansprouts soft pillows of tofu, boiled egg and a fried fish cake overflowing with fresh dill flavours.
Table options included crushed peanuts and chilli sauce to personalise the flavours.

Overall, it’s one of the best noodle soups available in Hanoi – an overflowing bowl of delicious ingredients, contrasting texture and flavours.

We ate at Mien Bánh Da Cua , 59A Phùng Hưng, on the eastern side of the Old Quarter. A bowl cost 30’000VND, little English spoken but the lady chef was eager to feed us on every visit.

Some useful phrases
Sin chow – hello
Mot – one
Hai – two
Gam urn – thank you
Tra da – iced tea, a popular and cheap drink to accompany meals and usually available at hole in the wall restaurants (pronounced cha)

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Vietnamese street food : bun ca (fried fish noodle soup)

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The name, Bún cá, translates literally as noodle (bun) and fish (ca) leading to a potentially wide interpretation and delivery of a simple noodle soup.

In Hanoi,  this represents a thin tomato based stock, packed full of dill and slithers of spring onions, bún  – a thin rice noodle, comparable to vermicelli –  and wilted greens topped with golden, crispy chunks of deep fried river fish, not to be confused with the synonymous Hanoi dish bún chá 

There’s a certain amount of alchemy going on here, because at face value, it’s just noodles, tomatoey broth and fried fish.

Bun ca & a side of ca cuon thit

Bun ca & a side of ca cuon thit

The broth! The broth is a delicious nectar – sweet from the tomato, soured with the use of pineapple, purists and haters of fruit in soup this may be the conversion you need. If you’re lucky, you might just get a chunk bobbing around in the bowl.
The fish retains the crunch, it’s still just as pronounced and satisfying five minutes in, when you’re fishing bits out of the bottom and they somehow haven’t been corrupted and softened by the juices. The taste and crunch has that familiar comforting deep fried texture. The oily residue coagulating on the surface would normally be considered a downside, but somehow it adds to the flavour, the huge amounts of dill scattered in the bowl cuts through the grease like a knife. This is absolutely one of my favourite Hanoi meals.

The place I’ve been an unhealthy amount of times in a short space of time is located only a couple of minutes walk from Hoan Kiem Lake, on Trung Yên, a narrow alleyway off Phố Dinh Liet, a microcosm of kitchens, street traders and a truly photogenic walkway (the restaurant is spread either side of the kink in the lane)
I was drawn here by the cá cuốn thịt, a deep fried roll of minced pork, mushrooms and fish – equal parts unhealthy and indulgent. It’s impossible to only order one.

Dill as a herb in Vietnamese cuisine is a popular ingredient used with fish in Hanoi and the north. The further south you go the less you will see it used, it’s also a common ingredient in the classic, sought after Hanoi dish Ch Cá Thăng Long, a skillet of sizzling fish seasoned with turmeric and served with fresh dill. It’s available on Pho Cha Ca – fish street.

Expect to pay around 35’000VND for a bowl.

Some useful phrases

Sin chow – hello
Mot – one
Hai – two
Gam urn – thank you
Tra da – iced tea, a popular and cheap drink to accompany meals and usually available at hole in the wall restaurants (pronounced cha)

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Vietnamese street food : Pho ga (Vietnamese chicken noodle soup)

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Phở ga (chicken) is a variation of one of Vietnam’s famous and most exported dishes phở bo – Beef noodle soup.

There are distinctions between the dishes and it’s not as simple as just a substitution of proteins.

To begin with, the chicken phở broth is much lighter than the beef broth. The end result tends to have less colour depth, too.
phở with beef, utilises strong aromatic flavours such as star anise and and cloves to make the broth so flavourful, whereas the chicken version focuses on ginger, coriander (seed and leaf) and fish sauce to intensify the chicken broth. It makes sense, the flavours better coexist together.

Street side Pho Ga
Photo sourced from Flickr via a Creative Commons License, no modifications made. Thanks, Jonathan Lin 

Fixings are similar, for both dishes the meat is served with banh phở the specific type of noodles for phở, – they are different from mien noodles, or bún noodles which are used in other Vietnamese dishes – with some thinly sliced onion and lime segments. Chicken phở is finished with thinly sliced lime leaf and coriander leaves.

It has a much softer taste than it’s beefy compatriot and with a squeeze of fresh lime and a dollop of chilli sauce is just as good a flavour hit as the beef.
My only fault is that the chicken will, invariably contain bones and lumps of cartilage but the silver lining to that same dark cloud is that the chicken phở has skin and gelatinous chicken meat. – Delicious texture & flavour!

Chao Ga breadsticks
It can, like many Vietnamese soups be accompanied by quay – the Chinese deep fried doughnuts also known as youtiao or crullers.

Expect to pay around 30-50’000VND per bowl.

Some useful phrases

Sin chow – hello
Mot – one
Hai – two
Gam urn – thank you
Tra da – iced tea, a popular and cheap drink to accompany meals and usually available at hole in the wall restaurants

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Thai street food : Tom saap (Isaan spicy sour pork rib soup)

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The eastern region of Thailand, known as Isaan (sometimes spelled Isan) is the home of so many great dishes, most of my favourite Thai foods – and a lot of the things you’ll see posted on these pages – come from this area.

In isaan, chilli is a key flavour and this soup is full of flavour and spice.

The ribs are cooked down to create as stock with lemongrass, garlic, chilli, shallots and galangal which is a large part of this dish. After some time of stock development, more ingredients are added including mushrooms, tomatoes, lime leaves and finally dried chillies and lime juice.

Tom saap pork (muu) soup

Tom saap pork (muu) soup

The soup is a thin and translucent.  Watery, but salty, spicy and sour at the same time, with soft flaky meat which falls of the bone and chunky slices of mushrooms. It packs a far bigger punch than it looks like it’s capable of.

Tom sap goes great with other Isaan staples such as sticky rice (khao niao) mince pork salad (laab) papaya salad (som tam or tam mak hung) and grilled chicken (gai yang)

Phrases worth knowing

mai phet – not spicy
phet nit nawy – a little bit spicy.
Phet mak – very spicy
Mai sai prik  Khap – no chilli please (khap is only for males, females use ‘khaa’ )
Sai tung – take away  (literally means put in bag)
Pai sed –  when ordering it means the large size, or special – the difference is often around 10 baht on a street cart .
Tow rai? – how much.
Arroy! – delicious

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Malay street food : Curry laksa (curried chicken noodle soup)

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Laksa, the soup of the gods.

I’ve previously written about asam laksa and how depending on where you are in Malaysia, the word ‘laksa’ means different things – in Kuala Lumpur, for example just asking for laksa will get you a curry soup, but if you asked for the same in Pinang, you would get an asam laksa.

Curry laksa is characterised by its thick, rich, spicy curry soup broth. The soup is created by mixing worm-like laksa noodles, beansprouts (known as taugeh, in Malaysia) with the unctuous, coconut milk heavy chicken curry which will have been bubbling away and developing flavour for many hours before you sit down for lunch. The curry base showcases chicken on the bone and blood cockles; a rich shellfish which actually contains haemoglobin and has a strong taste. They are quite different from the pickled cockles available from European fishmongers.

Penangs version, curry mee will usually have a thinner vermicelli type noodle called bee hoon, or rice vermicelli.

For some reason, I never took pictures of Curry laksa, so thanks to Mylifestory & LWYang via creative commons licensing. 

Additionally, boiled egg, prawn and bean curd or tofu puffs are added with one last chilli kick added  – a spoonful of fresh sambal is thrown in for good measure.

Curry laksa is the sort of big, bold dinner that includes huge flavours of Malaysia and also the sort of hearty concoction you wished you could get hold of on a cold winters afternoon back in Europe. It’s soup and curry all in one!

Satu – One
Dua – Two
Tiga – Three
Hello  – Hello
Apa kabar – are you well/ how are you?
salamat pagi – good morning
Salamt tingal – goodbye
sila (see luh) – please
Terima kasih –  Thank you
berapa harga – how much?
tidak pedas – no chilli
bungkus – Take away
Tidak – No
Ya – yes
Maaf – sorry

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Indonesian street food : Soto ayam (chicken soup)

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Soto ayam translates literally as chicken soup. That’s not very exciting, right? But like anything simple, done well it’s good.

The chicken is roasted and the meat shredded from the carcass, the stock like any other soup base is made from the leftovers and bones. Turmeric is added to turn the broth a mild yellow colour. Vermicelli noodles are, in our experience the regular carb ‘filler’ but  we have had it served with rice also, which transforms it slightly from a light soup to more of a congee.

Soto ayam

Soto ayam

Due to having our camera stolen in Indonesia, I don’t have any original images from our eating adventures. Images here are used under a creative commons license via Flickr. These image has not been altered and you can view the originals at the following link – Thanks, Stijn Nieuwendijk

Google tells me it can also be served with lontong, or other compressed rice but I have not found this in our experience – Perhaps in other regions.

Depending on the price, extras can include hard boiled egg, fresh tomato and shredded greens.

Prices varied  from 7’000 to 20’000 rupiah in our experience from a street cart to a wurung in touristy Ubud. It’s a decent, hearty meal and a safe option if you’re new to Indonesian food, streetfood or warungs in general.

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