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: Ca cuon (deep fried stuffed fish croquettes)

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For me, treasured travel memories often revolve around great food, tastes that make you go ‘mmm’ and make utterances towards deities.

cuốn, also known as cá cuốn thịt is an ‘oh my god’ moment.

Ca cuon thit - croquettes of joy.

Ca cuon thit – croquettes of joy.

The name translates as cá (fish) cuốn (cake) and thịt (meat) – A understated name for a barrel shaped, croquette like deep fried nugget of deliciousness. It’s impossible to only order one.

It’s quite precise, when you break it down – filleted fish is wrapped around a paste of ground pork and woodear mushrooms, a similar mixture to that which is used for filling bánh cuốn. It’s sealed, crumbed and deep fried.

It works as an excellent accompaniment to the equally delicious soup, Bún cá – Available from the same street kitchen.

Expect to pay around 10’000VND per piece.

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 : Ca phe trung (Egg coffee)

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The ability to spend afternoons, lazing around drinking coffee whist reading books and noting your days activities is a noble pursuit. For those that are time rich and often cash poor it’s an important part of the day, a time to recharge – To plan your expeditions and to note your explorations. Hanoi is a great place for this, with great coffee culture.

Egg coffee, or cà phê trung is a truly Hanoian variation of the Vietnamese coffee obsession.

Regular Vietnamese coffee, served French press style is topped with a mixture of whipped egg yolk and condensed milk, to make a variation on European coffee culture, a Vietnamese variation on a cappuccino, if you will.

Hanoi's egg coffe, ca phe trung.

Hanoi’s egg coffe, ca phe trung.

The real star is the egg, it’s thick, creamy and sweet, almost moussey. At the time I noted “makes me think of dippy eggs” because the rich, yolky taste really lingers.

cà phê trung is a great pick me up, a mid-morning caffeine shot before tackling all that Hanoi has to offer, or a bolt of energy for the afternoon. I found that one is more than enough, the sweetness, and richness can become a little sickening.

Café Giang in the Old Quarter of Hanoi is thought to have invented the drink, when milk was a hard to get ingredient and the venue has been serving it for many years on Nguyen Huu Huan Street, which, in the typical historic style of the old quarter focuses (heavily, but not exclusively) on one trade – drinks.

Check out Café Giang at 39 Huu Huan Street, it’s set back through a little alleyway close to the junction with  Hang Mam, the staff speak some English and an multilingual menu is available. Expect to pay : 25’000VND per cup.

Some useful phrases
Sin chow – hello
Mot – one
Hai – two
Gam urn – thank you

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Vietnamese street food : Bun bo hue (Hue style beef noodle soup)

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Vietnam has a lot of noodle soups, and they are all different.

I always try to break down the translation of the words for myself because I find that the more individual words I recognise in a language, the easier I find it to work out what and how a country eats.
The name translates as  bún (noodles) bò (beef) Huê (pronounced more like hoo-ay) the imperial city in the central region of the country where the dish originates.
The area is famed for its cuisine and its relative spiciness compared with other Vietnamese dishes.  According to Lonely Planet, Emperor Tu Duc was quite the fussy eater and this lead to Huê’s culinary distinctions from other areas of the country.

Bún bò Huê consists of a plethora of ingredients, and after looking at a few recipes seemingly takes time, diligence and a lot of specific ingredients to create.

It’s a deep, rich base of pork and beef stock, coloured red from the inclusion of annatto seeds, flavoured with lemongrass, pineapple, onion and Vietnamese shrimp paste, mam ruoc. The broth is filled with bún noodles – thicker than you would find in bún cha, or bún thịt nướng, more like worms and less like spaghetti –  with beef and pork meat. It’s commonplace to have pork knuckles (and have read about trotters) bobbing about in the soup broth with blood cubes and cha. In our experience, we were saved from the gelatinous blood cubes and had tasty knuckle included in the soup. 

Cha is a kind of Vietnamese sausage, or meatloaf which is often added to soups – it’s made by grounding meat with spices and fish sauce into a paste and then wrapping in banana leaves before steaming or boiling. Cha can also be found served with bánh cuốn & xôi. 

Bun Bo

Photo sourced from Flickr via a creative commons license. Thanks, Long Khủng

Like a lot of other Vietnamese dishes it is served with a mount of fresh herbs. These usually contain mint, Vietnamese coriander, purple perilla and in this case slithers of banana blossom too.

It’s a really tasty soup, a good dish to try to differentiate tastes from other Vietnamese soup dishes, such as phở.

Although this is a Huê dish, it’s available throughout the country in speciality restaurants – in Hanoi, there is a popular restaurant ‘Net Hue’ chain which serves Hue classics, it’s cheap and has English language menus so popular with both locals and tourists. In Siagon/HCMC we found Bún Bò Huế Đông Ba via the useful blog eatingsaigon. In Hue, it will just be referred to as ‘Bún bò’.   

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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Cambodian street food : chilli cockles

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It’s not often I post about things we haven’t actually eaten, in fact never – But, I was pretty surprised by the cockle sellers in Cambodia, for a couple of reasons.

Battambang chilli cockles

Battambang chilli cockles

On the one hand, I’m quite amazed that anyone thought that pushing trays of shellfish around in the midday sun was a good idea; and then on the other I’m surprised that small cities like Battambang can sustain so many people trading the same product.

I’m usually fairly fast and loose with my digestive health, an adventurous spirit, a street food gambler – although Pani puri proved to be a step too far –  I love cockles, but I just couldn’t justify buying unrefrigerated shellfish in the middle of the hottest time of year.

If anybody managed to enjoy these without gastrointestinal adventures, I would greatly like to know more.

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Cambodian street food : Kampot pepper crab

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Kampot is a provinical town set against the tek chou river, a gentile place where little happens; a haven of cafes and day trips.

It’s also famous for the production of peppercorns.

Kampot peppercorns

Kampot peppercorns

Before the Khmer Rouge took control of the country in 1975, Kampot pepper was famous, considered one of the premier peppercorns the world over and a popular choice with the French, who have a lot of colonial history in the region. Pol pot and his cohorts took over the country, killed off the elite and the educated and sent the remaining population to work farming rice. During this period the pepper farms were destroyed.

Fast forward to the modern day, the Khmer Rouge have been ejected and although Cambodia is one of the poorest countries in the South East Asia region, it does have a rapidly developing tourism scene and the famous pepper is growing again.
The town of Kep, thirty or so kilometers from Kampot is home to ten or more seafront restaurants known as ‘the crab market’ the shacks are perched on the waters edge and all sell similar products – prawns, squid, grilled fish and crab in pepper sauce.

The crab is cooked in a Chinese style sauce, using oyster and soy sauce, with a hit of sugar to create a sweet and sour flavour. The green pepper corns are left on the vine and stir fried with the sweet, succulent crab. The pepper flavour is spicy, but with a sweet fruitiness – a perfect match with the sweet crustaceans.

The glut of near identical restaurants keep pricing competitive and the seafood is super fresh – after you order you’re likely to see someone wade out to the crab traps to round up your dinner – and it’s a truly memorable South East Asian culinary experience.
Useful phrases

Muay – one
Pee – two
Soum – please
aw kuhn – thank you
Lee suen hai /lee hai – goodbye
Soum ket loi –  the bill, please

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Thai street food : Khao muu daeng (Red pork and rice)

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Street food opportunities are abundant in Thailand, with carts and pop up street restaurants everywhere. When the cover of night falls, plastic chairs are whipped out in front of closed shops, people drink, eat and socialise on the street.

Khao muu daeng is another street food staple on the streets of Thailand, an example of Chinese-Thai fusion cuisine, the red pork, seasoned with Chinese five spice, and stained red known as char sui in Cantonese cuisine.

Khao muu daeng : red pork and rice

Khao muu daeng : red pork and rice

Many streetcarts sell this and variations exist, for example one food cart we’ve eaten at several times sells khao muu daeng as well wantan soup variations including the red pork.

It’s a cheap, quick meal option, the pork is tender in a sweet, sticky glaze served with rice, sliced cucumber and sometimes boiled egg and/or Chinese sausage. If you’re really lucky you might get a crunchy bit of crackling. Some vendors also serve a clear soup of stock on the side.

At a street cart or kitchen expect to pay 30-50Baht for a plate.

Some useful words

Neung – one
Sawng – two
mai phet – not spicy
phet nit nawy’  – a little bit spicy.
Phet mak – very spicy
Aroy – delicious
Mai sai prik khap/khaa – no chilli (M/F)
Sai tung – take away (put in a bag)
Pai sed – special, as in the large size in at a foodcourt.
Tow rai? – how much?
Arroy! – Delicious!  

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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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Thai street food : Nam prik num (roasted green chilli dip)

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Chiang mai is a great city, full of life and good food at every turn.  There is real food heritage, and dishes you wouldn’t find in western style Thai restaurants. Northern food contains influence from many of the surrounding countries – Loatian, Burmese and Chinese food.

Nam phrik (or phrik) num isn’t a meal as such, but a component of one. Traditionally, in a Thai household a family meal is a selection of lots of different flavours and textures for everybody to eat.
Nam prik num is a flavour of the northern provinces of Thailand and easy to find in Chiang Mai.

A mixture of roasted green chillies, garlic, onion and green aubergines – different from the small round purple ones found in curries – are pounded in a khrok and saak (traditional Thai mortar and pestle) to create a smoky, spicy paste, a salsa-like mix.

Nam Prik Noom eggplant dip - Songkran Festival Gala Dinner at Raming Lodge Hotel
Photo sourced from Flickr via a Creative Commons License. Thanks to Alpha, no modifications made. 

It’s eaten as part of a main meal or can be ordered with sticky rice (khao niao) and raw vegetable sticks for dipping.

In Chiang Mai Khao Soi Jamer Jai is a popular restaurant/food court which sells a number of popular northern dishes and general Thai food. It’s a good place to try the name sake khao soi as well as gaeng hang lay.

Some useful words

Neung – one
Sawng – two
mai phet – not spicy
phet nit nawy’  – a little bit spicy.
Phet mak – very spicy
Aroy – delicious
Mai sai prik khap/khaa – no chilli (M/F)
Sai tung – take away (put in a bag)
Pai sed – special, as in the large size in at a foodcourt.
Tow rai? – how much.

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