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  • Bryan Santos

11.15.2020 Dinner in Hanoi


The Menu

Goi Ga Bap Cai (Chicken Salad)

Salads in Vietnam aren't lettuce and Ranch affairs, but rather myriad flavors, textures, and spices all working together in harmony. Salads are the perfect example of the cuisine’s broader philosophical approach. Vietnamese food always has five elements: spicy, sour, bitter, salty and sweet (the dressing for this salad has chilis, limes, herbs, fish sauce, and sugar). In general, the balance between fresh herbs, meats, spices and very little oil makes Vietnamese cuisine one of the healthiest in the world. Contains peanuts, fish, shellfish; gluten free.

Bun Rieu (Pork and Crab Noodle Soup)

With so many varieties of noodle-based soups in Vietnam, picking just one for this menu should have been more of a challenge, but Bun Rieu is just So. Damn. Good. My wife and I had this for the first time in Hanoi’s Old Quarters; she almost cried. Historically, meat was scarce in Northern Vietnamese food, so freshwater fish, crabs and prawns were widely used. The traditional way of making this soup is to pound freshwater crabs until they liquify and form the basis of the crab-pork broth, but thanks to Hua Xing Asian Market in Ypsilanti, we were able to skip this laborious step. This soup, typically served for breakfast, is widely available in Hanoi and is considered a highly nutritious way to start your day. Pair this rich broth with fresh tomatoes, fried tofu, sour limes, vermicelli and fresh herbs and you’ve got your new go-to Vietnamese soup (sorry, pho). Contains fish, shellfish; gluten free.

Cha Ca (Stir-fried Fish with Turmeric and Dill)

Cha Ca is one of the most famous dishes of Hanoi, and perhaps the one with the most interesting and unique history. In the late 1800s, a family turned their home into a “restaurant” so they could host clandestine meetings with revolutionary soldiers who wanted to evict the French colonialists. The only thing on the menu: Cha Ca. Ironically, the restaurant became a hit with French aristocrats, so the cover worked perfectly. Since then, the entire street has been renamed Cha Ca and the dish is a symbol of revolution. Our version of stir fried catfish marinated in turmeric, dill, spring onions and fish sauce is best served with some vermicelli and fresh herbs and topped off with Nuoc Cham (see below). Contains fish, shellfish; gluten free.

Bun Cha (Grilled Pork Meatballs and Pork Belly)

Bun Cha is, undeniably, the most popular dish in Hanoi and a lunchtime staple throughout the entire city. Follow the scent of grilled pork and it will most likely lead you to a small alley with a woman hunched over a makeshift grill aggressively fanning the flames under grilled meat. To me, this dish epitomizes the enchantment of Hanoi; sitting in a haze of grilled meat smoke while the city, with its kaleidoscope of sights, sounds and smells, whizzes by you. It’s also THAT dish, the one Obama had with Anthony Bourdain in the famous Parts Unknown episode. Contains fish, shellfish.

Vermicelli Noodles, Fresh Herbs, Pickled Veggies and Nuoc Cham (dipping sauce)

These four “sides” are meant to accompany the above. In 12,000 BC, the indigenous peoples of Vietnam settled the Hong River Valley, where rice and fresh herbs grew in abundance. By 2,000 BC, Vietnam was considered a Chinese province and noodles became incorporated into Vietnamese cuisine. Nuoc Cham also has its origins in antiquity, with fermented fish sauces being popular even before the Romans. All Southeast Asian countries consume fish sauces in one form or another; in Vietnam, it’s literally everywhere. Contains fish, shellfish; gluten free.

Ca Phe Panna Cotta

Let’s start this one off by saying that this isn’t a traditional Vietnamese dessert. Our favorite way of ending any Vietnamese meal is with Ca Phe, a super strong coffee with a healthy dollop of sweet condensed milk. The French influence on Vietnamese cuisine is undeniable, from the baguettes that form the basis of bahn mi to pho, a take on the classic French pot-au-feu. The Vietnamese just took the best aspects of French cuisine and made them better. Our panna cotta takes the essence of a Vietnamese Ca Phe and turns it into a mousse. Contains milk; gluten free.

Drink Suggestions

Asian Lagers

Available at Hua Xing Asia Market!

Along with bread, the French also brought beer to Vietnam in the late 1800s. Fast forward to the present and Bia Hoi can be found all over the country, a favorite drink due to its mild flavor and low price (beer in Hanoi is advertised as the cheapest in the world…probably because it has an ABV between 2-4%). Since we can’t find Vietnamese beer in the area, your best bet would be an Asian lager such as Tsingtao, Sapporo, Asahi, etc.

Maxford Richter Zeppelin Riesling Mosel Germany 2019

Available at Everyday Wines in Kerrytown!

Not only does this off-dry Riesling pair exceptionally well with Vietnamese food, it also has an incredibly unique history. Mülheimer Sonnenlay Riesling was one of the most popular wines served on the grand transatlantic zeppelins during their heyday in the 20s and 30s. This wine has been passed down for 9 generations and the results show: it’s stone fruit, apple and citrus notes are perfectly complemented by a clean, mineral driven structure. $16


The History

I would move to Hanoi in a heartbeat. It is one of the most incredible cities I’ve ever visited, ethereally rising above the Red River and sucking you right in. By the time you’ve come to your senses, the city has already embedded itself into the very fabric of your being. It is the cradle of the indigenous Vietnamese cultures, the birthplace of Vietnamese resistance (and they’ve had quite a few invaders over the past 2,000 years), and currently a South Asian epicentre of growth, entrepreneurism and youthful exuberance.

Although the history of Vietnam is ancient and complex, it’s the country’s recent history that strikes a chord with Americans. The country was part of French Indochina; shortly after World War II, it was divided into North and South Vietnam. The cruel legacy of the Vietnam War (called the American War in Vietnam) is too vast to cover here, but suffice to say that chemical warfare such as the use of Agent Orange left the country’s agriculture in shambles - so much so that there was large scale starvation due to rice shortages after the war.

Today, Vietnam is a young country, Asia’s 8th largest population, with most born after the war. Rice production has skyrocketed and they’re now the 5th largest exporter of the crop. The economy is booming, with GDP per capita growing over 1,000% since 1985. And the food. God, the food. It’s the city where you eat your best meals roadside, on stools that rise a mere foot above the ground. You eat to the sound of motorbikes. You eat facing the street, leaning over a bowl of hot, steaming soup, wondering how on earth something can taste so good.


Featured Recipe: Bun Cha

Makes 6 servings

  • 1 lb minced pork

  • 1 lb pork belly, thinly sliced

  • 1 lb dried vermicelli noodles, cooked as per their instruction

  • 3 red chilies, seeded and finely chopped

  • 5 garlic cloves, finely chopped

  • Herbs to serve such as mint, thai basil, lettuce, cilantro, etc


  • ¼ cup fish sauce

  • 4 small shallots

  • 6 garlic cloves, finely chopped

  • ¼ chopped lemongrass

  • 1 tablespoon dark soy sauce

  • 1 tablespoon sugar

  • 1 teaspoon black pepper


  • ½ cup white vinegar

  • ½ cup sugar

  • 1 teaspoon salt

  • 2 ounces thinly sliced green papaya

  • 2 ounces thinly sliced carrots


  • ½ cup fish sauce

  • 3 tablespoons white vinegar

  • ¾ cup sugar

  • 1 cup water

  • 2 tablespoons lime juice

  1. In a bowl, mix the marinade ingredients together. Take half the marinade and add to the pork belly, let it sit for at least an hour or overnight. Take the other half of the marinade and pour into the minced pork. Form the pork into patties and leave to marinate for an hour or overnight as well

  2. Combine the vinegar, sugar and salt and mix together until the sugar dissolves. Add the papaya and carrot and set aside for at least 30 minutes

  3. Make the dressing by heating up the fish sauce, vinegar, sugar, and water over high heat until sugar dissolves. Let it cool and mix in the lime juice

  4. Heat a skillet or BBQ over high heat. Brush with some oil and grill the pork belly for 2 minutes on each side, until cooked and slightly charred. Do the same with the pork patties for 3-4 minutes per side. Place cooked meat in a bowl

  5. Pour the dressing over the cooked meat. Serve with noodles, herbs, pickles, garlic and chilies


Recipes Inspired By:

Additional Resources:

  1. An incredibly produced masterpiece documentary on the Vietnam War. This mini-series, with over 20 hours of footage, will forever change how you perceive the war and the 60s cultural revolution in America

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