Saturday, August 17, 2019

Beating the heat with Phở Cuốn in Hanoi

Hanoi is brutally hot in summer, and it often seems like a chore to face a bowl of steaming hot noodle soup (Phở) or a plate of rice. Many believe that such Phở actually help lower ones’ body temperature and help fight the heat, however, not everyone feels that way. One cool and refreshing alternative is Phở Cuốn, a food resembling fresh spring rolls, but fundamentally different in a number of ways.

Besides, one of the advantages of Phở Cuốn is that it has is its location. The most famous places to find the dish are located on Truc Bach Lake, just opposite West Lake, Hanoi’s largest lake. Truc Bach itself is a relatively small lake and can be circled in five minutes by motorbike or half an hour on foot. There are plenty of places that offer Pho Cuon around the lake, but the easiest to find are on Trúc Bạch road, on the north end of the lake, or Tran Vu on the south end.

It’s not difficult to find a Phở Cuốn restaurant, but choosing the right one sometimes is. With such a large number of these types of restaurants, there is natural competition between them. It is not uncommon for restaurant owners to jump in front of your cab or motorbike in a desperate attempt to get you to come to their shop. “Stop, you want Pho Cuon…” one young man told me putting his hands on the dashboard of my motorbike pleadingly – as it turns out he was right.

Phở Cuốn consists of a slightly cooked rice paper shell the same thickness as a Pho noodle. Inside this soft shell is a selection of herbs and greens – mainly cilantro, mustard leaf, and lettuce – and thinly sliced beef that has been cooked with garlic and generous amounts of pepper. It is served cold with a bowl of fish sauce, garlic, carrots, raddish, vinegar, boiled water, chilli and some sugar for dipping.

Taking a short rest, once dipped in the sauce the taste of Phở Cuốn contains many of the fundamental elements of Vietnamese cuisine: slightly sweet and spicy but light and fresh. The dish is served cold and has the effect of a hearty salad on one’s appetite leaving plenty of room for a few cheeky beers or to try some other delights that many of these restaurants offer like Phở Chiến. Phở Chiến is similarily light summer fair; it uses the same rice noodle paper as Phở Cuốn but is sliced into squares, stacked, and deep fried. It is topped with the same garlicky beef as well as field cabbage and it is recommended that one dip it in the Phở Cuốn sauce. It has a crispy exterior but a delicate center; it is reminiscent of a fresh savory donut.

Hours can easily slip by sitting cross legged on bamboo mats as one enjoys the cool breeze of the lake and a few plates of Phở Cuốn with friends. You see a different, more relaxed side of Hanoi, as old men fish and young couples paddle along leisurely in swan boats. It is the ideal place to wile away one’s time under the shade of a tree and await the cooling relief of evening.

The Phở Cuốn restaurants on Truc Bach are open from early afternoon till about nine or ten at night. The cost for a plate of about twenty Phở Cuốn, a plate of Phở Chiến, and four beers is just over VND200,000 (US$10). For the relief it offers from the heat, it’s a steal.

Thu nhỏ
Travel consultancy