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A soulful culinary escape from Hà Nội

Update: November, 13/2016 - 09:00
Crunchy, juicy: Lotus stem and shrimp, pork salad. VNS Photos Mỹ Hà
Viet Nam News

 

Vị Quảng Restaurant brings the authentic, distinctly strong taste of Đà Nẵng cuisine to the heart of the capital city, Nguyễn Mỹ Hà reports

 

An hour’s lunch break in Hà Nội, and you are in Đà Nẵng.

No, you have not taken a supersonic jet to your favourite restaurant, just walked five minutes from the heart of the capital city and its iconic landmarks – the Hoàn Kiếm Lake, the Opera House, the books and art galleries on Tràng Tiền Street.

On Tràng Tiền Lane, a very small alley off Phan Chu Trinh Boulevard, the Vị Quảng Restaurant gives you the feeling that you have entered a restaurant in Đà Nẵng.

Situated on the thin strip of land that is central Việt Nam, the land of Quảng Nam is just a mountain pass south of the country’s much-celebrated royal culinary centre of Huế, but the food from this province has so much to offer, distinct from its more famous neighbour.

If the food of Huế revolves around shrimps harvested from the Tam Giang Lagoon that lend themselves to its shrimp paste, sour shrimp pickle and dried shredded shrimp, the food from Đà Nẵng evolves around anchovies freshly caught from the sea, ending up as fish sauce and fish preserved in brine.

Healthy and green: The elaborate vegetable spread that goes into the rice field crab hot pot.

If the prevailing trait of Huế’s food is its subtle flavours, the strong odour of fish preserve marks food from Đà Nẵng. The strong smell may deter some people at first, but when they get past it, the true taste is so good that they are likely to want to try it again and again.

With all this in mind, we started with the restaurant’s signature dish: Chân giò cuốn bánh tráng (VNĐ110,000) — finely sliced boiled pork, wrapped in thin rice paper with aromatic herbs and green plantain juliennes, pineapple and carrot, dipped in anchovy fish paste. It’s simple, but involves a lot preparation, especially given the types of herbs, vegetables and fruits used. And it takes several people to enjoy this delicacy as it’s definitely not something you have to satisfy your hunger.

In the past, we could only get this dish in Đà Nẵng, where they even had restaurants exclusively dedicated to it. People flocked to these in large numbers. I remember my embarrassment when we went into a restaurant in Đà Nẵng and asked the waiter for the menu. He said, “We don’t have menus. We serve just one dish. How many portions do you want?”

As the second appetizer, we opted for Bò sốt ớt xanh (VNĐ189,000), stir-fried beef cubes sprinkled with sesame and dipped in green chili sauce. We’d had so many kinds of stir fried beef before, but not with sesame, which particularly enhanced the rich, juicy beef cubes. I’m a fan of the green chili in Đà Nẵng, and this sauce was a great discovery. Everyone was delighted.

We were a big group, so some of us also ordered Nộm ngó sen tôm thịt (VNĐ89,000), or lotus stem with shrimp and pork and Nem lụi (VNĐ 75,000), pork and shrimp paste grilled on charcoal. These two dishes are not particularly from Đà Nẵng or the larger Quảng Nam region. They are from Huế, but Vị Quảng’s interpretation was delicious.

We were primed for the main course when it arrived: a big hot pot for everyone, the Lẩu bò nhúng dấm (VNĐ300,000 and VNĐ450,000 for small and large sizes, respectively). There are two options – beef in a hot and sour broth or rice field crab broth. Both are very good.

Spicy delight: Stir-fried beef cubes in green chili sauce.

In other visits to Vị Quảng, I have tried the central region’s answer to phở bò or phở gà Hà nội: the authentic Mỳ Quảng (VNĐ55,000), a bowl of noodles with a choice of chicken, pork, shrimp or fish cakes. The broth should only cover half the bowl, just enough to let the ingredients mix well together, unlike a typical beef or chicken phở that contains a lot of broth.

I’ve read an essay by a writer from Quảng Nam in which he says the well-known stubborn character of people coming from this land is reflected in the way each family makes its own sauce for Mỳ Quảng. “Every man will say his mother makes the best meat sauce,” and this statement brooks no argument, the essay observed.

You can also order the popular and delicious Bún bò Huế (VNĐ50,000) here. It’s as good as those sold in Huế specialty restaurants.

During the meal, each customer is served a really tasty drink made with black beans. Deserts of sweet bean-based broth priced at VNĐ20,000 are all tasty and worth a try.

For us, Vị Quảng satisfies a nostalgic craving for the lovely coastal city of Đà Nẵng.

Having stayed in Hà Nội for too long, bogged down by expectations, old rules and protocol, a visit to this nice restaurant took us to the beaches of Đà Nẵng. It was a feeling of liberation our stagnant souls badly needed. — VNS

Vị Quảng: 2b Ngõ Tràng Tiền, Hà Nội

Tel. 04-3939-2535

Comment: Easy access to Good Đà Nẵng food  

 

Off the bone: Pork leg meat wrap with fish paste.

 

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