Mother-of-pearl porridge is among the specialties of Hà Nội
By Hà Nguyễn
Nearly every Hanoian knows about the cháo trai, or mother-of-pearl rice porridge, shop on the capital’s Trần Xuân Soạn Street. The porridge has been delighting locals with its rich and aromatic flavour for decades.
Owner Lê Minh Hằng set up the shop more than 30 years ago. She learned the traditional job from her grandmother.
Cháo trai is although easy to cook, she said, but very few people know how to cook it well because doing so demands choosing fresh and fatty clams and quality rice.
Hằng said her parents raised clams in her native village in Thường Tín District, about 30km from Hà Nội centre, to supply her and her five sisters, who also sell the porridge.
“The process of cleaning and frying the clam is also important. My grandmother taught me that we have to carefully watch the boiled clam to prevent it from becoming too tough. The clam should be fried with dried onions and then poured into a bowl over the rice porridge,” said Hằng, noting that she often serves extra to customers who want more claim meat.
Abundant: A big bowl of fried clams to be eaten with rice porridge.
When Hằng sits at her post in the cháo trai shop, she’s surrounded by a big basket of pieces of quẩy (youtiao) or bread sticks, fresh onions cut into pieces, rau răm (fragrant knotweed or laksa leaves), fried onions and fried clam, ready for customers.
Each bowl of cháo trai costs about VNĐ30,000—double that of many others in the city. “We cook the meal in the traditional way and our porridge is of high quality because it’s made with organic clams raised by my family.”
Despite the price, Hằng’s cháo trai is a best-seller in the capital city.
To cook tasty porridge for legions of devoted customers, Hằng has to wake up early every morning. “I only hire a few assistants to help me serve my customers. I’ve worked very hard year round every day over the last 30 years, except the three days of Tết each year. Winter is my busiest season because diners, including foreign tourists, enjoy warming up over a bowl of the signature dish.”
Great combination: Quẩy (youtiao)is much tastier when eaten with cháo trai.
Nguyễn Thị Hạnh, 45, a regular porridge customer, told me that she has been addicted to Hằng’s cháo trai since she was a girl. “Although my house is rather far from the shop I still come to eat the porridge every morning. If I don’t, I crave it very much.”
Hạnh said the shop is always crowded, so she often has to stand in a long queue.
“Eating the porridge with the breadsticks in winter is much more enjoyable because it helps to warm up the body and it makes me feel healthy as I begin a new working day.”
Health effects of cháo trai
Scientists affirm Hạnh’s sense that the dish is good for health. Herbalist Nguyễn Hương from the National Hospital of Traditional Medicines said clam is rich in protein, calcium, phosphate and a number of vitamins such as B1, B2, Niacin, C and zinc.
According to traditional medicine practices, the clam meat helps to cool down heat inside the body and reduce hypertension, liver inflammation and children’s night sweats, Hương said.
“Those people facing regular high cholesterol and headaches should eat cháo trai with wood ears and fragrant mushroom. And the food is also very good for patients with benign prostatic hyperplasia and diabetes,” he said.
Capital delight: Cháo trai is among the specialties of Hà Nôi. Photos monngonhanoi.com
A young mother named Triệu Thu Hương in Hà Nội’s Hai Bà Trưng District said her 6-year-old boy has recovered from night sweats, which made him damp all day and night, particularly in summer. He looked pale and weak.
“My son had faced the ailment since he was a little boy. Although I’ve heard about the remedy for a long time, my son was still too small to eat clams until last year. Then, every day I went to buy the porridge at Hằng’s shop and sometimes I tried to cook the food at home and persuaded him to eat the food for almost six months. Finally, my efforts paid off, and my son’s night sweats reduced significantly,” Hương said. — VNS
Cháo trai shops in Hà Nội
- 26 Trần Xuân Soạn, Hai Bà Trưng District
- 321 Trần Khát Chân, of the same district
- 2 Thụy Khê of Tây Hồ District
- A 15 Nghĩa Tân of Cầu Giấy District
- 192 Quan Thánh, of Ba Đình District
- 39 Lý Quốc Sư of Hoàn Kiếm District.