Bún ốc nguội (cold snail noodles) is a perfect dish to enjoy in the summer. — VNS Photo Bảo Hoa
Bảo Hoa & Hoàng Hồ
HÀ NỘI — It’s pretty simply logic really, and one that doesn’t require the intelligence of a rocket scientist to work it out.
On a hot day, eat cold food. When the weather is cold then switch it up, and have your dinner served hot. It’s all about comfort food.
As the sun bakes downtown Hà Nội in the summer months, the only food you should really be enjoying are dishes that cool you down and chill you out both in mind and body.
Take bún ốc nguội, cold snail noodles, for example. A traditional snail dish served in a cold broth.
Although there are many variations of the dish where noodles are served not only with snails but also beef, fried tofu, crab or even green bananas, bún ốc nguội remains the original summer delicacy favoured by the older generation of Hà Nội's citizens.
Now snails may not be to everyone’s taste but when sampling this particular dish, there’s really only one place you should go and that’s in the capital of Việt Nam.
It is purely coincidence that Xuân restaurant is situated in the shadows of Ô Quan Chưởng, one of the Old City Gates.
Xuân restaurant, situated near Ô Quan Chưởng (one of the Old City Gates), is mostly frequented by Hà Nội citizens for its cold snail noodles during summer. — VNS Photo Hoàng Hồ
This imposing structure was built long before bún ốc nguội was served nearby but it’s positioning is apt.
Legend has it that the gate takes its name from a military leader who lost his life fighting the French here in the 1800s.
Fast forward 175 years or so, and the French influence is evident all around, no more so than in this particular dish.
Because it doesn't require cooking, no sooner have you sat down then bowls appear on your table. Each one contains a murky broth hiding the secret below.
Stir the dish and the snails are revealed.
As with most foods served in this part of the world, rice, or in this case rice noodles, are never too far away.
The eating principle is similar to that of bún chả (grilled pork with noodles) – just fill up your bowl with whatever herbs are available and tuck in.
Fresh herbs are added to increase the flavour of the dish. — VNS Photo Hoàng Hồ
You may want to spice things up a little and increase the heat, but remember what time of year it is and unless you are a particular lover of all things hot, it may be wise to add just a tad of the fiery condiment.
The snails themselves require little work. There is no shell to negotiate and all the prep has been carefully carried out by the chef.
Round stone snails are prepared by being soaked in water from the previous night. This cleans the snail before it is boiled in a pot containing citronella oil, ginger, grapefruit leaves, salt and ginseng.
Round stone snails are the what makes the dish special. — VNS Photo Hoàng Hồ
After cooking, the water is used to make the broth and the snails removed from their shells.
That’s the basic technique but each chef will add their own special something to make the dish unique to their establishments - special somethings that have probably been passed down from generation to generation.
It may already be hot in mid-June but temperatures in Hà Nội are set to rise over the next few months.
So if you want to be cool, and stay cool, then you should really be eating cool. And there’s nothing cooler this time of year than bún ốc nguội. — VNS