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Hanoians beat the winter chill by wolfing down the hot pot

Update: January, 17/2005 - 00:00

Hanoians beat the winter chill by wolfing down the hot pot

(17-01-2005)

Thuy Quynh

Winter in Ha Noi this year is bitterly cold, and after driving across town by motorbike in a bracingly cold wind, locals are seeking out hot foods to ward off the chill.

How lau can you go?: Winter is suitable for lau lovers which is too hot to eat everyday. — VNS Photo Truong Vi

Lau or hot pot, allowing you and your friends to cook a variety of meat, seafood and vegetables in a steaming broth right at your table, is supremely popular during these cold days, and streetside fast food restaurants and bia hoi have all lately turned to serving hot pot.

Once the province of middle-class restaurants, lau has now become a "pavement" dish that everyone can eat as a regular meal.

"Hot pot" signboards can be seen everywhere in the city with Lau Ga H’Mong (black chicken hot pot), Lau Hai San (seafood hot pot), Lau Gau Bo (beef brisket hot pot), and Lau Luon (eel hot pot) among the popular offerings.

The city’s hot pot aficionados are flocking to a "hot pot" address - Phung Hung Street behind Hang Da market, a narrow street 1km-long, has become lau central with 20 or so restaurants offering all kinds of varieties such as shrimp, oyster, chicken, eel, and vegetable at low prices. A street once known as an open-air market for electrical accessories has now become a familiar address for lovers of cook-it-yourself lau.

"I like lau, but I can’t eat it in the summer. It’s too hot. This is the right time to eat it everyday. Five or six people can share a pot costing VND70,000, and you can have a good meal," said lau regular Nguyen Duc Ha.

"It’s ideal to sit around a steaming hot pot, sipping wine and chatting. It’s better than any ambrosia," Ha said.

Lau sellers have lately sprung up on other downtown city streets such as Hang Chao, Ngo Tram and Bat Dan. However, if Phung Hung and other emerging lau streets are places that people go for supper, the Lau Bo Sai Gon in Le Phung Hieu Street, opposite the Sofitel Metropole Hotel, or Lau Bo in Mai Hac De near Hom Market, are places to go for a quick "hot" lunch.

"I eat lunch out everyday because I have only an hour-and-a-half break. Lau is the best choice for lunch these days," said Anh Tuyet, a lawyer of the Investment Development Office of Viet Nam.

Meanwhile, Ha Noi’s young people are opting for another choice to avoid the chill of the evenings, banh troi tau (sweet rice and green bean or black sesame dumplings sunk in a hot, ginger syrup). The most popular shop in the centre of the Old Quarter is always jam-packed.

Customers don’t mind sitting cramped on baby-sized plastic chairs on a crowded street corner to enjoy the sweet, steamy confection.

"I come here everyday in winter. I like the smell of ginger from the sweet soup. It’s kind of warm," said Tran Huyen Trang, a student at the National Economics University.

A tiny shop located in Hang Giay Street is owned by Pham Bang, a famous television comedian who is frequently seen playing the role of a follically-challenged bureaucratic boss on Saturday’s popular Weekend Get Together programme. Besides the lure of celebrity, passers-by cannot resist the smell of ginger and sticky rice wafting from Pham Bang’s simmering pots.

"It is sometimes overloaded. My shop can hold about 20 customers, but they just keep coming," he said.

Sharing in the windfall created by the God of Winter are bistros serving Vietnamese ruou or rice wine.

Bars such as Tay Bac in Hang Tre Street, Chieu Que and Ruou Dan Toc in Hang Chieu Street, or Phao Dai in Lo Duc Street compete with Highway 4 on Hang Tre Street, a close and dim bar decorated in a stylish manner and offering Vietnamese traditional wines and foods on Japanese-style tables in cosy rooms that are cramped on crowded nights.

"I like sitting by myself in such bars. Good wine, good food, good price and a good place to get away from the cold," said Nguyen Quoc Anh, a history lecturer at Ha Noi National University.

Rapidly becoming history are those days when Ha Noi went to bed at 10pm during the winter. Times are changing. Ha Noi is no longer rolling up the sidewalks. Going out at night is not a question of hot or cold, but an expression of the need to socialise.

"I would go to bed if I stayed home at night. I have to go down on the street to breath the air and meet people," said Hoang Ha in Yen The Street.

As a result, in-door cafeterias such as Ciao, PariDeli and Hale Club do not see a drop in customers during cold weather.

"We have to turn away a number of people these days. We are only able to accommodate a maximum of 130 customers," said the owner of Dong Kinh Restaurant in Cau Go Street.

However, not all in-door recreation is making hay. The city’s cinemas, which saw a booming business over the summer, are suddenly finding themselves idle. Owners of cinemas have invested in Hollywood hits like Alexander, Anacondas, King Arthur or Princess Diaries in a hope to cash in during the time of the new year, but the frosty weather has brought them down.

Cinemas, ice cream shops and outdoor lakeside cafes are resigned to sit out the winter break, abiding the sun. — VNS

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