beat the winter chill by wolfing down the hot pot
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
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.
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.
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
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
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
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
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