Monday, 23 April 2012

Northern Hospitality (Vietnamese Style)

Being an unashamed food geek, I spent much of my time in Vietnam interrogating the locals about their native cuisine. However, even food geeks need a rest, so when my colleagues took me out for one last dinner, I decided to give them a break. The thing is, though, they had become so accustomed to my questions that they volunteered information anyway. Which is why I can tell you that Đán Ngọc is a restaurant famous for its crispy pigeon (or squab, if you're going to be posh) amongst other dishes from northern Vietnam.

Rather alarmingly, the pigeon was described as 'dove' in the menu (another restaurant I went to listed its duck dishes as swan) but I was assured it was pigeon. I quickly understood why punters flock to Đán Ngọc for this dish, as the bird was juicy and tender on the inside, yet crispy on the outside. Dipped in seasoned salt and lime juice, this was as good as the Cantonese version of this dish I had last year in Guangzhou – high praise indeed.

Another dish that's common to both Cantonese and Vietnamese kitchens is deep-fried cuttlefish cakes. The main difference between the two versions is in the texture, as the Vietnamese version includes chewy bits of tentacle in the mix.

One bonus about eating in Vietnam is that one can eat very healthily without realising it in the form of dishes like chicken salad with banana blossom, beansprouts and herbs, and sesame beef with pineapple, young banana slices and herbs wrapped in rice paper.

And last but not least, we ordered the house special noodle dish that I nicknamed Hawaiian meatball bún in homage to its pineapple and tomato soup. This may sound dodgy but the sweet and sour taste worked really well with the homemade herby pork meatballs and bún (rice vermicelli). This was a fine end to a great meal.

Without sounding too lachrymose, this little corner of northern Vietnam reminded me of my native north of England in that Đán Ngọc is a homely joint with few airs and graces. It's the kind of place where people kick off their heels, relax and enjoy themselves rather than it being the place to be seen. And one last northern touch was that the waiters all wore zipped up tracksuit tops, just like Liam Gallagher circa 1995!

Đán Ngọc, 23 Phan Chu Trinh, Hanoi, Vietnam
(Tel: +84-4-3826-2472)


  1. That pigeon looks properly good - and it sounds even better. I really like the combination of dishes you had, particularly intrigued by the pineapple and tomato mix. Just goes to show that Vietnamese food doesn't stand still.

    Deep frying aside, I reckon it as to be one of the healthiest cuisines around, what with the emphasis on fresh herbs, vegetables and bbq. Not very much fat at all, and so flavourful in a fresh way. Lovely.

    Having been to SE Asia more often than I've been to the north of England, I'm afraid i can't comment on the trackies, zip-up or not ;)

  2. Pineapple and tomato are the combo used in Cahn Chua, a sour fish soup. It rocks :)

  3. Gworm - as Mimi points out in her comment, tomato & pineapple appears to be a classic Viet combo albeit one I hadn't come across/noticed before. Have to disagree with you a bit on deep frying, as long as oil is fresh and cooking temp is spot-on, deep frying isn't THAT unhealthy, is it? Or am I just trying to validate my lifestyle choices?!

    The trackies made me chuckle, head waiter was wearing Lacoste while the other guys were in Adidas or Puma. I'd love to see the waiters wear trackies at Claridges!

    Meemalee - thanks for the knowledge! Always good to learn a thing or two. Must catch up soon now you're back on your feet again.

  4. With regards to the Crispy Pigeon dish, pigeons and doves the same thing. Town pigeons are rock doves, as are racing pigeons and the doves in old-fashioned magic shows; they're just bred for different plumage. In fact, there are no real reasons for the choosing the name of any species as dove or pigeon. In a way, I suppose its a little like a menu listing cow instead of beef; just a matter of semantics. I realise this blog is about eating not twitching or etymology but I thought it was a piece of information to put out there should anyone want to know. Apologies for the nerdiness