As a founding member of the “fruit doesn’t count as dessert” club, it pains me to admit that a bowl of mixed fruit is my favourite of all Hanoi desserts.
However, the dish in question, hoa qua dam (literally, macerated fruit), is much more than just mixed fruit. All of the extra components, such as little exploding beans of coffee syrup, make this an iconic and exciting street dessert.
Unlike many other street foods, where people will fight tooth and nail to defend the name of whichever shop they think is the best, there’s only one place in Hanoi which enjoys almost unchallenged dominance when it comes to hoa qua dam. For the last 20 years, that place has been Hoa Beo (17 To Tich, Hoan Kiem, Hanoi).
“When we started out, we just made fruit smoothies,” explains founder and namesake, Le Minh Hoa. “The mixed fruit bowls came a bit later.”
Hoa, now 56, claims to have invented hoa qua dam, but whether you believe that or not is a moot point, given the total superiority her shop still enjoys today. Around 10 years ago, the menu was updated with what is now probably the second most popular variety of mixed fruit, sua chua mit (VND25,000), or yoghurt and jackfruit.
“Actually, the yoghurt and jackfruit became the most popular, until around four years ago,” explains Hoa. “That’s when I bought the ice cream machine.”
The ice cream machine introduced the possibility of adding a big dollop of vanilla or strawberry flavoured soft-serve ice cream on top of your hoa qua dam (VND20,000, or VND30,000 with ice cream), an option which helped it shoot back into top spot.
Considering what’s included already, that may be considered as dessert overkill. Every bowl is loaded to the brim with seasonal fruits, usually including melon, papaya, mango, dragon fruit and jackfruit, plus a few pieces of coconut jelly.
On top of that goes a liberal helping of condensed milk, a splash of coconut milk, and then a few of those magic beans, which burst inside your mouth releasing an intense hit of coffee-flavoured syrup.
Every serving comes with a side of crushed ice, which you can either spoon into your dessert, or bury your face into, depending on the temperature and humidity at the time.
At weekends, the shop spills out into the street, with dozens of extra stools set up in every spare metre of space.
Young and old alike sit with their knees knocking against each other, chowing down one of the various dishes on the menu, with the two above, and sua chua nep cam (yoghurt and sticky rice — VND20,000), being the most popular.
“All our fruit comes from the same local supplier,” says Hoa. “We spend the morning washing and peeling it, and don’t go home until nearly midnight.”
Despite the popularity, Hoa’s shop has never added a second location. Because of this, the quality has never been compromised, although it did pave the way for copycats to spring up all over town.
Look out for other shops selling hoa qua dam at 36 Le Thanh Nghi, Hai Ba Trung and 187 Chua Lang, Dong Da. For alternative sua chua mit, try it at 24 Ba Trieu, Hoan Kiem and 29 Hang Than, Ba Dinh.
Hoa Beo is at 17 To Tich, Hoan Kiem, Hanoi and is open daily from 9am until 11pm. For info or delivery, call 0937 541988 (Vietnamese only)
Photos by Teague John Blokpoel