Rising early, Hanoians prefer a decent breakfast, which is followed by a cup of rocket-fuel coffee or bitter tea to buzz a new day. Among the favourite eats for the morning, pho, of course, is a breakfast staple.
Other popular choices are various bun and mien dishes like crab noodle soup, snail or fish noodle soup, or eel noodle soup. Nourishing enough for a long working day ahead yet light enough for the stomach, eel noodle soup or mien luon is favoured by many locals, especially seafood lovers.
Eel-based dishes shouldn’t be overlooked and are easy to find in the capital city, either at classy, aircon restaurants or street-side eateries.
According to local say-so, the best eels come from Nghe An — the province is also home to the most delicious eel-based dishes. The slithering creatures, luon, can be served in many different styles, from noodle soup, to stir-fried as a condiment, with congee or salad.
While many local people, including me, are afraid to look at luon when they’re alive, there are dozens of good restaurants in town offering delicious options with eel. Located in a laid-back alley — Yen Ninh, next to Nguyen Truong To — Quan Luon (34 Yen Ninh, Ba Dinh) is one of the best eateries. Other favourites include Dong Thinh (87 Hang Dieu, Hoan Kiem) or Tan Tan (14 Tue Tinh, Hai Ba Trung).
I drop by Quan Luon on a breezy autumn morning, ordering myself a bowl of mien luon. In the quiet atmosphere of a clean and cosy restaurant, the bowl of heated noodle soup comes with a tasty piece of crunchy deep-fried luon, and on top of it are heaps of fried shallots and herbs called rau ram. You could fall in love with this simple bowl of noodle soup which is packed with a surprising number of flavours.
Instead of using bun or rice vermicelli noodle, eel noodle soup comes with glass noodles (mien) which are made of cassava flour. The fresh rau ram is traditionally used to eliminate the fishy taste while the fried eel has a wonderfully crunchy texture and a mild taste. Some seafood lovers who don’t mind the fishy taste order their noodles with fresh eel instead of deep-fried eel, or a bowl of fresh eel soup.
Not a Fin in Sight
The broth, to me, is the star of the show. It’s subtly sweet and light.
“The broth is made of eel bones and ginger. Eel is a very special ingredient. The more you cook it, the more sweet and flavoursome the broth is,” one of the family members owning Quan Luon, says.
According to him, the eels are transported every day from Nghe An, 300km south of Hanoi, to the capital city. His whole family wakes up early to prepare the eel in the morning to serve diners during lunchtime, then spends the whole afternoon to prepare the ingredients for dinner. The eatery’s peak hours are around 11am and 7pm.
“As the eel is the most important ingredient, we have to be careful when we prepare it,” he adds. “Dried eels must be fried at the right temperature and for the right amount of time to make sure that they remain crispy yet sweet even when dipped into the broth.”
As most agree, Vietnamese cuisine is not limited to the ever-popular pho and banh mi. It’s always pleasant to try something a little slithery like mien luon; you will not regret it. I would recommend dropping by Quan Luon in the morning to enjoy the peaceful ambience of Yen Ninh Street and the quiet restaurant at its best, instead of sitting in the busy and bustling space during lunch or dinner.
Quan Luon is at 34 Yen Ninh, Ba Dinh, Hanoi and is open from early morning till 9pm at night. For breakfast, the eatery only serves mien luon and eel soup. A bowl of mien luon is VND40,000. For lunch and dinner, Quan Luon offers a diverse menu of eel and frog-based dishes