You can’t get good pho in Saigon. It’s a statement oft heard and oft cited — particularly by northerners, who are used to eating a particularly Hanoian version of this dish.
When I was growing up, my grandmother told me, “Bread is the dish of Western people, brought to Vietnam by the French. It is only for urban or upper class people. It is expensive and not for the working class like us…”
Today, this sounds far-fetched. For many years, bread or banh my (banh mi in the south), has been one of Vietnam’s street food staples.
The kindergarten courtyard is packed tonight, but there’s not a child in sight. Locals slurp noodles at plastic tables, surrounded by pastel murals in loopy, childish handwriting.
Two years ago dinner in a Vietnamese restaurant with an American chef led to an inevitable conversation about street food. While he enthused about ingredients, textures, spices and flavours, so I expounded on the dishes I loved and why. From nowhere he mentioned a dish he’d tried in Dalat — banh trang nuong. “It’s incredible,” he explained, “I’ve never seen it anywhere else.” He then went onto describe it, although at this juncture my memory fails me.
November is when Hanoi says goodbye to autumn and welcomes winter. The pleasant mild and cool weather is said to tempt people to eat — just thinking of hot rice porridge or steaming rice dumplings warms you up while riding back from work. Not surprisingly, at this time of year, mid-afternoon snacks are popular with Hanoians.
As the street corners in Hanoi start feeling the onset of autumn, things start to get a little romantic. Streets are filled with yellow leaves, trees quiver in the light breeze and the air is perfumed with that special aroma of milky flower.
Huyen Tran investigates the irresistible dish that smells as bad as it tastes good. Photos by Francis Roux