I squatted in a market street gutter between a fishmonger and a butcher and chopsticked this heap of shiny sheet into me this Sunday morning just past.
The market was a peak hour frenzy of pushing, shoving and shouted negotiations and, at one point, the hot fumey breath of a motor scooter exhaust pipe blew in my ear. Chickens pecked their way past. Every few minutes, the banter amongst the vendors dissolved into giggles. There's an expression in Vietnamese: "two ladies and a duck make a market." Multiply this scenario a few hundred times and you've got one deafening, heaving ball-buster of a market...
... in which I thrive. It's a live documentary of human, animal and vegetable transactions. It's better than going to the movies.
But it didn't distract me from the task that was at hand - feeding my face with banh cuon, big banh cuon, big fresh banh cuon. These are a simpler version of something I've posted about before, a steamed rice pancake dappled with brushstrokes of really finely chopped tree ear mushrooms.
There's no spattered buckets of rice flour batter, no steam on the spot process and no filling or rolling required. A basket full of already prepared membranes lies before Pancake Lady who, ably assisted by her two secondary school-aged daughters, separates and peels up a layer before setting to it with the blades in a fashion reminiscent of Edward Scissorhands. With my pancake a twisted pile of ribbon on a plate, the finishing touches are added - half a bush of mint and a fair scattering of deep fried shallots. The dipping sauce is standard nuoc cham crowded up with blocks of cha com (a pressed sausage thingie) and more dried shallots.
As I bolted the product into me, younger daughter of Pancake Lady rather interestingly started teaching her mother a range of numbers in English, first three thousand, then five, then seven and eight. Of course, I knew what all this was leading to and started throwing the food down quicker before the lesson reached double digits. To the left, wild silver flashes of scales were coming at me from the fishmongers. There was one on the loose. It was time to POQ!
A breakfast of fresh clean flavours, good crunch and slide texture and with all kinds of entertainment on offer on the stages around, this meal amounted to one of my best so far in Hanoi.
The Gutter Grab
One serve of banh cuon - the highest number she learned, 8000VND (USD50c, AUD68c) but a serve of this should be 3000VND.
Banh Cuon Gutter Basket
Trung Yen St