Seeking out new eateries in Hanoi should be straightforward. It's possible to pull up almost anywhere in this city, reach out and snatch a handful of snack, whether it be a piece of fruit, a steamed bun, a sugary donut thingie on a stick, a bread roll stuffed with pork, herbs and chili or a duck's fetus for that matter. The problem is that, after almost five years of such excessive choice, one gets picky.
What happens is the snack one most feels like is suddenly elusive. It might be off the menu, out of season or bad luck to eat when the moon is waxing. Maybe the vendor, who's been on the hustings every day of my 1500 day stay in Hanoi suddenly has one off. Or perhaps the joint being eyed is packed to the rafters, an under the table payment not even ensuring a pew. At such moments, a mild hissy fit ensues and the motorbike wheel is turned in the direction of an old favourite.
I do persevere, though.
On the third Saturday morning attempt, I happened to time my run on this old quarter banh cuon eathouse to perfection. The group seated outside on the footpath were downing chopsticks and inserting toothpicks. They were on the way out and I was in. But this was one crowded shack.
Banh cuon is a bit of a process which I've documented before and won't describe again, save to say that in a popular joint like this one, the scooping, smothering, steaming, peeling, rolling, cutting, scattering and garnishing routine takes forever when one is down the queue a bit.
More perseverence is required.
It is worth it, though. Banh cuon is steamed rice pancake, in which is rolled a tasty mixture of minced pork and tree-ear mushroom. On top, the crunch of dried shallots and the zing of mint and coriander and, for dipping, a golden nuoc cham. An egg is slapped in pancake for a bit of variation.
A new favourite is added to my list of Hanoi food gold. I may never get a berth again, though!
Two serves of banh cuon, two egg numbers, one iced tea - 42,000VND (USD$2.60, AUD$3.40)
Thanh Van Banh Cuon
14 Hang Ga
Old Quarter, Hanoi