The ubiquitous com binh dan restaurant is the lunch experience that Hanoian workers gravitate toward, whether they toil carting coal, selling lychees or pushing a pen in a government office. Translating roughly as "rice at a reasonable price", these lunch outlets replicate the home-cooked meal which, not all that long ago, most Vietnamese returned home to consume.
But life is busy these days and times have certainly changed in this developing country. Going home for lunch with mum, where there could be some nagging about housework or the boyfriend or a dish one doesn't like but she insists on making or a stint with the dish cloth...all this can now be avoided.
Because there is a bit of money about and the streetside Vina buffet is inexpensive.
Like at home, rice is central at these eateries and it is served in big old communal buckets when eating with the colleagues and only slightly smaller ones when eating on one's Pat Malone. The latter is rare as the Vietnamese consider the lone diner a cause for concern, even pity.
I am far from concerned as I make myself known to the buffet choices. Pork is done all ways; there are fatty slices of boiled pig, ribs caramelised and juicy, pork with crackling, mince stuffed in tomatoes, bits from inside stir-fried and turmeric stained trotters not trotting anymore. The pig is dead but very well-utilised! Chickens have lost their heads, too, their flesh also figuring pretty prominently. Stewed eggs, omelettes and tofu offer a respite from the meatfest, with vegie content coming in the form of standard water spinach and steamed cabbage served with boiled egg and soy sauce. Snails, squid scattered with dill and a soup containing bitter melon round out the selections.
Do not take pity on me. I don't have time to talk.
Com Binh Dan
Dinh Liet St