A stiff fishy breeze lingers about this old quarter street at night. Daytime business shutters go down, giving way to a line of street stalls and narrow corridors offering up a snack that is prepared in a noisy workshop-like atmosphere.
There are tools about - not your typical cooking utensils, not a spatula in sight!
Instead, picture ye olde blacksmith shoppe, where hammers and hot fire are at play, though not to fashion a fire stoker nor a horse's shoe. Here the material to be fashioned is edible sea creature of the cephalopod family
Rigid leathery dried squid are propped up to attention on display stands up and down this stretch of old Hanoi. Single light bulbs shed dull light on these formally jet-propelled swimmers now flattened and well dead.
Once selected by the consumer, the squid hits the workshop floor for its transformation into food. Placed over a small hot box of red coals on the pavement, it curls as it is grilled in some kind of delayed final act of defiance against its earlier capture. The hammer is then used to batter the squid against a wooden board in an attempt to tenderise it.
It's Hanoi dining ambience at its best. The close proximity to the roar of traffic, the incessant horns, banging hammers and, as a special treat on the night of my visit, there was a special impromptu performance of street theatre, too. The stall's proprietor arrived back from an outing to find one of her young male workers asleep out the back. He shot bolt upright to receive a right royal cussing peppered with the kind of purple language one would expect of a fishmonger! The boy was dazed and still wiping the sleep from his eyes as she performed Act 2 at the front of the house, shouting a similar tirade at one of her competitors who was allowing her customers to park in the wrong "f***ing place."
Every other patron was on task, munching on their shredded muc nuong (grilled dried squid) and throwing back shot glasses of rice wine. After all the distraction, I started chewing, too. I'm not sure but maybe I chose the wrong squid specimen at the outset because I chewed and chewed and chewed until I had a wad of fishy papier mache forming in my mouth. Maybe not enough elbow grease was expended at the hammering stage. I was concerned that the squid might choke me on the way down.
I'm not going to give up on this as a culinary experience, though. I like the idea. It's a good beer match. I will try it again. Next time I will seek advice on selecting a squid which requires less jaw action.
36 Hang Bo