Every now and then when I'm in the mood for a ride on a balmy evening and my sweet tooth has been activated, I head to an alley in Hanoi's business district. Not surprisingly, the surrounds of the darkened buildings and padlocked gates of this area witness little food action at night. It's mostly deserted, strangely devoid of even motorbikes.
Apart from the wheels of those 'in the know'.
Hanoi's best and most expensive che is available in this largely non-descript side alley, for which I would miss the turn if it weren't for the bright lime green signage on the main road. Unfortunately for those who live up this lane and for the operators of this che business, construction of one building or another has been ongoing here for six years. Six years of choking dust, piles of scuzzy rubble and the familiar Hanoi din of hammering and tons of heavy stuff falling from great heights onto the metal trays of dump trucks!
Am I getting off topic?
No...because noise is all-encompassing in this city.
In all fairness though, the che operators got their own back by banging up some renovations themselves a couple of years back, meaning they can accommodate their customers inside and upstairs rather than spilling tables and stools out into the lane.
On my recent visit, I struck the place in peak hour. The normally efficient system had broken down. All the staff seemed clustered in the preparation area, fearful of the waiting crowds, all staring out as if into the headlights of an oncoming bus. Occasionally one would dart out and then back in again. Customers were getting served out of order, fraying tempers and loudly shouted orders were ricocheting off the mirrored walls. I remained calm by focussing on a hapless white butterfly which had flapped tiredly into the fray, dangerously low to the ground. Incoming feet threatened death by stomping. Nobody else noticed its plight.
I forgot about it too when my che thap cam arrived at table. In my huge handled beer mug, I saw tapioca strips, crinkles, noodles and squares in a variety of colours. I saw kidney beans and jackfruit chips. I saw bite-size rice flour dumplings filled with chocolate and peanut paste. I saw pieces of fresh fruit: mango, melon, lychees and longans. I saw a huge dollop of thick coconut cream. I saw all of these things before me.
And then they were gone before I knew it, mixed with shaved ice and shovelled into my eating orifice in world record pace. Gone!
And the butterfly?
Probably ate it too.
One che thap cam - 20,000VND (USD$1.20, AUD$1.60)
Che Thap Cam
Ngo 172 Tran Hung Dao