I have been back in Hanoi for about a week now exploring the streets and restaurants with Hang (the co-founder of this blog) spending some time going back to our old favorites and trying some new places. Today we went to La Place, a small cafe featuring both a Vietnamese and western menu with a nice view of Saint Joseph Cathedral. The restaurant has a nice location in the church area of Hanoi (named for Saint Joseph Cathedral) and sees a good amount of both local and tourist traffic. This was a real treat for me as this is one of the first places Hang and I had lunch back in September of 2011 on my last trip to Hanoi, and it is a really fun restaurant with good food.
Each table is covered with a square of brown packing paper, how plain one may think until you spot the box of crayons waiting for you to pick them up and draw on your table.
I jumped right in with my crayons and started creating the next master piece, soon to be on display at the Louvre in Paris (right after I break in and glue it to the wall). Only after starting work on the fantastic piece of art you see above did we pick up the menus and try to figure out what to eat. We started off with our drink orders; a frozen passion fruit for Hang and a frozen lemon and mint for me. I can defiantly recommend either of these drinks, especially after a hot day of exploring Hanoi.
While La Place does have a very tempting western menu I highly recommend skipping over it and ordering from the Vietnamese menu, which is exactly what we did as we picked out a couple of dishes to share. After a few minutes we decided on Bun Cha (grilled minced pork with fresh rice noodle) and Com Rang Thit (sweet pork fried rice). After ordering we sat back to enjoy our drinks and work on our master piece.
Once the food came we snapped a few pictures, picked up our chopsticks, and dug in to the Bun Cha.
Just a quick disclaimer as I write this with Hang we are guessing how the dishes are made and as she said “If I know how this was made I would make it at home…”
The Bun Cha is made with minced pork, salt and pepper, diced shallot, and a mix of Asian seasonings. The pork is formed into a kind of flat meat ball and fried in a skillet, the left over juice is then mixed with some diced spring onion and spooned over the top. The pork is served over a bed of fresh rice noodle and a side of mixed greens, bean sprouts, and thinly sliced bark from a young banana tree. The juices from the pork mix in with the noodles adding a nice flavor to the other wise plain noodle. The dish was paired with a fish sauce with a little garlic and red chili pepper mixed in.
To me the best way to eat this is to pile up some of the greens and a little of the banana tree bark on top, drizzle a little of the sauce over it, pick the medallions up with your chop sticks and take a nice big bite, chew, swallow, and repeat until there is nothing left (then order another and repeat the process). The tangy taste of the pork mixes with the cool almost sweet taste of the greens and the slightly bitter taste of the banana bark bringing all the flavors together into one savory bite.
The Bun Cha looked and tasted so good that not only did we order a second but the Canadian couple at the table next to us ordered one for themselves.
Now onto the Com Rang Thit, which kind of got ignored thanks to the deliciousness of the Bun Cha. This is a rather simple dish composed of sliced pork and Bok Choy stir fried together in a glaze of oyster sauce adding a nice light sweet taste to the dish then served over a bed of steamed rice which had been lightly stir fried in the left over glaze. This dish was paired with soy sauce with a few slices of red chili pepper. There was just enough of the sauce left on the pork and Bok Choy blended into the rice to give it a nice flavor without soaking it in sauce. While this dish was really good it unfortunately took a back seat to the Bun Cha as far as the star of the meal.
After lunch we started up a nice conversation with the Canadian Couple, the initial intent was to plug this blog and maybe generate a little extra traffic but as we spoke with them we learned a little about their travels around Vietnam and suggested they take a few days to fly over to Siem Reap in Cambodia to visit Angkor Wat (which you can not miss if you are this close).
This was an excellent lunch with some fantastic Vietnamese food and some good conversation.
Here’s to happy eating,
-erik assisted by Hang