Aromatic noodles fill bellies in Old Quarter

Banh da noodle dishes full to bursting with fish, pork, beef, herbs and bean sprouts please patrons who sit on small stools and happily eat a bowl – or two. Hoang Hung reports.
Aromatic noodles fill bellies in Old Quarter

Ha Noi, Old Quarter, banh da tron ingredients, mien xao dishes
Bowl of perfection: People enjoy banh da tron at 17 Hang Chinh Street. — VNS Photos Doan Tung
Just a decade after this cuisine arrived in Ha Noi, banh da tron (mixed flat rice noodles) and mien tron (mixed glass noodle) have become a favourite of many people here, attracting hordes of aficionados, especially in summer, as these dishes help cool down one’s body.
Last week, when the mercury was really rising and all around me, people were sweating, I dragged a friend of mine visiting from the US to savour some banh da tron in a quaint area of the city – 17 Hang Chinh Street in Ha Noi’s Old Quarter.
When we arrived at the shop, there was already a crowd of people either trying out the delicacy, or waiting for their turn. A number of foreign backpackers, no doubt attracted by the eatery’s reputation, were also waiting patiently.
After we had waited for a few minutes, soaking in the inviting smells and drinking in the convivial atmosphere of the place, a server led us to a plastic table at a corner of the shop. As we took our seats, she promptly brought us our food in two bowls. At first glance, the bowl seemed rather full with flat rice noodles mixed with fried soya cheese pieces, pork pie, fish, onions, beef, spinach and green bean sprouts.
Accompanying our dish was a small plate of turnip pickle and some fragrant crab soup. The server suggested we eat these together with the banh da tron.
My friend succumbed to the visual pleasures of the dish, and was soon eating rather greedily without bothering to stop. After a while, perhaps a little embarrased at her excitement but clearly visibly pleased with the dish, she exclaimed, “I’m sorry but I just couldn’t hold my appetite; never have I eaten something so tasty as this.”
Meanwhile, I also enjoyed the tough, brown, flat rice noodles, mixed with aromatic herbs and beef. The piece of fried fish I tried was crispy and tasty, with fried soya cheese providing a touch of softness. Mixed with fried onions and done-to-a-turn, boiled spinach and green bean sprouts created a special aromatic flavour that would make anyone wish for a second helping.
Ha Noi, Old Quarter, banh da tron ingredients, mien xao dishes
Food prep: Shop owner Nguyen Thi Lien and her banh da tron ingredients, almost ready to be served to guests.
Different from other shops where the cooks often sprinkle some roasted peanuts on each bowl of banh da tron before serving these, this shop has on offer a small bottle of roasted peanuts right on the table – so each guest can partake of it liberally.
When I told my friend the dish would be even more enjoyable if she mixed with some peanuts, she said, “The more I chew on the nuts, the more buttery taste I have in my mouth.”
At VND30,000 (about US$1.5) a bowl, she found the dish very cheap. “It’s too cheap when compared to pho or other soups. It is such a delicious and fragrant banh da tron, indeed,” she said.
She would have eaten another bowl of the same, but the server suggested we try some mien xao dishes (glass noodle stir-fried with chicken, porks, beef, eel or sea crab).
“You should try these to enjoy the special and unique mien dishes,” the server recommended.
Ha Noi, Old Quarter, banh da tron ingredients, mien xao dishes
Colourful concoction: A bowl of mien tron at Lien’s shop in Ha Noi.
Though she was full, my friend asked me to try mien tron luon (vermicelli mixed with fried eels).
Apart from the mien soup, mien tron luon is an enjoyable dish for many Hanoians. The server told us that they order eels from the central province of Nghe An since that eel is often fatty and tastes more delicious, compared to those from other places.
Ingredients that go into the making of mien tron luon include glass noodle, fried eel, sound and sweet fish sauce, fried onions, papaya salad, different kinds of fennel such as Lang basil, flagrant knotwed and marjoram. It is eaten with a broth cooked with simmered pork bones.
A bowl, costing VND30,000, was very appetizing, and my friend, who I thought had already had enough, savoured it heartily. “I’ve not tried an eel dish for decades now, ever since we moved to the US in 1979 and settled there,” she said, almost offering an explanation for her appetite.
Banh da tron and mien tron are available in the capital streets of 59A Phung Hung, 8 Le Ngoc Han, 42C Ly Thuong Kiet, 34 Le Dai Hanh, 14 Tue Tinh, 87 Hang Dieu, 4 Ham Long, 23 Nguyen Bieu, 1 Nguyen Chi Thanh, 1 Chan Cam and many other street corners in the city, and one thing is certain – you will always crave for that second helping.