The criteria needed to open a restaurant in downtown Hanoi are thin at best. Location, well anywhere will do. Space doesn’t necessarily need to be plentiful and as far as furniture goes, a few plastic chairs will suffice.
|Nguyen Hong Van has been sellling dried beef salad in an alleyway in downtown Hanoi for some 20 years. — VNS Photo Hoang Ho|
It’s difficult to actually put a number on the amount of eateries operating in the capital. You would struggle to walk just a few yards without passing a place selling food.
Even with your eyes closed, the aromas given off are a tell-tale sign that something good to eat is literally just around the corner.
Anywhere, it seems, can easily be converted into a restaurant.
Twenty years ago, Nguyen Hong Van opened her restaurant in an alleyway close to her home. From the outside looking in, it really doesn’t look much.
Space is tight, as alleyways usually are, but that doesn’t stop customers coming for her specialty: dried beef salad, or nộm bò khô.
“I used to sell at a different location and had lots of customers,” she said.
“But when someone else rented that place, I moved into this alley because my house is right behind it.
“My neighbours also sell stuff here and gradually we have built up regular customers and they like it this way.
“But when it gets too crowded, I have to let them sit outside on the pavement.”
Hong Van makes preparation look easy. She’s a dab hand with a pair of scissors, expertly chopping up dried beef and mixing in the required herbs and broth to serve up a mouth-watering dish.
|Hong Van uses a pair of scissors to chop up dried beef before mixing it with herbs and broth. — VNS Photo Bao Hoa|
A friend told her what was needed to make the dried beef salad, but she added her own twist to make her dish stand out from the rest.
“A friend of mine showed me how to make this dish but she just showed me how to assemble the dish, not how to get the flavour right,” she said.
“I tried to learn it myself and my customers also gave me their suggestions so I made adjustments and finally came up with my own recipe.”
At Quan An Ngon Restaurant in Hanoi, dried beef salad is often ordered as a side dish, enjoyed while waiting for the main meals. This, according to the chef, is because it is so quick to prepare.
“Diners come here, before ordering other dishes, almost everyone will order salad, and they really like the dried beef salad because this dish is very fast-served so they can enjoy it while waiting for other dishes,” said chef Tran Van Kien.
“When eating dried beef salad, they really like it because it delivers a delicious taste such as the creamy flavour of peanuts, and when blending with the broth, the taste is very special.”
|Dried beef salad is a mixture of meat, herbs and vegetables and is often served as an appetiser at restaurants. — VNS Photo Bao Hoa|
The mixture of meat, herbs and vegetables has to be as fresh as possible. The beef is marinated in salt, sugar, garlic, oil, ginger and chili and often left overnight to ensure the flavours soak through.
As well as adding to its taste, the vegetables and nuts used also bring out a rich colour making the dish even more appealing on the eye.
“The ingredients of making this salad are a combination of dried beef, papaya, carrots, herbs and roasted peanuts,” Kien added.
“It’s very crunchy when eating, with the creamy taste of peanuts that creates a very special flavor.
“A perfect salad will have the aroma of the beef. You can feel the crispness of the papaya and the creaminess of the peanuts.
“The sour of the broth has to be moderate, not too much and not too sweet. When using with salad, everything will be harmonious and very delicious when blending everything together.” VNS
Bao Hoa & Hoang Ho