Hanoi’s culi­nary de­lights are streets ahead

THE HUN­GRY TOURIST

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - The Food Issue - LYN­DALL CRISP

THE sen­si­tive West­ern palate may baulk at some of the more ex­otic Asian dishes and eat­ing from street stalls can be risky, but in Hanoi many of the best light meals can be found at holes in the wall where the quick turnover means the food is fresh. And, of course, it’s cheap. De­li­cious meals served on ba­nana leaves cost as lit­tle as $2.

Viet­namese cook­ing is fa­mous for its fresh in­gre­di­ents, a point em­pha­sised by former Mel­bourne chef and au­thor Tracey Lis­ter, who has lived in Hanoi for 11 years, as she guides us through Chau Long mar­ket, five min­utes’ walk from the Hanoi Cook­ing Cen­tre she started in 2009.

‘‘Fam­i­lies shop twice a day, so ev­ery­thing is fresh,’’ Lis­ter says as we wind our way past tres­tle ta­bles groan­ing with meat, a stag­ger­ing va­ri­ety of veg­eta­bles and fruit, tanks of fish, chick­ens in cages and bar­rels of noo­dles only hours old. If a stall­holder runs out of, say, pork they sim­ply ring an abat­toir, which kills and de­liv­ers right away.

Back at Lis­ter’s school I con­tinue this fas­ci­nat­ing half-day mar­ket visit and cook­ing course with a dozen other tourists. We learn to make pho bo (beef noo­dle soup), West Lake prawn cakes, pho cuon (beef in rice noo­dle wraps), nuoc cham (a fishy dip­ping sauce) and nom xoai xanh (green pa­paya salad).

Not ev­ery­one gets the hang of it first go and

MICHAEL FOUNTOULAKIS there is much hi­lar­ity, but we get to eat ev­ery­thing we have made in Lis­ter’s pop­u­lar cafe up­stairs. Bev­er­ages are in­cluded — a lo­cal brew, Hanoi Beer, goes down a treat.

Lis­ter fell in love with Viet­nam on a hol­i­day and now­di­vides her time be­tween run­ning the cook­ing school and help­ing with Koto, a not­for-profit vocational train­ing pro­gram for street and dis­ad­van­taged youth. Es­tab­lished in 1999 with a small sand­wich shop, it has trained more than 500 peo­ple, all of whom have gone on to full-time jobs in restau­rants and ho­tels.

For lunch, head to Koto on Van Mieu, op­po­site Hanoi’s Tem­ple of Lit­er­a­ture. It’s spot­lessly clean and a re­lief from the hus­tle and bus­tle. The young staff love to prac­tise their English and are keen to dis­cuss the menu, which changes ev­ery four months. To­day, lunch in­cludes veg­etable and rare beef salad with lo­tus root, car­rot, onion, cu­cum­ber, bean sprouts and Viet­namese mint in a sweet and sour dress­ing; poached prawn and glass noo­dle salad with car­rot, red onion, cu­cum­ber, chilli, to­mato and fresh herbs; and ba­nana flower salad with pork, prawns and mixed herbs in a crispy tofu skin. The cost is about $5.

Lis­ter has sug­gested we also try din­ner at the pro­gram’s other success story, Pots ’n’ Pans, run by Koto grad­u­ates with sup­port from Aus­tralian in­vest­ment com­pany Small Giants. In a con­verted old ter­race house, it has a con­tem­po­rary bar down­stairs and a spa­cious and stylish restau­rant up­stairs with min­i­mal­ist decor and French doors lead­ing to a ve­randa over­look­ing a busy street.

The menu’s in­no­va­tive cui­sine is so tan­ta­lis­ing that we de­cide to share a range of dishes, in­clud­ing crispy-skin sea bass with prawn and gin­ger boudin, house-made sesame noo­dles, chilli jam, tamarind and co­conut sauce and crispy shal­lot and herb salad. Lime leaf and lo­tus seed co­conut creme brulee with pis­ta­chio and straw­berry jelly makes for an ir­re­sistible dessert. A bot­tle of Chateau La Ga­maye mer­lot caber­net sau­vi­gnon ($28) brings the bill to $88 for two.

The food is su­perb and the young staff pro­fes­sional and charm­ing. We re­turn to our ho­tel with an armful of brochures and in­sist the concierge rec­om­mends Pots ’n’ Pans to guests. Lyn­dall Crisp at­tended Hanoi Cook­ing Cen­tre as a guest of Buf­falo Tours.

Former Mel­bourne chef Tracey Lis­ter

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