Forgive me, but I’m in Hong Kong for a few days before flying back to Los Angeles. So food, great food, is on my mind. Everyone knows that musicians know the best spots for a meal. You might bookmark this post for future reference if you plan a trip to Hanoi, Vietnam.
So here are the some of the spots where thoughts and plots for the next LA International New Music Festival took shape. Hope you’re hungry!
Before I get to out and out street food, let me talk about Vietnamese eating habits. In general, Vietnamese are suspicious of sit down restaurants. To expensive with no taste. Fine dining? Go back to Paris.
But there is one exception. The extraordinary Quan An Ngon in the French Quarter has a mission (there are other branches in Hanoi and Saigon). Present in one place the gigantic flavor spectrum of all of Vietnam. They tackle a big task perfectly.
This should get your attention. We were taken there five times by different friends. So the verdict is in from the musicians of Hanoi. Go to Quan an Ngon!
And what a joy each trip became. Photos of the place will keep popping up in this blog. It’s housed in an old French era building and teems with Vietnamese and foreigners, a rarity.
Let’s return to the street. Which means pho. Hanoi style is much different than what we get in the U.S. In the north eating is focused. One dish at a time. One street food vendor makes one thing. You move on to the next vendor who makes something else.
Pho in Hanoi is broth, noodles, beef and condiments like bird chilis, pickled garlic and a fried donut. All the herbs and bean sprouts you get in the U.S.? That’s Saigon style, delicious but truly a different world.
Here’s a tip. You often deplete your broth as you work your way through noodles and beef. Vu Nhat Tan taught me that it is expected you will ask for “more water” – Vietnamese for beef broth. What a joy!
Now I must digress. My parents had a restaurant for 30 years at 2601 W. 6th St. in Los Angeles. Each day of the week had a different soup for a lunch crowd of ca. 120 in 45 minutes. We started preparing early at 8 AM (I worked lunch during the summers). When I asked my father for his recipes before he died, he produced one sheet of paper with all the ingredients numbered and then coded for each soup.
Amounts for the ingredients?
Are you kidding me? My dad and mom were right. If you needed to measure ingredients you should not be in the restaurant business. Helpful hint for anyone wanting to know how to successfully run a non-profit: learn how to put on a dinner party in your own home. Free advice that works. You don’t need a consultant. Maybe get a job in a restaurant to make ends meet…so much for entrepreneurship.
I am addicted to soup and its preparation. Maybe that’s why I love Asia…once I realized you could have soup for breakfast I was on board big time!
Vu Nhat Tan knows this about me and so one day we went on a great tour deep off the beaten track in the French Quarter for fish noodle soup, the neglected sibling of beef noodle soup. Tan says there are only two places worth anything anymore, and are hard to find without a Hanoi native.
I am not a tease…if you want to know where this place is send me a comment and I’m sure Vu Nhat Tan will give me the address. What a rare treat. Fish noodle soup with barley noodles? Who knew? Certainly not the internet or Food Network or Travel Channel, Andrew Zimmern or Anthony Bourdain…
If you guessed we’re talking about music, strategy, thoughts, plots, the next steps, you’d be right. Who the hell discusses these things in a meeting? If you do, the results are pretty routine…which is not why I’ve come to Vietnam.
So my next food tip is also an oddity. A restaurant. With Vietnamese. On a quiet street. We were surprised when Bao Coc, a wonderful friend and clarinetist, arranged lunch for us with Nguyen Thien Dao. Where to take an eminent Vietnamese composer who lives, ahem, in Paris?
We were blown away. And let me take a swipe, a big swipe, at the idiots on the internet reviewing Ha Hoi. The food is tremendous and the service superb. Maybe a few surly web people need Vietnamese friends….
We spent hours here with Bao, his wife Huong Vu Thuy, and Nguyen Thien Dao. Dao’s projected a big piece for Southwest and our next LA International New Music Festival. We talked up a storm. But this was an important lunch which was superbly presented (excuse me but my mom served the likes of Gregory Peck, Humphrey Bogart, Marlon Brando, Darryl Zanuck. I grew up fussy about service).
Bravo to Ha Hoi!
Let’s take a break and get ready for upcoming posts.
Vietnam has one of the best takes on coffee on Planet Earth. Have you heard of Cong Ca Phe? Play around with the shop’s name a little. Then put Viet in front of its first word. You’ll understand it’s motto “Join the Party!” a little better.
There are five locations in Hanoi, all great. The best one is on Dien Bien Phu Street. Join me for my next post on Hanoi Street Food Strategy.
Best, best, best,