My Favorite Dish in Hanoi?: Chả cá Lã Vọng

The title contains a question mark because I have liked most of the dishes I’ve tried in Vietnam’s crowded capital.

But I’ve made an exception for chả cá lã vọng because it’s a more unusual flavor profile than a number of the other meals in Hanoi … and there’s even a street named for it.

Chả cá Lã Vọng, Hanoi, Vietnam
Chả cá Lã Vọng, Hanoi, Vietnam

Created sometime in the mid-1860s by a Hanoi family called Doan, they opened up a restaurant in 1871, egged on by their relatives and friends who had tried the dish.

Chả cá Lã Vọng contains hemibagrus, a genus of catfish, stir-fried with turmeric and dill. (where’d the dill come from?) It is eaten alongside the Vietnamese staple of fermented rice vermicelli (stringy noodles, called bún), chilies, scallions, cilantro, nước mắm (fish sauce), and peanuts.

Just about every taste bud is satisfied when you combine all of those flavors; not to mention, things crunchy, chewy, and stringy (ordinarily not a plus) somehow harmoniously work together to create this only-in-Hanoi lunch.



Nissin Cup Noodles Museum in Osaka, Japan

Although Japan’s Ando Momofuku (born Go Pek-Hok in Japanese-controlled Taiwan) invented the cup noodle (instant ramen) in 1958, he was undoubtedly inspired by his visits to the United States in the 1960s to sharpen the concept.

After a brief stopover at the Mister Donut Museum in Osaka last year, I finally remembered that the Cup Noodles Museum was also located in the city. (any other carb-related Osaka museums that I’m forgetting?)

Whether it’s to wax nostalgic about your late-night college snacks, or it’s to see how zany the different ramen flavors have been, you might want to visit the Cup Noodles Museum to understand just how the one-time luxury food had come to be appreciated by the masses throughout the world.

Butter Juice

Ah, the weirdness that you can find in a Japanese food store.

I suppose it’s subjective — something weird to us isn’t necessarily unusual in its home market.

But in this case, R&D (research & development) might have gone a little overboard in the drinks category.

Late last summer, I was investigating new snacks to try at a convenience store, called konbini (コンビニ) in Japanese, when my peripheral vision caught a glimpse of this trio: a sweet potato shake, a zunda shake, and some type of buttery drink.

Let’s go with butter juice; it has a catchy but misleading ring to it.

How did it taste? Hmm ….

Japanese B-Grade Food: Hanton Rice (ハントンライス)

In a country where food packaging and displays are meticulously presented, regardless of whether you’re in a wealthy neighborhood food market or standard issue convenience store, the same idea also applies to meals.

If you go to a high-end omakase (おまかせ・お任せ) — that is, one where the chef chooses your menu — sushi restaurant, each piece will be placed onto your geta (下駄), or wooden tray, as if it were a work of art.

On the other hand, if you’re in a casual place to eat, those chefs generally don’t slouch either. It could be a beef bowl, ramen, or omuraisu, but when presented to you, it still looks like an exhibit … in a food museum anyway.

This transitions us to the Japanese genre of food called B-kyu gurume (B級 グルメ). In English, it would be translated to something like B-grade food, and refers to cheap ingredients that “appeal to the masses.” Think carnival fare, fried stuff, and things that you might have dreamed of us once, but never dared to try in the kitchen.

Hanton rice (ハントンライス) is one of those things. Hailing from the city of Kanazawa, what started off as fried fish with paprika atop an egg and pasta has become something equally carb-heavy.

Curious? The more recent version has fried shrimp, fried pork, a fried croquette, and omuraisu, basically an omelette filled with rice mixed with ketchup. For toppings, ketchup and tartar sauce were thrown into the nuttiness.

Sounds too good to be true? Perhaps ….

Yuasa, the Home of Japanese Soy Sauce

As is the case with many facets of Japanese culture, soy sauce’s ancestors hailed from China. The earliest recorded history involving the family tree saw people fermenting meat, vegetables, and soybeans in salt and water or wine, so as to preserve them during the colder months. Then, during the Han dynasty (206 BCE – 220 CE), Buddhist monks then experimented with fermenting soy beans and wheat, eventually creating a paste called jiang 奖.

But it was in the 12th century that a Zen Buddhist monk puttering about present-day Yuasa city, in Wakayama prefecture, realized that the leftover food waste from preparing miso could be extracted into a circus of liquid umami.

Last fall, I visited Yuasa to explore the birthplace of Japanese soy sauce.

Ruam Mit (รวมมิตร), The Diplomat of Thai Desserts

Maybe it’s unusual to think that today’s post is about one of my favorite desserts in the world.

Sure, when I want something sweet, I mean really sweet, it will be from Türkiye. And if I want something pseudo-healthy, it will be an Indian mango lassi.

But when in Southeast Asia, I can’t get enough of those Frankenstein’s monster’s bowls of goop, slop, and ice.

ruam mit Thai dessert food display
Cheng Sim Ei, Thai Desserts (Ruam Mit), Bangkok, Thailand

Although I didn’t know the name for the dessert until doing a little reading about, I found out that the Thai name, รวมมิตร (ruam mit), means “get together + friends.” Makes sense, because you’ve got your fruit, tubers, roots, gelatin, syrup, beans, legumes, and weird colors you may never have expected to see in a dessert, all coming together for a saccharine dalliance. So, grab some friends, grab some ladles, order a family-style — I just made that up, but try to order something that contains a little of everything — and then walk it all off in the heat.

ruam mit Thai dessert Bangkok
Cheng Sim Ei Menu, Thai Desserts (Ruam Mit), Bangkok, Thailand

Bonus: Cheng Sim Ei, by Bangkok’s City Hall, might spoil you with an English menu. For shame!

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