Around Hanoi in 30 dishes #9: Bánh Tôm

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I realise I am kind of resurrecting this blog from the grave having not updated it in a long time (did that sound like I’m blogging as a dead person?). However writing these words while back in the UK for a few months, its amazing how nostalgia spurs you into action, making you appreciate things that you didn’t consider the value of before. This post has been itching to fly for five months and was only completed today. There’s so much good food on the Hanoi streets and I would be stupid to ignore it any longer. Lets eat.

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You wont find a fitter sea critter fritter.

Vietnam is a land of cakes, yet not all of them are sweet.

You may have noticed that lot of Vietnamese dishes are preceded by the word ‘Bánh’, to which ‘cake’ is the closest translation. The word is not used exclusively for dessert dishes as is normally the case in the West. other examples include Bánh cuốnBánh mì (more on these later) The featured dish today is a ‘Bánh’ of the shellfish kind: shrimp cakes, a cake that Hanoians can be justly proud of.

A drive on my motorbike up a left-turning on Xuân Diệu road (a.k.a. the ‘Beverly Hills’ of Hanoi) leads to a more sedate bank of West Lake complete with a temple and a long line of Bánh Tôm joints. When they all group together like this, you know you’re in a good place. Maybe Milton Friedman was right, such intense competition in a confined area has usually meant higher quality.

Choosing a good place to eat is always a difficult task when there are so many stalls selling the same thing. I normally walk past the closest restaurant to the most popular road leading to the area. Those places do well enough with passing trade and as such do not need to maintain loyal customers through the quality of their food. Of course guidebooks will tell you to go to the place most popular with the locals, but that doesn’t account for change. How do customers manage to leave the complacent and overrated places behind if they are the ones people are always told to go to?

Crunchy and chewy

I digress. Rocking up with a friend, we choose the one with the right combination of friendly staff, cleanliness and furiously eating people. We order several and eat them with dipping sauce, coriander and wash it down with a beer. The fritters are fried with the shell still on… Crun-chewy. There are still those who try and take the shell off while eating these, but I would also bet good money that the same people watch this programme.

After a hearty pit stop at the fried crustacean station, stroll outside, gaze at the lake view and sigh. You’ve just found the quietest spot in Hanoi.

Also check out Piklet & pie’s amazing feature on the same dish.

Address: Close to Phủ Tây Hồ, Bến Nhật Bản streetTây Hồ district

Price: 6,000 VND per cake

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