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Ngõ Nooks: A Spicy Bún Lòng Cá From Hải Phòng That Takes Guts to Try

Út Hà Quán looks nothing like the kind of traditional Hanoi street food eatery that makes it to glossy magazines and world-famous food channels. There’s no grumpy grandma, no mold on the walls and no trash on the floor.

The only dish they serve didn’t even feature in my culinary dictionary until a scorching summer’s day when a friend visiting from Saigon asked me, “What’s bún lòng cá cay?”

In short, it’s bún cá with a twist: fish guts — the latest Hải Phòng addition to Hanoi’s culinary scene besides the already hugely popular bánh mì que, bánh đa cua and bánh bèo chợ Đổ.

If you opt for the special bowl, you’ll be treated to a protein-rich feast of tastes and textures: grilled mackerel steak, crunchy local bông fish, soft-fried fish cakes and tender pig-ear and mushroom balls.

But upon closer inspection, it’s not just the chewy, grilled basa fish intestines that differentiate bún lòng cá cay from its sibling bún cá. There are no tomatoes or dill and, rather than freshwater fish, seawater varieties are sourced straight from Cát Bà Island.

If you opt for the special bowl, you’ll be treated to a protein-rich feast of tastes and textures: grilled mackerel steak, crunchy local bông fish, soft-fried fish cakes and tender pig-ear and mushroom balls. The just-a-little spicy broth, which derives its sweetness from pig shinbone, completes a dish that’s perfect for a cool rainy day.

Bún lòng cá is a Hải Phòng treat that the owner brought to Hanoi.

For extra sourness, add a splash of tamarind sauce — a testament to the owner’s hometown of Hải Phòng. And if greens are your thing, there’s shredded lettuce that Út Hà claims to have washed with "ozone."

But as I indulge in my bowl of bún lòng cá cay, surrounded by white-collar workers that fill fewer than a dozen tables inside, I can’t help but wonder: is this experience "authentic" enough? The deeper I dig in search of the nostalgia, badassery and "no fucks" attitude typical of Hanoi’s famous street eateries, the fewer "authenticity" boxes Út Hà Quán ticks.

A healthy and quick lunch option.

A waitress, who had only been working there for a month, had no exciting background story to tell. To make matters worse, the staff are very attentive; they let me wait out the rain and rushed to dry my motorbike seat as I was about to leave.

As scandalous as it sounds, Út Hà Quán has a logo and a marketing team that replies to every review they get on Facebook. In fact, with two locations now after opening their first place in June last year, it’s well on the way to becoming a chain.

A hot bowl of fish soup might be ideal for a rainy day.

Út Hà is actually part of a rising number of new-generation Hanoi street food eateries. Run by millennial owners, the chains, which charge slightly above average street food prices for added comfort, speak volumes about young Hanoians’ expectations.

And with a gorgeous one-of-a-kind dish, free Wi-Fi, friendly staff and the option of eating outside on tiny plastic stools, we might as well forget for a moment about the "authentic Hanoi experience," whatever that means!

This article was first published in 2018 on Urbanist Hanoi.

Út Hà Quán - Bún Lòng Cá Cay is open from 6am to 10 pmFind them at 14 Quang Trung and 197 Hoàng Cầu.

To sum up:

Taste: 5/5
Price: 4/5
Atmosphere: 4/5
Friendliness: 5/5
Location: 5/5

Lam Lê strongly believes everything goes well with fish sauce and she’s learning to enjoy spicy food.

Út Hà Quán - Bún Lòng Cá Cay

14 Quang Trung, Trần Hưng Đạo Ward, Hoàn Kiếm District, Hanoi

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