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Ngõ Nooks: From Nam Định, a Piquant Bánh Đa With Golden Fried Fish

On Quán Thánh Street, a lovely couple enhances their hometown’s specialty, bánh đa cua, with a fishy touch. Adding fried fish to bánh đa cua is a rather uncommon combination, but it helps their restaurant stand out.

The humble shop front of Hùng Bún Cá.

Down the one-way street of Quán Thánh, Hùng Bún Cá stands on the right side at 188/4. But construction next door blocks the shop front from lines of sight, so there is a good chance your nose may find the stall before your eyes, as Hùng prepares their signature deep-fried fish right outside on the pavement.

The bowl of bánh đa cá that's overflowing with diverse toppings.

Plenty of ingredients go into a bowl of bánh đa cá here. One can choose between red or white bánh đa and a variety of toppings such as beef, fish cake, morning glory and scallions. Customers typically look and point at their desired type of noodles and ingredients because there isn’t a menu. And according to Trang, Hùng’s wife and partner at the eatery, adding fried fish to bánh đa cua is what differentiates her shop from others.

Trang (left) and Hùng (right) hail from Hành Thiện Village in Nam Định, the "holy ground" of nearly all bánh đa cua vendors in Hanoi.

“We used to sell bánh đa cua on the street, but it was very hard so we opened this restaurant instead. Then I thought about adding fried fish to make the dish more interesting. [It's] still the same broth as before but people seem to like it. Other ingredients are just extra, the main thing is the fish," Trang tells me in Vietnamese.

Any noodle soup won't be complete without a flavorful broth.

Even with their special addition, no bowl of bánh đa, or any noodle soup for that matter, is complete without its soul: the broth. “We wake up at 4am; I make the broth with crab paste and bone stock slow-boiled from the night before, while my husband prepares the fish and vegetables once the vendors bring them over. We have to work from 4am to 6am to have things to sell. Then we sell noodles till 2pm. Once the shop slows down, he takes a nap while I start to peel shallots," Trang says of their typical business day.

Every day Trang processes some 5 kilograms of shallots to deep fry to sprinkle on top of her noodle bowls.

Every day Trang peels an impressive 5 kilograms of shallots, which when fried give a distinct aroma to bánh đa. Trang says she does it herself without buying pre-fried shallots to maximize the freshness. “Even the leftover oil from frying the shallot I mix into chili sauce. We never save the oil for the next day,” she adds.

How a bowl of bánh đa cá comes to be.

Hùng and Trang both came from Hành Thiện Village in Nam Định, which has a long tradition of making bánh đa cua. Trang says that whoever sells this dish, whether on the street or in a shop, most likely comes from her village. “I learned the dish from those before me. And I taught others how to make it as well. People just learn from each other like that…You know Hàng Chĩnh Street? All of the famous bánh đa cua shops are from my village. I do it the same way as others, the only difference is that I add fried fish. But the core is the same.”

If this doesn't make you drool, what will?

A bowl of noodles here costs VND40,000. Hùng Bún Cá is open from 6am to 6pm.

To sum up:

Taste: 4/5
Price: 5/5
Atmosphere: 4/5
Friendliness: 5/5
Location: 4.5/5

Hùng Bún Cá

188/4 Quán Thánh, Ba Đình District, Hanoi

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