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Hẻm Gems: A Secret Back-Alley Bún Ngan, Hidden in Plain Sight

Several months ago, the Saigoneer team went to 89 Nguyen Du for a Hẻm Gem on Ngo 89’s Hanoian snacks. Little did I know, we’d be going to the same location for an entirely different eatery later on.

Quan Thuy is a parallel universe of Ngo 89. Despite being open for breakfast and lunch, the space is quite dark, as it's located three meters from the entrance occupied by a bún bò stall, and the only sources of artificial light comes from a fluorescent tube attached to the top of a cart and an LED light bulb hanging on the wall. On the contrary, Ngo 89, which opens from the afternoon until late, is always radiant and busy, and even more so when their projector is turned on during football season.

Despite the presence of a big sign outside, a passerby can easily miss Quan Thuy, which comprises of a cart and four tables, as the crowded bún bò stall in front might block one's view of what's located inside. Since we first moved our office to the neighborhood, it had never occurred to me to walk inside, as I don't want to catch the bún bò lady's attention and then have to politely turn down her offer. Not until now, when Saigon's year-end cool breeze induces a craving for a light, hot noodle soup.

Quan Thuy’s main dish is bún ngan, a noodle soup made with muscovy duck meat and bamboo shoots. Unlike bún mọc and bún cá rô đồng, two northern dishes that existed in Saigon long before I was born, or bún chả and bún đậu mắm tôm, Hanoian favorites that are taking over Saigon, bún ngan remains a rarity in the city.

The capital enjoys a ubiquity of dishes with ngan (muscovy duck) as the main ingredient, such as ngan cháy tỏi (pan-fried ngan with garlic), boiled ngan dipped in sauce, miến ngan trộn (dry glass noodles with ngan); and bún ngan is one of the most famous. The muscovy duck is reared in large numbers in many northern provinces, with the two most common types being ngan Ré, which has white feathers, and ngan Sen, which has white feathers with black spots. Despite being native to Mexico, Central, and South America, an alternative name for the muscovy in Vietnamese is vịt xiêm (Siamese duck). Ngan are typically bigger and meatier than ducks and chicken, and their meat is lean, firm and packed with flavor.

Bún ngan is the combination of a delicious duck broth simmered with sauteed fresh and dried bamboo shoots and bún, topped with bamboo shoots, ngan meat, spring onions and cilantro. Not having eaten the dish before in my life, Quan Thuy’s bún ngan was a great introduction to the dish. I walked out of the eatery with a note to self to try bún ngan the next time I'm in Hanoi.

One of the most interesting features of the dish is the broth, which carries a pleasant sour aftertaste from the bamboo shoot. The sweet ginger fish sauce and chili sauce for dipping was a nice surprise, as it’s not sweet like the Cholimex hot sauce that Saigoneers are all too familiar with. Thuy, the eatery owner, also offers a glass noodle variation of the dish, although I feel like bún's natural acidity goes better with bamboo shoots and the broth. If you’re a bamboo shoot fanatic like me, opt for bún măng, which has more of them, maximizing total happiness.

To sum up:

Taste: 5/5

Price: 5/5 — VND35,000 per portion.

Atmosphere: 4/5

Friendliness: 5/5

Location: 5/5

Thi believes that happiness starts with sautéing garlic in hot oil.

Bún, miến ngan

89 Nguyen Du, Ben Nghe Ward, D1

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