(VOV) - The summer in Hanoi is brutally hot and it often seems like a chore to face a bowl of steaming hot noodle soup (Phở) or a plate of rice.
How do you like your Bún?
Many believe that such dishes, by inducing sweat, actually help lower ones body temperature and help fight the heat. Not everyone feels that way. One cool and refreshing alternative is Phở Cuốn, a food resembling fresh spring rolls, but fundamentally different in a number of ways.
Another advantage that Phở Cuốn has is it's location. The most famous places to find the dish are located on Trúc Bạch lake, just opposite West Lake, Hanoi's largest lake. Trúc Bạch itself is a relatively small lake and can be circled in five minutes by motorbike or half an hour on foot. There are plenty of places that offer Phở Cuốn around the lake, but the easiest to find are on Trúc Bạch road, on the north end of the lake, or Trấn Vũ on the south end.
Finding a Phở Cuốn restaurant is not a problem, but choosing the right one sometimes is. With such a large number of these types of restaurants, there is natural competition between them. It is not uncommon for restaurant owners to jump in front of your cab or motorbike in a desperate attempt to get you to come to their shop. "Stop, you want Phở Cuốn..." one young man told me putting his hands on the dashboard of my motorbike pleadingly - as it turns out he was right.
Phở Cuốn consists of a slightly cooked rice paper shell the same thickness as a Phở noodle. Inside this soft shell is a selection of herbs and greens - mainly cilantro, mustard leaf, and lettuce - and thinly sliced beef that has been cooked with garlic and generous amounts of pepper. It is served cold with a bowl of fish sauce, garlic, carrots, raddish, vinegar, boiled water, chilli and some sugar for dipping.
Once dipped in the sauce the taste of Phở Cuốn contains many of the fundamental elements of Vietnamese cuisine: slightly sweet and spicy but light and fresh. The dish is served cold and has the effect of a hearty salad on one's appetite leaving plenty of room for a few cheeky beers or to try some other delights that many of these restaurants offer like Phở Chiên. Phở Chiên is similarily light summer fair; it uses the same rice noodle paper as Phở Cuốn but is sliced into squares, stacked, and deep fried. It is topped with the same garlicky beef as well as field cabbage and it is recommended that one dip it in the Phở Cuốn sauce. It has a crispy exterior but a delicate center, it is reminiscent of a fresh savory donut.
Hours can easily slip by sitting cross legged on bamboo mats as one enjoys the cool breeze of the lake and a few plates of Phở Cuốn with friends. You see a different, more relaxed side of Hanoi, as old men fish and young couples paddle along leisurely in swan boats. It is the ideal place to wile away one's time under the shade of a tree and await the cooling relief of evening.
The Phở Cuốn restaurants on Trúc Bạch are open from early afternoon till about nine or ten at night. The cost for a plate of about twenty Phở Cuốn, a plate of Phở Chiên, and four beers is just over VND200,000 (Ú$10). For the relief it offers from the heat, it's a steal.
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