How Hanoians Cook and Eat
There is a very good reason for beginning with Hanoian cooking. Ha Noi has been a centre of Vietnamese culture for many centuries. As early as the third century BC, the Au Loc Kingdom chose Co Loa on the suburbs of present-day Ha Noi to be its capital. Since Viet Nam regained its independence in 939 from 1,000 years of Chinese rule, different Vietnamese governments have chosen Hi Néi as the capital city of the country, except the Dinh in the 10th century and the Nguyen in the late 19th and first half of the 20th century. The multiple layers of this long history form the foundation on which Hanoian cooking rests.
Ha Noi’s foods are described in early historical records. In his book Du Dia Chi (Viet Nam’s Geography) published in the early 15th century Nguyen Trai listed some well-known foods and drinks of the capital city at the time, such as lotus liquor, chrysanthemum liquor from Hoang Mai and Binh Trong Villages, sdcky rice liquor from Dong Thai Village, litchis from Quang Liet Village, and anabases (a kind of fish) from Thanh Liet Village.
I suddenly realised that Ha Noi had changed a lot: the streets, houses and clothes. One thing remained unchanged, though: the foods Hanoians eat.”Hanoian youths may be wearing modem suits, T-shirts or jeans, but they still enjoy eating traditional dishes such as Banh Chung (square sticky rice cake), Pho (flat rice noodles with chicken or beef), Banh Cuon Thanh Tri (Thanh Tri raviolis), Bun Cha (round rice noodles with grilled pork) and Bun Oc (round rice noodles with boiled snails). Popular Hanoian dishes, often associated with a place name or a particular cook, include Banh Cuon Thanh Tri (Thanh Tri raviolis); Banh Giay Quan Thanh (Quan Ganh round sticky rice cake); Com Vong (Vong young green rice); Banh Com Hang Than (Hang Than young green rice cake); Bun Thang (round rice noodle soup with chicken, crab and pork); and Pho Thin (Thin flat rice noodle soup).
Ha Noi cooks can easily prepare good foods because they have almost all the ingredients they need directly from the markets all around town. Everyday tonnes of food supplies pour in from Ha Noi’s suburbs and other provinces: aromatic rice from neighbouring provinces, pork from Mong Cai (Quang Ninh Province), cods and crabs from Hai Phong, longans from Hung Yen, tea from Thai Nguyen, and mushrooms from the mountains of Long Son.
As inhabitants of the century-old royal capital of the country, Ha Noi housewives have inherited the cooking style previously reserved for kings and senior mandarins. Hi Noi’s cooking has, over the course of centuries, become a refined att. For example, cooks often carefully remove the dead seeds from the bean sprouts used for making stuffing for spring rolls, or in some dishes where lettuce is used, they remove the midribs and the stalks before cutting the leaves into very thin threads.
Flavouring the food is an important part of Hanoian cooking. Each dish has its own spices and garnishes: lemon leaves and peppered salt for boiled chicken; balm mint and chilli for snails; sweet marjoram for bun noodle soup with rice field crabs; shrimp paste and belostomatid for rice noodles with sliced meat, eggs and pork pie; grapefruit perfume for rice dumplings and round rice cakes; garlic for duck; and ginger for beef.
For traditional Hanoians, the way one dines is no less important than the food itself, Because they consider it an occasion for friends and relatives to meet and share, connoisseurs and ordinary folk alike have certain rituals that surround a meal. For example, they will eat and drink little by little to savour all the flavours of the different dishes, Too often, in the rush of modern life this traditional way of eating is vulgarised, as when people devour their food without really appreciating or even really tasting what they ate eating.
In general, Hi Noi’s cooking has improved a lot since the end of the Viet Nam War. With a life and better income, Hanoians have revived many old dishes which they had to drop during the war, when a stomach-filling meal was more important than a stylish but scanty one. What is more, Hanoian cooking is becoming more diversified as it is influenced by French, Italian, Russian and Thai cooking, as Viet Nam is now part of the world community. The next challenge will be to preserve the distinct style of traditional Hanoian cooking without keeping it from absorbing the best elements Of other cooking traditions.