I feel like I’ve rediscovered Asia. I’m eating one of the most complex foods I’ve had since I touched down on this side of the Pacific. It’s called Banh Da Cua Da Lieu (Crab and Brown Noodle Soup), and it’s one of Hanoi’s most iconic dishes. Hanoi just feels so right.
I’ve got a lot to dig into. Wide fettuccine-shaped rice noodles. Finely ground, dark – almost sandy – crab meat. Mysterious fish cakes. Fresh stalks and leaves of coriander. A single, gorgeous, tiger prawn. An abundance of morning glories growing larger as they soak up the salty broth. Chopped scallions. Soggy sautéed onions. Thinly sliced Maitake mushrooms. I think there are some diced tomatoes in here too. The most glorious ingredient in this soup is a first for me, and damn is it nice to be introduced to it. Là Lòt (or “lah loht”) is ground pork seasoned with cumin and wrapped in wild betel leaves, then submerged under all the goodness I’ve listed before this. Oh my god.
I’m adding the juice of one squeezed calamansi and a few slices of chopped red chilis for a bit of sour and a bit of a kick, respectively. There’s another unfamiliar thing on my right hand side, it’s a paste with a bright – almost nuclear – orange color. I’m going for it. Spicy, but subtle. Next slurp… Cough cough. My eyes are tearing now. A few chili seeds just hit the back of my throat. This meal is hitting all my spots.
Photo: An exciting bowl of Banh Da Cua Da Lieu. (Old Quarter, Hanoi, Vietnam).