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Ngõ Nooks: Bún Cá With a Twist That Takes Guts to Try

Ut Ha Quan looks nothing like the kind of traditional Hanoi street food eatery that makes it to glossy magazines and world-famous food channels. There’s no grumpy grandma, no mold on the walls and no trash on the floor.

The only dish they serve didn’t even feature in my culinary dictionary until a scorching summer’s day when a friend visiting from Saigon asked me, “What’s bún lòng cá cay?”

In short, it’s bún cá (fish noodles) with a twist: fish guts — the latest Hai Phong addition to Hanoi’s culinary scene besides the already hugely popular bánh mì que (spicy stick sandwich), bánh đa cua (red noodles with crab) and bánh bèo chợ Đổ (steamed rice cake).

But upon closer inspection, it’s not just the chewy, grilled basa fish intestines that differentiate bún lòng cá cay from its sibling bún cá. There are no tomatoes or dill and, rather than freshwater fish, seawater varieties are sourced straight from Cat Ba Island.

If you opt for the VND55,000 special bowl, you’ll be treated to a protein-rich feast of tastes and textures: grilled mackerel steak, crunchy local bông fish, soft-fried fish cakes and tender pig-ear and mushroom balls. The just-a-little spicy broth, which derives its sweetness from pig shinbone, completes a dish that’s perfect for a cool rainy day.

For extra sourness, add a splash of tamarind sauce - a testament to the owner’s hometown of Hai Phong. And if greens are your thing, there’s shredded lettuce that Ut Ha claim to wash with ‘ozone.’

But as I indulge in my bowl of bún lòng cá cay, surrounded by white-collar workers that fill less than a dozen tables inside, I can’t help but wonder: is this experience ‘authentic’ enough? The deeper I dig in search of the nostalgia, badassery and 'no fucks' attitude typical of Hanoi’s famous street eateries, the fewer ‘authenticity’ boxes Ut Ha Quan ticks.

A waitress, who had only been working there for a month, had no exciting background story to tell. To make matters worse, the staff are very attentive; they let me wait out the rain and rushed to dry my motorbike seat as I was about to leave.

As scandalous as it sounds, Ut Ha Quan has a logo and a marketing team that replies to every review they get on Facebook. In fact, with two locations now after opening their first place in June last year, it’s well on the way to becoming a chain.

Ut Ha is actually part of a rising number of new-generation Hanoi street food eateries. Run by millennial owners, the chains, which charge slightly above average street food prices for added comfort, speak volumes about young Hanoians’ expectations.

And with a gorgeous one-of-a-kind dish, free Wi-Fi, friendly staff and the option of eating outside on tiny plastic stools, we might as well forget for a moment about the ‘authentic Hanoi experience,’ whatever that means!

Ut Ha Quan - Bun Long Ca Cay is open from 6am to 10 pmFind them at 14 Quang Trung and 61 Quan Su.

 

To sum up:

Taste: 5/5

Price: 4/5

Atmosphere: 4/5

Friendliness: 5/5

Location: 5/5

 

Lam Le strongly believes everything goes well with fish sauce and she’s learning to enjoy spicy food.

Bun Long Ca Cay

14 Quang Trung

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