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Ngõ Nooks: Slurping Thick Noodles and Seafood at Banh Canh Ghe Ut Coi

A whiff of the ocean hits you before you even step foot onto the street. In this curious corner between Quang Trung and Nha Chung, a new form of restaurant exemplifies the vitality and variety of Hanoi’s street food.

Street food enthusiasts might be a little disconcerted at first by the setting of Bánh Canh Ghẹ Út Còi; it is, essentially, a resourceful hybrid between the usual gritty, humble food vendors and more hygienic, sanitized restaurants. Here, you get the best of both worlds: the thrill of squatting and crouching while feasting and watching the street, or, if you feel like it, the quietude of sitting up straight in an air-conditioned space.

We near the restaurant and get uncomfortable in the seating of our choice — outside, vendor-style, stooping over plastic stools and tables. A couple of young waiters in brown uniforms approach us and take our order. They move swiftly, even when transferring bulks of hot soup on a flimsy tray. They also carry warm, naive smiles that differ from the reserved and professional tone of a high-end restaurant.

The menu is simple yet broad-ranging. All of the options fit neatly on an oval piece of cardboard with colorful graphics. Their signature is bánh canh ghẹ – thick noodles steeped in crab stock that originates from central Vietnam. For side dishes, there’s also bánh bột lọc, a traditional translucent rice snack filled with shrimp and minced pork, and phở cuốn, sheets of phở noodle wrapped around fresh vegetables and shrimp. We go with the signature dish, the meal that brings the crowds here.

The hardest bit about the entire experience is the wait. The eatery is packed during lunch hours as throngs of office workers from around the area flock to the restaurant. The table next to us ordered first and, naturally, their food arrived before ours. The sweet yet salty, mouth-watering scent of crab gets all the waiting tables craning their necks out to see if it’s their order.

Finally, it arrives. The vibrant, almost brick-red color of the broth marries well with the umami fragrance. Crab meat coats the noodles, two pieces of chả, two quail eggs, and a plump peeled shrimp. And then there’s the broth, which has a pleasing, almost gelatin viscosity, which provides its body and ability to glaze the noodles.

It also makes picking up the noodles a struggle. Bánh canh is already a slippery type of noodle. Its thickness only allows you to fish out a couple of lengths at a time, and with silkiness from both their texture and the broth, some of these will fall off. At times, you might be left with no noodles at all on your chopsticks!

But the effort is worth it. The broth has a wholesome sweet-and-salty flavor that lingers in every part of your palate, even after you finish eating. The crab meat almost melts under the warmth of your tongue. The noodles have just the right firmness and bounciness to release the juiciness of the dish. The combination is so hearty and fulfilling that you might even forget about the shrimp, chả and quail eggs.

Bánh Canh Ghẹ Út Còi represents a new wave of street food that’s spreading across Hanoi. It shows how the city’s street food scene is ever-present. Although the original generations of some conventional eateries are fading away, foodies will always find a way to innovate the capital’s cuisine, adapting to new demands while sustaining its essence.

You can find Bánh Canh Ghẹ Út Còi at 2B Quang Trung. They open from 8.30am to 2.30pm and again from 5pm to 10pm. 

 

To sum up:

Taste: 5/5

Price: 5/5

Atmosphere: 4/5

Friendliness: 5/5

Location: 4/5 

Linh is 50% coffee and 50% whatever Hanoian snacks she's able to eat.

Bánh canh ghẹ and bánh bột lọc

2B Quang Trung, Hoan Kiem

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