In the evenings along the crowded streets of the Old Quarter myriad small outdoor “kitchens” appear. Much like in all the cities and towns that we’ve seen in Vietnam, when it’s time to eat, a kitchen will pop up. So for our last dinner in Vietnam we decide to see what’s cooking and have a taste. We stop at the bustling Xoi Yen on Nguyen Huu Huan, packed with young people sitting at the rows
of tables on small red plastic stools eating bowls of rice with various toppings. A friendly server tells us in good English that it is sticky rice with sliced green bean (really a mashed bean paste) with your choice of chicken and mushrooms or (his recommendation) bright red Chinese sausage. We order one of each and sit down at the table (Don uses two red stools after our experience in Hue). Simple, starchy and tasty this is Vietnamese comfort food. We pay the bill, $4US including beer and happily head off to the next place.
The second stop is much smaller. A woman sits in front of a large cast iron griddle where she makes rice sheets, pouring on a thin batter and barely cooking it until she has a thin sheet, something like a crepe. She puts a bit of cooked ground meat in the middle and sets it in a pile. We order one plate. The man with her tells us the price by showing us the bills needed, a 10,000 and a 20,000. I’m sure we overpaid but I’m not going to argue over 50 cents. He serves us a plate of the rice sheets along with a bowl of a tangy dipping sauce with chucks of sausage and a plate of aromatics. The sides are what make the plain rice sheets flavorful.
There is a lot more to try on the streets, various kinds of mollusks, noodles and sandwiches, but with our bellies full we’ll have to save them for our next visit.