Monsoon munchies: exploring Hanoi's fried winter treats

By Nguyen Chi   November 25, 2023 | 02:20 am PT
As the monsoon sweeps through northern Vietnam, Hanoians quench the irresistible waves of cold-weather cravings by indulging in oily, crispy caloric delights like sweet honey rice balls and savory banh xeo.

Honey rice balls

Những món bánh chiên nóng hổi cho ngày lạnh

Honey rice balls are coated in sweet, fragrant cooked sugar. Photo by VnExpress/Nguyen Chi

Banh ran (fried rice balls) are available throughout the year, but it's only when the hungry seek shelter from the cold monsoon breeze arrives that the true deliciousness of this dish manifests itself on the tongue.

These bite-sized snacks feature a shiny brown crust achieved through a cooked sugar coating. They contain a filling of pureed green beans and grated coconut, contributing a nutty aroma and a sweet taste.

When you shake the balls, you can feel the vibrations of the fillings inside. This experience adds to the overall enjoyment of eating the meticulously crafted treat.

Vendors on Hang Chieu, Luong Ngoc Quyen, and Thai Thinh serve bustling crowds in the early afternoons as customers await their turn to savor these treats piping hot alongside a cup of warm tea.

Potato, banana and corn fritters

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Potato, banana and corn fritters served on a piece of paper in Hanoi. Photo by VnExpress/Nguyen Chi

As the cold weather sets in, potato fritters, banana fritters, and corn fritters flow from roadside stalls often near school gates. Customers often gather in groups and enjoy the steaming food as the seller fries more fritters in a pan of smoking hot oil.

Banana fritters are made by flattening a whole fruit, coating it in flour, and then deep-frying it until crispy on the outside. The bananas should be both sweet on the inside and not too ripe that they lose their exterior sourness. The fritters should not be overly oily, and the crust should be crispy and hot when served.

Potato fritters are made using thinly sliced potatoes. Two to three slices of these potatoes are dipped in a batter made from flour before frying them into fritters.

On the other hand, corn fritters involve a detailed process of separating corn kernels and mixing them with flour and sugar. They are then spooned into a hot frying pan for cooking.

These fritters not only appeal to eaters with their visually appealing yellow color, they also offer a combination of contrasting flavors. They incorporate the sweetness of sweet potatoes, corn, or bananas, along with the crispy aroma of flour and a hint of spiciness from chili dipping sauce.

Savory fried rice balls

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Savory fried rice balls coated in a chili sauce sold on Lac Long Quan Street. Photo by VnExpress/Nguyen Chi

Savory fried rice balls are distinct from the honey version, despite sharing similar looks. The ball is shaped to encase a filling that includes meat, vermicelli, and wood ear mushrooms. It’s then fried in oil.

People typically eat these by dipping them in sweet and sour fish sauce. The side dishes accompanying these salty refreshments include papaya, pickles, and raw vegetables.

Many well-known eateries, located on streets such as Ly Quoc Su, Phuong Mai, Hang Chieu, Tran Xuan Soan, and Ngo Thi Nham, offer this dish.

In Alley 242, Lac Long Quan Street, there's a tucked-away eatery where throngs of patrons enjoy savory donuts served with a sweet and sour chili sauce, alongside papaya and pickled carrots. Given its popularity, it's common for customers to wait for 15-30 minutes.

Banh xeo (crispy pancakes)

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Banh xeo is often served with lots of herbs and a side of sweet and sour sauce. Photo by VnExpress/Nguyen Chi

Banh xeo, though not native to the north, has captured the hearts of Hanoi diners. These pancakes have been adapted from their original southern flavors to northern tastes with reduced ingredients and a rebalanced dipping sauce.

These crispy pancakes feature a thin, crispy crust and a filling of shrimp, fatty pork and fresh bean sprouts. Diners often cut the banh xeo into small pieces and create rolls by enveloping chunks of pancake in rice paper. Raw vegetables, green bananas, pineapple, and other ingredients are also stuffed into the cigar-like creations. The rolls are then dipped in a sweet and sour sauce.

This dish is available at eateries throughout the capital on Cau Dat, Doi Can, Ham Long, Ton Duc Thang, and Hang Bo streets.

Shrimp cakes

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Customers can order fried dumplings to enjoy along with shrimp cakes. Photo by VnExpress/Nguyen Chi

The famed West-Lake-style shrimp cake, a cornerstone of Hanoi cuisine, features small, crispy-fried shrimp atop warm deep-fried dough, served with sweet and sour fish sauce, raw vegetables, and pickles.

The shrimp cake is commonly as large as a hand and then sliced in half to create bite-sized portions.

Notable spots for this dish include eateries on Thanh Nien and Hang Bo streets, as well as Miss Am at Dong Xuan Market. Besides shrimp cakes, these places also offer fried dumplings as side dishes.

Fried chung cake (square rice cake)

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Chung cake, when fried, achieves a crispy texture and is typically served with pickles. Photo by VnExpress/Nguyen Chi

While chung cake is typically associated with Lunar New Year, it remains a beloved breakfast and afternoon snack for Hanoians. You can find vendors frying small palm-sized banh chung on metal trays at markets throughout the city.

These cakes feature a filling that includes green beans and a hint of fatty meat. The appeal lies in the crispy crust that cradles a soft and fragrant interior. Paired with pickles, chili sauce, and sausages, it provides a warmth and comfort – a taste of holidays at home with family – during the chills of the monsoon season.

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