Hanoi's awesome autumnal brunch: ‘Banh duc nong’

By Quynh Trang   October 15, 2016 | 09:00 am PT
The thick, savory rice porridge has warmed bellies for over fifty years.

Right around this time, Hanoi's dreary monsoon rain becomes a pleasant drizzle.

The capital remains cool and cloudy, inviting denizens to sleep in and breakfast late.

Few dishes compliment this change of seasons better than banh duc nong -- a thick, savory rice porridge lovingly beaten out by tough old ladies in Hanoi's slender alleways.

“It’s the dish to relish in the breezy afternoons of early autumn.” poet, revolutionary spy and proto foodie Vu Bang wrote in the 1950s.  

Savored by both blue and white collars in the lean '80s, the dish continues to carry the names “a meal for the penniless” and “the mediocrity of every family gathering.”  

Following Mr. Bang’s advice, VnExpress International decided to dive deep into this dish.

Alley 8, Le Ngoc Han Street

A tiny sign on Le Ngoc Han Street's Alley 8 leads one directly to Mrs. Noi’s home. The woman and her family have served the dish for ages and have come to be regarded as banh duc royalty.

Narrow alleyway to the ultimate banh duc nong getaway

Narrow alleyway to the ultimate ‘banh duc nong’ getaway.

By 10 a.m., Noi rushes through her customers offering a quick nod that lacks even a hint of a smile. Mr. Noi works security, her daughter hawked bowls, her sister tallies checks.

The belly-warming breakfast served here has a consistency not unlike hot peanut butter brought to life with light fish sauce, ground pork, fried tofu and a confetti of cilantro, wood ear mushroom and fried shallots.


10 a.m at Mrs. Noi's.

Middle-aged workers fill her living room from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. every day, to take a slow brunch on a plastic stool arranged under rows of family photographs. Amid the steamy atmosphere, they start their day dense for a mere VND15,000 ($0.7). When asked how many years this has gone on, Mrs. Noi replied abruptly: “decades”.

A bowl of original banh duc nong with rich toppings

A bowl of banh duc nong loaded with the works.

Alleyway 46C, Pham Ngoc Thach Street

Mrs. Minh’s family remains hard at work continuing the tradition of Hanoi's banh duc nong brunch in an old dormitory yard southwest of the cityAs you enter the narrow alley, mid-afternoon, look for the sign dangling from a skinny tree and scrawled with a phone number for take-away orders.

Next queue up for a spot on the long wooden bench where Minh's more conscientious customers rush through their bowl in 10 minutes or less to offer a seat to those standing behind them.

"Wait right there; two minutes!" Minh's husband cried on a recent morning as a line of couples, mostly in their late fifties, cheerfully obliged. While Minh slings the hot stuff, the poor old man juggles the orders coming into his cell phone and the narrow stretch of pavement where customers park.

Minh's banh duc nong is a meal fit for purists: nothing but porridge, minced pork and fish sauce.

The little stall fills hundreds of stomachs every day; her customers are mostly office workers and schoolkids studying nearby. At around 5 p.m. Minh's husband flips the sign over.

"Closed" only three hours after opening.

Banh duc nong: call for takeaway!

Banh duc nong: call for takeaway!

The tiny stall that sells out within three hours

This tiny stall sells out within three hours.

Photos by VnExpress/Quynh Trang

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