Sticky rice for a sticky night

By Pham Van   August 17, 2016 | 03:00 pm PT
An inseparable part of Hanoi's nocturnal gastronomy.

Vietnam is mostly a rural country where life centers around a cereal: rice. It’s the main energy provider for the Vietnamese, the way wheat is to a Westerner. It’s boiled to become ‘com’, the base food in every Vietnamese meal, or transformed into all kinds of noodles like the flat 'pho' and spaghetti shaped ‘bun’ and the flattened ‘banh trang’ (‘banh da nem’ in the northern dialect) used to wrap spring rolls. The kind of rice used to make these foods is called ‘te’. The other kind used make the traditional ‘banh chung’ and Vietnamese liquor is ‘nep’. It also rises from the steam to make the famous sticky rice known as ‘xoi’ we are about to serve you.

‘Xoi’ (steamed sticky rice) has been a go-to breakfast option for Vietnamese for centuries. It features in many rituals as an offering, be it a wedding or a funeral.

As a city grows, its life stretches further into the night to serve those who work night shifts and those whose day shifts keep them stuck between walls and computers. Many breakfast dishes have followed suit and also become supper. ‘Xoi’ is one of them.

Xoi Yen

At the intersection of Hang Bac, Hang Mam and Nguyen Huu Huan lies a crowded restaurant known to all Hanoians, Xoi Yen. Visitors are recommended to take a trip here for the authentic ‘xoi ga’, a perfect combination of ‘xoi’ and boiled chicken, a mix hailed even by locals, who are no stranger to both. ‘Xoi xeo’, with its attractive turmeric inspired yellow color, is covered in ground steamed green beans, fried shallots and fat. Boiled chicken (‘ga luoc'), shredded and ripped off bone, tops the dish with a sprinkle of lime leaves. Served with pickled cucumber, the dish has satisfied countless hungry stomachs.

‘Xeo ga’, as it’s often called, though famous, is not the only option at Xoi Yen. The eatery also offers ‘xoi’ with corn, ‘xoi’ with coconut, basic white ‘xoi’, and scores of toppings such as pate, Chinese sausage and ‘thit kho tau’ (caramelized braised pork), to name but a few, for a variety of sticky experiences.

As a rule of thumb, good food goes with a long queue, so take this as a guarantee rather than an annoyance. So be patient while you wait your turn to pay VND15,000 ($0.7) - VND50,000 ($2.3) for a bowl of late night pleasure.

Xoi Loc

Xoi Loc is located at 68 Ta Quang Buu, a fair way south of the famous Hoan Kiem Lake. The place opens late at 6 p.m. and closes “early” at 6 a.m. It’s the scent of the much praised fried pork wafting through the night that attracts the night owls. Adorning the bowl of white ‘xoi’ are homemade side dishes: pickled green papaya and fried shallots. To ease the monotony of only fried pork, diners can order extra toppings similar to those available at Xoi Yen.

A standard portion of ‘xoi’ at Loc will set you back VND30,000 ($1.4).

Xoi xiu

Xoi xiu is not actually its official name, but rather an improvised one based on its favorite dish: ‘xa xiu’. ‘Xa xiu’ is a variation of fried pork accompanied by a special mix of spices used to season the meat. A bowl of ‘xoi’ and ‘xa xiu’ pairs well with an omelet, ‘thit kho tau’ or pork floss. Sitting on Yen Phu Street, Xoi xiu is just a few steps from West Lake and right on the edge of the Old Quarter, giving anyone a chance to have a taste without venturing too far from their comfort zones.

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