The A4 block of Thanh Cong resident area is almost absent in all the travel guides’ “must-try” list, but its culinary diversity attracts numerous Hanoi’s foodies every day.
Its food court is held on a yard in front of a kindergarten inside an alley off Thanh Cong Street. The yard serves as both the dining area and parking lot.
The setting might not seem so elegant, but I always prefer eating in the open without odors from a kitchen. There are huge trees providing shade, meaning sitting in the yard is preferable even during summer.
You can sit at any table and order food from any stall.
Most food stalls serve a wide range of Vietnamese snacks catering to both meat lovers and herbivores.
You can start with some dried beef salad. The typical Vietnamese salad is made from shredded carrot and papaya, dried and seasoned beef, liver and peanuts. To eat it, you should first mix the ingredients until the vegetables are drenched in the dressing made from fish sauce, vinegar and sugar. In another version, pig’s ear replaces dried beef as the main ingredient.
Another snack choice is pig’s ear rolls. Order the dish and you will get a plate of ingredients and a DIY (Do it yourself) experience. Take some slices of pig’s ear, pineapple, green banana and fig leaves, and make as big a roll as you want. The dipping sauce completes the dish, so don’t forget to dunk the roll in the sweet and sour sauce.
If you prefer rice-based foods, you can order a dozen banh bot loc, a type of dumpling filled with ground pork, shrimp and mushroom. The dumplings are complemented by fish sauce and spicy greens.
Chicken’s feet is a snack loved by young Hanoians. The feet are often marinated in vinegar, lemongrass and chili. With its unique savory taste and crunchy texture, the dish seems to fly off the shelves.
Besides these, the stalls also serve other popular snacks like fried fermented pork, fried potatoes, cheese sticks, and steamed snails.
If you arrive in time for dinner, the food court has many options for you. Top of the list must be clam porridge cooked with meat broth and ground rice. The rich, sweet taste of the clam and flawlessly white porridge are an ideal nutrition boost for the evening.
There are also various versions of noodles like bun bo Hue beef noodles, crab vermicelli and eel noodles.
One of the specialties of the place is the mixed eel vermicelli, a combination of poached vermicelli, fried eel slices, tofu, sausage, and vegetables. It often comes with a sizzling bowl of eel broth.
The restaurants here can satisfy the pickiest of customers: they offer “your choice” of dishes allowing you to customize them by adding or excluding ingredients.
Che, or sweet soup, is the queen of this food court when it comes to sugary dishes. Go to a che stall right away if you have a craving. It could satisfy your sweet tooth with 20 different sweet soup options ranging from traditional Vietnamese versions to trendy dishes with a foreign twist.
Kidney red bean and tofu soup are my favorite at these stalls, but the xoa xoa hat luu (rainbow sweet soup) is also a recommended option. The sweet soup can also be customized: you could just point to the glass case with colorful ingredients to get your own dessert.
The food court remains open from 6 a.m to 9 p.m. A single portion of almost any dish costs VND15,000 – 50,000 ($0.64 – 2.14).
Story and photos by Bao Ngoc