If it ain’t broke don’t fix it.
One of the more moronic and backward pieces of homespun philosophy right there, folks.
Why does something have to be broke for it to be improved upon? Was the mobile phone broke before we had the iPhone? Was candlelight broke before we had electricity? Was Playboy broke before we had Pornhub? Fuck no. People who innovate and think bigger drive us forward as a species. There are no sacred cows that can’t be hung, drawn and quartered in the name of progress.
Fusion food has been a huge part of culinary innovation for years, and there are plenty of bold, new creations being whipped up in Hanoi’s kitchens these days.
So leave your preconceived notions of right and wrong at the door culinary Luddites, and prepare to have your mind expanded and your appetite whetted.
Cha Ca Pizza
It’s no surprise that Pizza 4P’s is one of the restaurants not afraid to push the boundaries of cuisine. It is, after all, a Japanese-owned chain operating in Vietnam and serving Italian food, so innovation and trying new things comes naturally.
One of the newest additions to the Pizza 4P’s menu is cha ca pizza. For the uninitiated, cha ca is a fish dish which is hugely popular in Hanoi, featuring carp or catfish fillets which are marinated in a turmeric sauce before being fried with dill and spring onion and served with rice noodles. And pizza is pizza.
Yoshihiko Iwasaki, Pizza 4P’s Hanoi manager, says the chain started offering cha ca pizza about four months ago in an effort to spice up an already innovative menu. “We’re always looking for something unique,” he said.
Pizza 4P’s is known for its attention to detail and quality, and the process of preparing the cha ca pizza is a testament to this. To start, fish sauce and shrimp sauce are applied to the base to give the entire pizza a consistent fishy flavour, something Iwasaki says puts some Westerners off but leaves locals saying “wow”.
The fish, which has already been marinated in the turmeric sauce, is friend with onions while the pizza base, complete with greens and mozzarella, is baked. As well as putting the fish, dill, onions and chilli peppers on top of the baked pizza, some camembert cheese is added to finish things off, as the fermented cheese compliments the fermented sauces on the base.
The result is a refreshing and flavourful version of the traditional dish, which retains a typical cha ca flavour with a few interesting twists.
Wacky and interesting fusions aren’t limited to food, and The Unicorn Pub serves some of the best examples of weird and wonderful drinks in Hanoi. Located at 2a Hang Than Street in Ba Dinh District, Unicorn is perhaps best known for being one of a few bars serving a cocktail inspired by Vietnam’s signature dish: pho.
The owner of Unicorn, Xuan Dieu, says they started serving the pho cocktail at Unicorn about four years ago to stand out from the competition. “All bars have the same cocktails, we want to serve something different,” she said.
And you couldn’t get much more different than how the pho cocktail is made. Using a device reminiscent of a medieval torture device, gin and Cointreau is poured through three metal pots containing star anise, cinnamon and cardamom, all while the contraption is set alight to release the flavours of the spices.
Served with lime and chilli on the side just like with regular pho, the finished pho cocktail is an aromatic treat. Though it’s best to drink it fast according to Xuan, as the ice in the glass will be melted quickly by the heated liquid.
Luckily, quaffing your pho cocktail means it time to try another strange cocktail, and nothing sounds stranger than the Under the Bridge. Tequila, kumquat, ginger and even lemongrass are relatively safe ingredients. But fish sauce? Surely that doesn’t work in a drink?
At least that’s what I thought until Xuan persuaded me to try the heavenly concoction. And heaven it was, with the fish sauce and lemongrass combining to form a delightfully spicy aftertaste. Xuan laughed as she explained many foreigners are put off by the idea of the fish sauce, only to be won over as I was.
Unicorn has much more on offer than just those two cocktails, with other highlights including the com cocktail, which mixes young rice with rum and Cointreau to perfection, and Hanoi Traffic, featuring cay sau (dracontomelon), a fruit which grows on trees in urban Hanoi.
Modern Asian Dining is what MAD Society stands for literally and figuratively. The restaurant and bar opened last August in a brand new mixed-use complex in Tay Ho District and has strived to serve Asian food with unique, modern twists ever since.
Part of that mission is offering a phoritto, according to co-owner So Yeon Kim. Part of the menu since MAD Society launched, Kim says she thought the combination of Vietnamese pho and a Mexican burrito, which was already popular in the US, was something Vietnam’s food scene was missing.
Though it’s a fusion food, the phoritto’s strength comes in its simplicity. The chefs at MAD Society simply replace the rice and beans in a classic buritto with pho noodles, while the beef and herbs replace whatever meat and vegetable filling is normally used.
Of course, the most important part of any good pho is the broth, how does that go inside a burrito with turning it into a soppy mess? Very simply, it turns out. Kim says they simply boil up a little broth with the meat and vegetables in it (as opposed to the huge cauldrons used in regular pho spots), add a little bit of sugarcane juice for flavour, and voila, you have a tasty, hearty burrito that genuinely tastes like pho.
Kim says some Vietnamese customers were reluctant at first, many of them quipping “pho is Pho”. But the tide is turning and their Vietnamese fusions menu is becoming more popular, with the cha ca taco in particular a huge hit.
The mad food scientists at MAD Society aren’t resting on their laurels though, and with a bruschetta banh mi and more in the pipeline, get ready to forget everything you thought you knew about Vietnamese food.