Khoi Pham gets a taste of classic Hanoi flavours in one of District 1’s best-hidden corners. Photos by Vinh Dao.
One thing that I absolutely hate about being a late-riser is that my repertoire of good places to have breakfast is lacking. At my usual wake-up time of 11am, breakfast often means a quick bite of banh mi or whatever’s left at the nearby pho stall; otherwise, it’s forgone altogether. So, asking me what and where to eat in the morning is like playing truth-or-dare while sober – uncomfortable and riddled with awkward pauses. The discovery of Mien Luon Thanh Thao provides a timely and delicious boost to rectifying this shortcoming.
Located at the cul-de-sac of a hem in the heart of District 1, the humble stall appears out of place with the towering high-rises around. Take a step into the dining area and you can immediately feel a special ambiance that is uniquely Hanoian: a cashier rushing back and forth yelling orders with a thick stack of change in hand, boisterous chatter in that distinct northern lilt and a set of condiments featuring things rarely seen in a typical Saigon food stall.
My favourite, mien luon gion (vermicelli soup with fried eel), is an experience in itself: a smoking bowl of hot goodness with layers of chewy vermicelli, crispy chunks of deep-fried eel, diced spring onions and rau ram (Vietnamese coriander). The eel is prepared and fried in a special way so that it doesn’t get soggy too quickly in the hearty broth, which is MSG-free. If you’re not feeling like fried stuff, opt for mien luon mem, an alternate version with steamed eel guaranteed to fill your palate with full-on eel richness. Both dishes come in two sizes, normal (VND 60,000) and special (VND 75,000) and are served with an assortment of vegetables usually seen accompanying bun rieu: shredded banana flower, rau muong (water morning glory) and bean sprouts. To make your Hanoi breakfast experience complete, try nuoc mo (VND 15,000), a refreshing beverage of sweet and sour pickled apricots, or the homemade yogurt at VND 10,000 per jar.
If I’ve learnt anything eating my way through the wide range of cuisines and eateries in Saigon, it’s that there’s a lot to be said for simple but well-crafted dishes. Mien Luon is certainly one whose taste has withstood the test of time, encapsulating the best flavours that Hanoi has to offer. Besides, your morning can’t go wrong with a bowl of hot soup, especially with Saigon’s rainy season right around the corner.