Hamburg, Germany is home to the popular Hanoi Restaurant, a small piece of traditional Viet Nam thousands of miles away from the rice paddies, conical hats and water buffaloes.
Immediately, Hanoi Restaurant stands out amidst Hamburg’s array of Asian establishments as most Vietnamese restaurateurs in Germany, who open Chinese or Thai eateries, are afraid that Germans are too unfamiliar with Vietnamese cuisines.
But Le Yen, owner of Hanoi Restaurant, is proud to call his place pure Vietnamese and is thrilled to introduce the culture and cuisine to Germany.
But even Le was a little nervous when the restaurant opened. Fearing that Germans would not appreciate the acquired taste of Vietnamese fish sauce (which is featured with almost every single Vietnamese dish) he replaced the unique and rare Vietnamese oddity with regular soy sauce.
One day, an American enjoying fried meat rolls in Le’s restaurant requested that Le cook Vietnamese dishes in the real Vietnamese style, complete with fish sauce. Le pondered over the advice for a while, and then decided to follow the American’s advice.
Now with the accompaniment of fish sauce, Hanoi Restaurant is true and pure in its Vietnamese style, culture and tradition. The architecture alone makes you feel as though you are in the true Vietnamese countryside with bamboo screens; green bamboo fences and many pieces of the famous Vietnamese wooden furniture that has become so popular internationally.
All of the restaurant’s decoration materials are from Vietnam. Most of the bowls and dishes used to serve and cook food are made from traditional Vietnamese Bat Trang ceramics.
Vietnamese living far from home in Germany often feel very familiar and comfortable in the restaurant, a home away from home. This is exactly the opposite of how some Germans feel as they try to use chopsticks for the first time, a funny sight indeed.
Of course, the famous Vietnamese noodles soup dish Pho is one of the most popular dishes on the menu. The bowl arrives steaming hot and garnished with slices of white onions and chopped green onions. The beef is lean and a bit pink, just the way you’ll find it at the best Pho shops in Hanoi.
It comes served with all the usual garnishing: sour leaf herb, basil, bean sprouts and lime. After your own special combination of these additions, you’re ready to enjoy the strong beef and subtle flavor of the herbs in the rich broth. The fresh soup is delicious with tender, well prepared meat at the right price.
Also at Hanoi Restaurant you can enjoy grilled meats and fish with special Vietnamese “bun” rice noodles outside of a soup like Pho. Cha ca (grilled chopped fish) with a small bowl of tasty Mam Tom (shrimp paste) mixed with a few drops of rice liquor and lemon juice carefully stirred with some added slices of hot chilly is a delicacy not to be missed.
Dishes like this are usually accompanied with ground peanuts and a plate of pure white rice vermicelli with spicy vegetables. Finally, a stove with a pan of boiling oil will be placed on the table. You open the grilles to allow pieces of grilled fish to drop into the oil and fry your own fish so that your meal is piping hot and fresh when you eat it.
After the meal, customers often enjoy Vietnamese coffee prepared in a Vietnamese coffee filter. It takes a while which provides diners with a quiet time to reflect up on the meal as they wait for every last drop to brew and listen to the music in a pleasant atmosphere where the Vietnamese spirit catches you.
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