Streaks of red

Haiphong’s signature red noodles are meticulously prepared and best enjoyed with seafood.

By Jessica Nguyen on January 08,2018 11:02 AM

Streaks of red

Photos: An Bien

Generations of Vietnamese have considered a bowl of Bánh đa cua Hải Phòng, or Haiphong red noodles with crab soup, to have the ‘five yin-yang’ colours: the reddish-brown of the noodles, the bright red of the chili sauce, the dark red of the tomato, the green of the fresh spinach, and the eye-catching yellow of boiled crab-roe with onion.

Streaks of red

Haiphong’s geographic location contributes to the magnificent cuisine found in the northern city, of which the red noodles and crab is the most prominent. The city is nestled among estuaries filled with alluvium soil from the Red and Thai Binh Rivers, so its food is a harmonious mix of fresh aquatic creatures from rivers and the sea and produce from fields, like rice.

The Chinese community that once lived in the port city left unique spice recipes that when combined with typical Vietnamese dishes create a wonderful local cuisine not found elsewhere. And the traditional reddish-brown pastry, or Bánh đa đỏ, is considered a key ingredient, the ‘soul’ of many famous local dishes.

Streaks of red

The meticulous process of making Bánh đa đỏ impresses all who witness it and follows a host of steps, from soaking the rice and grinding it to create just the right mix of batter, to drying it under the sun and cutting the strips of noodles.

In the brackish fields of Haiphong, farmers must toil to grow rice. The rice is sun-dried and then taken to the 700-year-old craft village of Lang Con in Kien Thuy commune, Ho village in An Duong commune, or Du Hang Kenh village in the city to make the special pastry. The rice is soaked in water for some hours and mashed with water in a stone mill to make a smooth and soft mixture. To colour the pastry, makers of Bánh đa đỏ add Gac fruit or molasses to the mixture. The coloured powder is then flatted, steamed and sealed on bamboo mats to dry under the sun during the day and the frost at night. A reddish pastry then forms.

Streaks of red

‘Fresh, ready-to-eat Bánh đa đỏ is a type of pastry that has to go through two drying stages: the first under the sun and the second under frost,’ said Dieu Huong, the owner of An Bien restaurant in Hanoi. ‘If the pastry is made at night, it has to dry under the frost first, then the sun. And vice-versa. If it’s made during the day, it needs to dry under the sun first and the frost later.’ Huong married a Haiphong-born man, learned how to cook her husband’s hometown specialties, then ran a chain of restaurants serving the specialties in Hanoi for over six years.

According to Huong, in order to make the best Bánh đa đỏ, which is not easy to break but is tough and flexible, besides good rice, the preparation must be correct, from grinding the rice and adjusting the fire to the time for sun and frost drying. ‘Bánh đa đỏ is usually coated with one layer, but Haiphong has another special type, of three layers,’ she explained. Indeed, this is a unique creation of the people of Ho village. Each layer made from rice flour is steamed in a pan by hand. When the first layer is well-done, the next layer is put on top. Because of its three layers, this style of red noodles is not mushy and doesn’t have an unpleasant texture. An Bien was the first restaurant to serve triple-layered red noodles outside of Haiphong.

One of the most interesting things about Bánh đa đỏ is that it is suitable for pairing with seafood such as shrimp, Mantis shrimp, and crab. This is partly because of the unique flavour of Bánh đa đỏ sits well with the acrid taste of seafood. There is nothing more exciting than enjoying a bowl of Haiphong red noodles with crab in the middle of a Hanoi winter! Chew on a piece of fragrant Bánh đa đỏ, pick up some crispy spinach, enjoy the sweetness of fresh unshelled Mantis shrimp, then take bowl of the hot broth - you will find how interesting Haiphong cuisine is!

BÁNH ĐA CUA HẢI PHÒNG (HAIPHONG RED NOODLES WITH CRAB SOUP)

The dish is served in a special broth made from crab and pork bones, topped with fried minced pork wrapped in guise leaves, fried fish, tiny boiled meatballs, stir-fried shrimp, and cloud ear mushrooms and seasonal vegetables. Enjoy the dish with Chíu trương, or special Haiphong chilli sauce, and kumquat. Fresh vermicelli or crystal noodles can be replaced with Bánh đa đỏ.

BÁNH ĐA CUA HẢI PHÒNG (HAIPHONG RED NOODLES WITH CRAB SOUP)

The dish is served in a special broth made from crab and pork bones, topped with fried minced pork wrapped in guise leaves, fried fish, tiny boiled meatballs, stir-fried shrimp, and cloud ear mushrooms and seasonal vegetables. Enjoy the dish with Chíu trương, or special Haiphong chilli sauce, and kumquat. Fresh vermicelli or crystal noodles can be replaced with Bánh đa đỏ.

Streaks of red

BÁNH ĐA BỀ BỀ (BÁNH ĐA ĐỎ WITH MANTIS SHRIMP SOUP)

This new type of Bánh đa đỏ dish combines fragrant Vietnamese coriander in a mantis shrimp soup with a tough pastry. This dish is served with fresh mantis shrimp and dipped mantis. As one of the symbols of Haiphong cuisine, the dish is a combination of the sweetness of the crab broth and the Mantis shrimp as well as fried shallots and crab meat. Add Haiphong-style chilli sauce and you can really enjoy the taste of the city.

LẨU CUA ĐỒNG SƯỜN SỤN (CRAB HOTPOT WITH PORK CHOP)

Fresh Bánh đa đỏ is combined with a broth made from crab and pork bones and served with side dishes such as minced pork wrapped in wild betel leaves, fried chopped fish, fried beef balls, shrimp, cloud ear mushrooms, and seasonal vegetables. It can be served with Haiphong-style chilli sauce and a little kumquat juice for added flavour. Bánh đa đỏ can be replaced with vermicelli or crystal noodles.

LẨU CUA ĐỒNG SƯỜN SỤN (CRAB HOTPOT WITH PORK CHOP)

Fresh Bánh đa đỏ is combined with a broth made from crab and pork bones and served with side dishes such as minced pork wrapped in wild betel leaves, fried chopped fish, fried beef balls, shrimp, cloud ear mushrooms, and seasonal vegetables. It can be served with Haiphong-style chilli sauce and a little kumquat juice for added flavour. Bánh đa đỏ can be replaced with vermicelli or crystal noodles.

BÁNH ĐA CUA BỂ CHẢO NÓNG (HOT-PAN SEA CRAB NOODLES)

Diners can enjoy the attractive fragrance of fresh ingredients sautéed on a hot pan or can try cooking it themselves, adding Haiphong-style chili sauce and a little kumquat juice for added flavour. The red noodles can be replaced with vermicelli or crystal noodles.

BÁNH ĐA CUA BỂ CHẢO NÓNG (HOT-PAN SEA CRAB NOODLES)

Diners can enjoy the attractive fragrance of fresh ingredients sautéed on a hot pan or can try cooking it themselves, adding Haiphong-style chili sauce and a little kumquat juice for added flavour. The red noodles can be replaced with vermicelli or crystal noodles.

 

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