Feb 15 2013
By day a centre for disabled children, by night a buzzing lau restaurant: 66 Pho Duc Chinh, near Truc Bach lake, serves up delicious lau rieu cua: a tasty broth with loads of Vietnamese goodies to throw in. And with the weather a bit chilly in Hanoi, now is the perfect time to enjoy it.
Street food is certainly not known for its salubrious surroundings, and 66 Pho Duc Chinh is no exception: on a busy night it’s cramped, uncomfortable and a bit grotty (the floors, not the food). But the atmosphere is part of the appeal, and as a big venue that attracts large groups, there’s a real buzz, particularly when the cheap vodka gets flowing.
More importantly though, the food is good. Sometimes hotpot can be a bit bland — essentially boiled meat and veg — but two key things make the lau rieu cua here more tasty: the broth and the ingredients.
Ordering is easy here as only one type of lau is served, so you simply need to communicate how many people are dining. For larger groups, two or more pans of broth and dishes of food will be supplied. The raw food on the plate includes deep-fried chunks of tofu, very finely ground pork mince, gio tai (made with pork meat and pig’s ear), Chinese leaf and slices of beef.
In addition, you get a basket of greens, which can be eaten fresh or added to the hotpot, straw mushrooms and deep-fried tofu skin, which is much nicer than it sounds, especially when cooked in the broth — it really absorbs the flavours well and has a fantastic texture. Prawn crackers, cucumber and cu dau — a white root vegetable — can also be ordered to nibble on.
As for the broth, cua means crab, but don’t expect big chunks of crab meat to cook in the broth. The crab in this hotpot is a pot of minced crab, to add to the broth for flavour. Add some extra punch with chilli paste and crack in the trung vit long for a sweeter taste — eating it is optional.
Add the ingredients in whatever order you like, although our Vietnamese dining companions started by adding the tofu and tofu skins then the pork mince — which you form into small balls before dropping in — with the greens going in last. Beef should be cooked by placing one of the slotted ladles and lowering into the stock. If you just drop it in it could get lost.
Pick out the bits you want with chopsticks and let it cool for a moment in your chopsticks or bowl, particularly the tofu chunks which get really hot. Dip into the lime, salt and chilli mix for extra flavour. Don’t drink the stock too early or you’ll have nothing left to cook in, but when everything’s cooked you can dig in and scoop out some broth to drink from your bowl, and add bun noodles direct to your bowl.
Lau is not a quick meal nor is it dirt cheap. Expect to pay around 150,000 VND per person plus drinks — but it’s a perfect choice on a chilly night and 66 Pho Duc Chinh has both atmosphere and food going for it.
Lau Rieu Cua
66 Pho Duc Chinh (near Truc Bach lake)
Travelfish.org always pays its way. No exceptions.