Street food in Vietnam is not just about breakfast, lunch and dinner; it’s also very much about snacking. And the Vietnamese like to snack. Pho mai que (cheese sticks) is a new craze to hit the streets of Hanoi and while maybe not contributing to a balanced — or gourmet — diet, it’s a cheap snack option.
Pho mai que comprises a stick of cheese, coated in breadcrumbs, deep-fried and served with chilli and tomato dips. The cheese sadly is of the processed variety and consequently doesn’t really taste of anything — a nice camembert would make all the difference — but once dipped in the sauce it’s edible and fills a hole. Variants include pho mai com — wrapped in green sticky rice — and pho mai hun khoi, a smoked version.
Ta Hien is the place to be in Old Quarter for pho mai que at the moment. During the day (it’s an afternoon thing) many of the shops at the Luong Ngoc Quyen end turn into pho mai que joints and fill up with young Vietnamese catching up over an afternoon snack. As you tend to share off one plate, it’s also very communal.
Order by the piece, which costs 6,000 VND for one, and you’ll need at least a couple to make it worth stopping-off. Wash it down with a drink like tra chanh, which seems to be the drink of choice, or grab a few before heading to nearby bia hoi international corner for a session.
If the idea of a plastic cheese coated in breadcrumbs doesn’t appeal, stop off anyway for a break and some people watching, snacking instead on nem chua ran (pork spring rolls) or potato fries, which are also available.
By Sarah Turner
Last updated on 28th January, 2015.