Bia Hoi, Oy, Oy, Oy !!!!

Bia Hoi, Oy, Oy, Oy !!!!

There’s a lot of shouting at a Bia Hoi (pronounced Bee-ah Hoy), after all it’s occupied by a lot of dudes drinking beer. You’re pretty much guaranteed to hear Mot, Hai, Ba! (one, two, three) after which everyone clinks glasses and has a gulp or two or Mot tram pham tram! which sounds like mo jam fan jam, and means 100%. If you say it, then you’ve got to do it, and swig the whole glass back baby.

Bia Hai beer
Topping up the glasses

Bia Hoi means ‘Fresh Beer‘ and drinking a whole glass at once is easy; you could substitute it for a cold glass of water. Made fresh daily, it’s light with 2 to 4 per cent alcohol. At 5000 dong, the equivalent of 30 Canadian cents it’s worth the investment.

There’s a lot beer gardens in Hanoi, kind of like Tim Horton’s there seems to be one on every street. One article I read says that 30% of the consumption of beer in Hanoi is done at a Bia Hoi…and even though I’m not going to do a fact check, it’s easy to believe. We’ve been going to one close to our apartment, A LOT.

Ours is called Bia Hai Xom; I know that Hai means two, and I think Xom is the name of the owners. But first back to the beer. What’s incredible is watching the staff, some wearing no shoes, carry these huge trays of glasses on ceramic (very slippery floors).  They move incredibly fast, as there’s usually has no less than 300 people anxious for another Bia Hoi. For those who are looking for something with some alcohol content you can purchase bottles of vodka.

Bia Hai 1
This WAS ribs and muong, a delicious green
tofu
Tofu coated in egg

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

There’s much more than a stale bag of chips available to eat at our Bia Hoi.  The menu is long and so far the favourites are papaya salad, pork ribs, salted chicken, and this tofu dish.  What’s loved most is the small packages of peanuts they bring with the beer.  Unsalted they’re sweet and fresh.

Bia Hai Kitchen
The Kitchen

The first time we went I quickly realized that amongst the large tables of men, (ie. soccer teams),  there was only a handful of women present.  Not quite yet comfortable with that, on our second visit, we cozied up to a group of kids who were using the restaurant as a gym to run in circles. I think the parents were deep into a tray or two of beer, but ultimately that’s the great thing about a Bia Hoi, no-one cares. It’s a genuine hang out.

But there is one critical point to embrace before entering a Bia Hoi. Forget Miss Manners.  There are no rules here.  Protocol is to drop the plastic wrap that comes around your bowl and plate on the ground along with your napkins, and whatever other garbage you amass.  If you can’t bring yourself to do it, that’s okay too. At the end of the evening the staff clean up by dumping what’s in the dishes on the ground, then removing the dishes into these big bowls, tilting the table on its side to make sure everything’s off, and then sweeping everything off the ground.

For a lot of reasons next time we go, I’m going to chant “Bia Hoi, Oy, Oy, Oy” and see if I can get it to stick. I think it’s perfect.

washing glasses
Three bucket, and three second, glass cleaning system.

 

dishes
The dishes.

Pho Primer

vermicelli pot
Pot to warm noodles for Pho

Everything in Vietnam is nuanced and layered – especially food.  So I’m not pretending that after six weeks I’m an expert on Pho, but I can peel back a layer or two. Pho, a soup with vermicelli noodles, greens and meat, should be called Vietnam’s Food Ambassador as it seems to be the best known dish outside the country.

Pho Ba
Pho Ba

Pho is NOT pronounced FOE. It just isn’t. It’s closer to the French word for fire, feu. But the key is in the tone, and if I understand it right, the voice goes down and then up a tiny bit at the end. We’re still working on it.

When we got off the plane and arrived in Hanoi at 10:30 at night it was the first thing we ate even though I originally understood that Pho is for breakfast.  It’s what our hotel served for breakfast and when we went with our friend Quyen to his village last week-end it’s what we had in the morning. But we’ve also been eating it for dinner and for lunch. Looking it up I discovered that the South Vietnamese confine it to breakfast and sometimes lunch, whereas here in the North it’s an any time of day meal. Pho B0 (Bo sounds more like BAH) made with beef, and Pho Ga made with chicken are most common.

Quay
quay

We, like many of you, have eaten Pho in North America.  But the one thing we hadn’t experienced was its partner quay.  Quay is essentially a deep fried piece of dough you dip in the Pho.  Somara adores them, and I like to start my Pho with a piece of Quay while the broth cools.  On their own, they’re ‘meh’, soaked in a good broth they’re ‘YAH!’

somara and noodleI thought Pho was defined by the size of the vermicelli noodle, a slim one. But we were just introduced to a restaurant where the noodle is wide, wider than linguine.  This particular shop has two kinds of Pho Bo; thinly slice pieces of raw beef cooked by the broth or thick grisly chunks of beef that have cooked so long they fall apart with the touch of a chopsticks. You can have both if you can explain that in Vietnamese to the server.   We love the place, but it’s a cab ride away.

condimentsWatching people eat Pho is fun as it’s an expression of your personality. How many quay do you consume if any, do you add hot sauce, lime juice, salt and pepper, pickled hot peppers?  I recommend hot sauce.

Around the corner from our apartment is a really good Pho Ga spot where Tim has gone to buy just the broth.  (The owner sent him home with two cups and wouldn’t accept any money). And if you go the other direction is a Pho Bo spot where you can see the huge quantities of meat that go into the broth.  Tim says Pho is defined by it’s broth, and we’ve discovered a couple chicken broths that are so clear they would make any Jewish Bubbe proud.  What I love are the greens, green onions in particular.

If you live in Halifax, go try the Pho on the Bedford Highway at I Love Pho.  Tell them that a friend in Hanoi says their broth is on par with the best we’ve had in Hanoi and could they please start to make quay, because some Hanoiing Canadians are going to ask for it when they return home.