Every afternoon, it is common to see Hanoians wandering into small alleys in search of snacks.
Many of these snacks have become the capital’s must-try street food, such as nem chua ran – deep fried pork rolls, oc nong – steamed snails, banh duc nong – savory steamed rice cake, and many others. Among the savory rice flour pudding eateries in Hanoi, it is impossible not to mention Noi’s on Le Ngoc Han Street.
The small eatery is located deep inside an alley, where customers can sit inside or outside the house. Visitors can always see Pham Thi Noi, owner of the restaurant, quickly scooping up steamed rice cakes, pouring hot fish sauce into a bowl, and then carefully sprinkling some chopped scallions and herbs on top of the dish.
A sign for Pham Thi Noi’s steamed rice cake eatery at the entrance of an alley at No. 8 Le Ngoc Han Street. Photo by Xuan Phuong
“I have been selling this dish for more than 30 years,” she said. “I used to sell it on the sidewalk, but later I moved into this alley. I can’t count how many servings I sell every day.”
Banh duc, or rice cake, was originally a dish of the poor. People would just eat it on its own, or dip it in fish sauce. Later on, the locals modified the dish, adding many other ingredients to turn the simple rice cake into a favorite snack of Hanoi. Noi said that the savory steamed rice cake recipe was passed down to her by her family. The main ingredient of the cake is rice flour, which is cooked until it becomes thick and viscous.
The topping is made from ground pork and stir-fried wood ear mushroom. While the regular glutinous rice cake can be enjoyed simply by dipping it in tuong ban, a fermented soybean dipping paste, the savory steamed rice cake is eaten with many more toppings.
A bowl of steamed rice cake with toppings including cilantro, fried tofu and minced pork. Photo by Xuan Phuong
When the customers order, Noi will put ingredients into the bowl, the steamed rice cake at the bottom, then wood ear mushroom, ground pork, hot fish sauce, and fried shallots and green onions on top. The sauce is cooked from bones and fish sauce, creating a sweet and subtle flavor. In each bowl, there are a few pieces of deep-fried tofu as well. The steamed rice cake has a soft and gooey texture, mixed with the savory taste of the meat and wood ear mushroom, plus the aroma of green onions, creating a harmonious flavor.
Despite being hidden deep inside an alley, Noi’s place is always filled with customers. This cuisine is just a fun late afternoon snack, ideal for those moments of wandering around the street.
For more than 30 years, Noi’s savory steamed rice cake has become a flavor associated with many people’s childhood. Many diners have frequented Noi’s place for the past few decades.
Nguyen Khanh, who now frequents the shop with his wife, said that he has been eating here since he was a child. To date, savory steamed rice cake is still his first choice whenever he thinks of an afternoon snack.
In the years since Noi first began making steamed rice cake, a few changes have been made to the recipe, such as adding more meat, spices and fried tofu. However, the dish still retains its traditional taste.
Pham Thi Noi by two pots of rice cake and sauce. Photo by Xuan Phuong
Each bowl of savory steamed rice cake costs VND20,000 (US$0.84). The affordable price is also the reason why this place attracts many diners. Noi said that the customers coming to the shop are quite diverse, from local regulars who have been eating here for several decades to domestic and foreign tourists.
Noi no longer just has savory steamed rice cakes on her menu. She now offers a variety of other dishes, including snail noodle soup, mixed red rice noodle with crab paste, and crab noodle soup.
The place is open from 8 a.m.in the morning to midnight, and is located at 8 Le Ngoc Han street.
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