SUBLIME SETTING: Brand new restaurant serving Hà Nội’s delicacy in a villa full of green shade for freshness. Photo courtesy of Bỗng
by Nguyễn Mỹ Hà
Despite the numerous sidewalk stalls that serve delicious snail noodle soups, whenever a new restaurant adds this dish, people rush to try, comment and give them a whirl, particularly in the capital city.
Though the escargots are good and rich in protein, the dishes are not always varied enough for some. Snail purveyors usually run a restaurant that specialises in only this one main ingredient. It’s often snails or nothing, which might not work for a large group.
SNAIL SOUP: Sour hot vermicelli with golden escargots with drops of spicy sauteed chilli. VNS Photo Mỹ Hà
For Bún ốc (vermicelli with escargots) fans like us, every time a new stall or a restaurant has it on the menu, it’s a special day to call up our foodie band and get going to check it out as soon as humanly possible.
“Bỗng”, the restaurant’s name, makes our palate ache as it means fermented whole sticky rice liquid used to cook fish. The broth gives the dishes a soft sour flavour that can’t be replaced with other sour ingredients like vinegar, an essential component to go with the main food, without which such a dish can never be made.
At Bỗng, a new snail-only restaurant opened in July, and the impression is that it’s been in the two-storey villa on Nguyễn Du for a long time.
The decor gives a vintage feeling, with a few details recalling the melancholic past of a less-developed, less-populated smaller and more tranquil city.
GOURMET GASTROPODS: Mastering one dish from escargot can make a name for a cook. Here at Bỗng, you can taste the notoriously difficult dish of steamed stuffed escargots with ginger leaves. VNS Photo Mỹ Hà
The escargot hot noodle soup here comes in the style of Khương Thượng Village in Hà Nội, now a ward in Đống Đa District, where ponds and marshland used to provide ample source of aquatic products.
The hot soups, or Bún ốc nóng (VNĐ60,000 or 80,000), can be an easy-ish start for a novice who wants to try a snail dish and is not quite sure where to begin. The overall flavour is sour and spicy, with lots of crispy chunks of snails.
Extra escargot comes in at VNĐ50,000. But the true essence of this dish is the cooled soup. It’s hard to beat fresh rice vermicelli dipped into room temperature soup, flavoured with a pinch of sauteed dried chilli.
In every stall, hot soup brings more customers, but the quality of the cooled soup keeps the faithful returning.
I tried all the other dishes on the menu and only a handful of delicacies, saving the cooled soup for another time.
The escargot spring rolls (Nem ốc) and escargot patties (Chả ốc) are both VNĐ180,000. The dishes were created in the late 1990s and early 2000s by a small shop owner but were later picked up by many restaurateurs nationwide.
Other choices include stuffed escargots (VNĐ180,000) or a hotpot of escargot and green banana and tofu on charcoal that comes in three possible sizes at VNĐ160,000, VNĐ280,000 and VNĐ480,000.
A trip to Bỗng can be emotionally charged, such is the gorgeous setting. We got the beautiful seating on the second-floor terrace, under the shade of a neighbouring tree, where you can see squirrels running up and down.
Next, we had steamed escargots with ginger leaves, a tradition any Hanoian food lover would be proud of. And they tasted delicious, as we had hoped.
Drinks and desserts here also pick up the traditional menu, including assorted herbal tea, fermented rice (VNĐ35,000), and green rice pudding (VNĐ85,000).
The menu lists only a handful of items, but the venue certainly calls for returning again and again with friends and family. VNS
Bỗng, Ôc ngon Hà Nội
50 Nguyễn Du Street, Hoàn Kiếm District
Tel: 091 5553868
Comment: Great dishes made from rice-paddy snails cooked with fermented rice vinegar