A Hanoi take on the south's fresh spring roll

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Pho cuon is a popular snack in Hanoi

Nguyen Khac Hieu Street near Hanoi's Truc Bach Lake has for long been famous for pho cuon.

This unconventional dish was created when a local cook tried to make a new dish instead of cooking pho bo (beef noodle soup).

Instead of making noodles from rice flour, he sliced the dough into rice-paper-sized pieces. And then he wrapped beef stir-fried with garlic, salad, and basil in them, creating small rolls that he served with sweet and sour sauce and thinly sliced green papaya.

Pho cuon reminds me of the south's fresh spring roll dishes like goi cuon and bo bia.

Southern Vietnamese cuisine originated among farmers who arrived and started cultivating new land. Goi cuon, made with fresh ingredients from the farm and shrimp from the Mekong River, made for a quick and versatile meal.

Goi cuon depends on the freshness and quality of ingredients rather than the cooking method.

The hot weather in the south means the fresh taste and lightness of goi cuon are just perfect on the palate. Its ingredients typically include fresh herbs, rice noodles, and boiled shrimp or pork meat which is wrapped in a thin rice paper.

The Hanoi cook may have created pho cuon after being inspired by goi cuon. Unconventional the dish may be, but it does not deviate from the Vietnamese concept of contrasting flavors and textures it has fried garlic and beef, the fresh taste of the roll with sweet and sour sauce, and crunchy sliced green papaya.

Pho cuon, made only on order, is rapidly becoming popular in Hanoi.

Possibly the best time to have pho cuon is in the late afternoon, when life in the Truc Bach area becomes more relaxed, pagoda bells chime, and the breeze from the lakes cool the air.

The Truc Bach area is famous for its rich history, culture, and the beautiful Truc Bach and West Lakes. There are pho cuon pavement restaurants in front of willow trees on the banks of Truc Bach. From there I can see as far as Thanh Nien Road and West Lake, a wonderful place to watch the sunset while dining.

Another interesting place to have pho cuon is in Nguyen Khac Hieu Street, next to a small pagoda.

Pho cuon restaurants are normally family-run. At the restaurant, women quickly make the dish on order with assistance from their husband and children.

Pho cuon restaurants also serve other snacks such as pho chien phong (fried pho), ngo chien (fried corn), and seafood.

For just VND50,000 one can try pho cuon and the magnificent sunset is a bonus.

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