I stopped my motorbike at the sight of the shoulder pole on the sidewalk. Finding the place was not difficult though one could as easily overlook the neatly arranged stall.
A hundred meters inside Alley 136, Tay Son Street, life seems to take on a different façade. The motorbike horns seem to be less cacophonous in this shady alleyway.
Unlike the feast of the hot version of bun oc is, cold snail soup is almost unique for its utmost simplicity. One serving, costing VND30,000 (US$1.28), involves two bowls, one each of noodles and snails in snail broth.
The owner, whose name I never find out, is quick and practiced. I barely sit on my plastic stool when the first bowl of bun, or Vietnamese rice noodles, appears on my metal tray placed on another stool.
With a metal stick, she expertly pulls out steamed snail flesh from the shell and puts in another bowl. Then some magic happens: the woman takes a long bamboo ladle to scoop the snail broth from a mysterious hole in the centre of one of her baskets. It turns out the hole is the mouth of a pot fixed in the rattan basket.
The dish is complete with a few drops of chili sauce. The sauce is super spicy and also keeps the odor of the snails at bay. “Snails are thought to be ‘cold’ on the stomach, and I need the chilly sauce to warm it up,” Trang, who was having her second bowl of noodles, said.
But while a few drops of the chili sauce could do the task perfectly, a spoonful could burn your tongue. “I put in too much chili sauce; it is a bit too strong for me,” Trang said morosely.
At many cold snail noodle stalls in Hanoi, the noodles are bar-shaped vermicelli. But this stall serves tangled noodle strands. The choice isn’t bad since the thin strands of noodle go well with the coolness of the dish.
The broth is the combination of steamed snail broth and wine vinegar, treating customers sour and sweet savor.
“There was a boy who thought the broth was fish sauce and always left half of it untouched. Later when he found out it was snail broth, he would drink all the broth until his bowl was clean,” said the owner.
Not to repeat the boy’s mistake, I drank most of the broth. The sourness is not too strong; it instead gives me a pleasant cool feeling in the fierce heat.
The stall is open from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. every day. The portion is perfect for a light supper. You might have to order a second helping if you are hungry.
Location: 17, Alley 106, Tay Son street, Hanoi
Price: VND30,000 (US$1.28)