About a month after I returned from my Vietnam trip, my cravings for Vietnamese food finally started to subside. I stopped dreaming about having silky-smooth rice noodles twirled around beef meatballs in a clear clean broth for breakfast.
No longer hankered for the taste of tangy-spicy-garlicky flavors of Nem (a type of pork charcuterie).
Out if sight and out of mind were thoughts of the corner Banh Mi carts selling French baguettes (with a golden thin crust and the lightest of crumbs more reminiscent of a croissant than a baguette) filled with pâté and assorted pork cuts, laced with pickled daikon and carrots, smeared with a mayo-like sauce, and freshened up with slices of cucumber and sprigs of cilantro. It beyond satiates the omnivore in me.
Mmmm….Baaaaanh miiiii. I think my Homer Simpson voice is coming out again.
Wait, where was I going with this? Because I’m suddenly feeling certain cravings again…
Right. Cravings. Gone away. And then–
And that did it. Released the cravings monster that I had pushed down into a cage and tried to forget. And this monster could only be tamed by being fed Vietnamese food. But not expensive frou-frou food from the likes of the Shangri-La or Jumeirah’s Zabeel Saray – two high-end hotels in Dubai that serve over-priced Vietnamese food good only for special splurges.
My monster wanted down-to-earth Viet food not overly styled nor garnished nor hyped – just like on the humble streets of Vietnam.
Enter Hanoi. An affordable Vietnamese restaurant that has two branches in Abu Dhabi and just recently opened its doors in Sector C of Jumeirah Lakes Towers (JLT).
Climbing down the stairs from the podium level of JLT to reach the restaurant, I caught a glimpse of the kitchen staff through the glass windows. Could they actually be…Vietnamese? Looked promising.
With large windows lining the front and one side of the restaurant, the atmosphere inside was very bright and airy for a lunch time get-together. We were a table of eight and were lucky to order before a larger table of 15+ arrived.
Large portraits of Vietnamese women and rurual scenes lined the walls. A fake banana plant, papaya tree and other faux plants served as low-maintenance indoor greenery that seemed quite commonplace in Vietnamese restaurants that I’ve visited.
With eight monster appetites to satisfy, we ordered more food than there was room on the table. But being the resourceful types, we made use of vacant chairs as well as commandeered an extra table just for the overflow food.
The staff had to manage two large groups (one of them ours and the other had 15+ diners) but remained friendly throughout and tried to be as helpful as they could but due to language barriers, some of our questions about the menu were left unanswerable.
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Here are some of the dishes we ordered…
“Goi Cuon” – fresh summer rolls:
“Goi Du Du” – green papaya salad with fried anchovies (the 2nd time I ordered this dish, I was disappointed that it was not topped with the anchovies):
“Pho Dac Biet” – Hanoi special pho (contained tripe, beef balls and brisket) was? a little bland but still enjoyable and I loved the meatballs:
“Ga Cari” – this Vietnamese chicken stew tasted so different from the one that my family prepares that I wasn’t sure what to make of it. It seemed very buttery (instead of coconutty), lacked the addition of tomato sauce, and the spices just didn’t seem right. Perhaps this is one of those dishes that has regional differences and the northern flavors of Hanoi take some getting used to:
“Ca Ran Xot Me” – crispy fried whole fish with spicy tamarind sauce served with steamed rice (we tried to find out what kind of fish this was but to no avail):
“Banh Xeo” – these savory crepes were not one of the restaurant’s better offerings (again, I’m not sure if it’s partly because I’m used to Saigon-style):
“Caphe Sua Da” – iced Vietnamese coffee:
“Che Ba Mau” – 3-colored dessert:
“Chuoi Ran Kem” – banana fritters with ice cream:
These dishes above were only half of what we ordered! If you would like to view the rest of the photos, please click here for the Hanoi album on my Facebook page.
It would not be fair to compare the food served at Hanoi to what I ate in Vietnam. In speaking with the servers, it seemed that many of the ingredients (including some of the rice noodles) are imported directly from Vietnam as they cannot be obtained here in Dubai. But substitutions have to be made for those items that do not travel well – like fresh herbs, freshly-made Vietnamese style baguettes – and of course for those dishes that are traditionally made with pork or pork fat.
Plus, my taste buds are more accustomed to southern Vietnamese food, so I felt that many of the dishes were close…but no cigar. It would be interesting to read a review of the restaurant from someone who is familiar with northern cuisine.
Overall, I would say that the food at Hanoi was enjoyable (I’ve been back already!) and as authentic as you can get in Dubai for inexpensive Vietnamese food. Portions were generous and most dishes can be shared by two people, bringing the bill to under 100 dhs per person.
The only thing missing for me was Banh Mi. But the Banh Mi (which simply translates to “bread”) that everyone knows and loves originated from Saigon so we probably won’t be seeing that anytime soon in Hanoi restaurant (but prove me wrong!).
Foodiva was there as well to partake in this lunch feast and you can read her review by clicking here.
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Hanoi Restaurant (Dubai): located on the ground floor of the Gold Crest Executive tower (Sector C of JLT by the Dubai Marina Mall metro stop); Phone: +971 050 5703359; Unlicensed (no pork nor alcohol); their Facebook page is here. Currently only delivering within JLT.
There are two other branches in Abu Dhabi – for location information, please visit their website.
More photos of the restaurant are on our Ginger and Scotch Facebook page.