Hidden away from prying eyes, a mussel soup restaurant on Quan Thanh doubles up as an impromptu art gallery. Words by me. Photos by Francis Roux. The article was published on Word Hanoi Issue August 2012.
Both Hanoi locals and foreign residents will be familiar with Quan Thanh Pagoda. Lying on the edge of Ho Tay, just at the junction of Thanh Nien and Quan Thanh, it sits amid two busy streets forever thronging with people.
Look through the crowds, though, and near the traffic lights you will see a small wooden board advertising Chao Trai Ho Tay. But investigate and look around, and you’ll find no shop and certainly no evidence of any chao (rice congee). Until, that is, you come across an old man sitting on a tiny chair. Once he realises what you’re after he’ll point the way down a small, winding alley.
Once you’re in the winding alley you’re almost there. A few shops surround you sporting bep lo and catering for traditional street food. Only at the very far end will you see Chao Trai Ho Tay, the little shop in the corner.
Inside the house, a woman prepares her food on the ground floor and diners can enjoy the food either there or upstairs.
Each floor is tiny and is equipped with about three to four tables and 10 chairs. The woman offers a wide selection of dishes including chao trai, mien cua tron, bun oc nguoi and pho cuon. According to her, the most popular dish is the chao trai or mussel soup, which she also uses to name her shop. After that she sells a lot of bun oc nguoi or cooled noodles with snails, a well-known traditional dish popular in Hanoi. Another speciality is the crispy crab meatball — the owner’s special creation.
“This rounded-shape meat ball is made from fresh crab meat then dry fried in oil,” she explains. “I have never seen this in any other [restaurant] around Hanoi. So I started to make it seven years ago.”
Upstairs, the walls and ceiling are painted with the works of Leonardo De Vinci, Albert Durer, and other famous artists. The painted walls are also places where many framed paintings are hung. The art was created by the woman’s two sons.
Nguồn ảnh: Xzone
Above that is where the family sleeps at night. The father is the man looking after the bikes outside. He is also a poet.
The smile of the poet, the cuisine of the owner-cum-chef and the amazing wall paintings are what draws diners back to this little shop in the corner.