My favorite Tet specialty – Hanoi’s ô mai – is flavorful and unique in its own way, combining sour, spicy, sweet and salty flavors all in one. The article is published on Le Petit Journal – Sofitel Legend Metropole Hanoi issue Jan 2016.
The high humidity up north lends a hand in making Hanoi’s weather bitterly cold, and even, frigid at night. Yet, even in Hanoi’s coldest months, the city still manages to keep its streets busy and crowded. The festive spirit is more than present in the Old Quarter, and when the lunar year is approaching its end, the streets are bustling in preparation for Tet. Wandering in this maze of streets, travelers will be easily appealed by splendid Hang Ma street and bustling Hang Dao street. In addition to these two, Hang Duong (or “sugar street”) is another spot with street side stalls selling diverse types of sweets and sugars for Tet. Over many generations, Hang Duong street has continued to retain traditional flavor of Hanoi’s specialty “ô mai”, known as the sweet and salty dried fruits or jams.
Dating back to the 18th century, the street was once used for sugar trading between Chinese broker and sugar producers from north-central Vietnam. According to the locals, during the French colonial era, the street was once known as “Rue du Sucre” and was renamed again as Hang Duong in 1945. Since then, the street has transformed into a busy little market where many merchants gather to sell trinkets and local goods, more specifically Hanoi’s traditional treat, ô mai.
The street is known best for its ô mai made by local experts using traditional methods. These sugars and sweets are made of a variety of Vietnamese fruits, carefully picked from gardens in northern provinces. Star fruit, tamarind, kumquat, plum, pineapple and lemon, are just but a few examples. The delicious taste of ô mai is said to be dependent on all steps of preparation – from choosing the best fruits to using special recipes. Hanoi’s ô mai is flavorful and unique in its own way, combining sour, spicy, sweet and salty flavors all in one.
Every year, when Mid-Autumn Festival or Lunar New Year arrives, the street comes to life. Through its ups and downs, the street’s soul is still retained with preserved structures and dozens of ô mai shops inherited from generation to generation. During this time of the year, Hanoians head for this “ô mai street” to hand-pick their Tet specialties, and pair them with cups of tea as a special treat for the holiday.
– Huyen Tran