“The origins of dinner tonight, will be attributed to Sapa, in the Lao Cai province of northwestern Vietnam. They like to play with fire a lot up there. It will happen, on the other hand, on the side of the road in Hanoi. Thank you.”
I was hesitant last night to pull up a blue stool and be at the mercy of the same onslaught of food that was crowding out all the other tables around us. The brightly lit display in the centre of the gaiety, housing various raw animals in assorted states of bite-sizes made it even worse – mostly because I wanted to try everything, which compounded the first problem nicely. There were tiny fishes, fresh silver prawns, huge pieces of pork belly and ribs, glistening piles of liver, marinaded chicken fat and chewy chicken parts, spiced sausages, hunks of beef, tofu cakes, and all sorts of the kinds of vegetables that taste really good with a bit of burn on them – zucchinis and okra, tiny tomatoes and corn slices… boggling. Can I have a bit of everything? Is that possible? Without stressing my embarrassingly limited Vietnamese language skills? Can I have a couple beers with that, too, and some ice cubes? And for less than 13 USD?
“Totally you can, yo. Actually, if you kindly sit down here at one of these flimsy blue tables, we’ll shortly drop a giant stone BBQ in the centre of it along with some macabre looking scissors and tongs and skewers. Oh, and napkins. And chili sauce, and if you run out we with replenish your chili sauce with astonishing attentiveness. In the meantime, here is a mountain of juicy cucumber sticks, thai basil, spring onions and a giant bag of thick white rice crackers to taunt you while you wait, hunger-dying in the aroma wake of your neighbours’ grilling meatstuffs.”
At least, I’m pretty sure that’s what they said.
Anyway, four whole agonizing minutes later, the smorgasbord arrives, and it does, indeed, have a bit (a lot) of everything. A few minutes on the grill, and what was pink becomes dripping and browned, and insanely delicious in a very primal sort of way. Chopsticks were bypassed in favour of scissoring everything
into shareable pieces and plucking things right off the grill with our sticky fingers. A bit déclassé, I admit, but would you have tried using chopsticks while attending to 9 things on the fire and trying not to knock over your icy beer which is actually sitting on a stool next to you because there’s no room on the table? To say nothing of how easy it was to forget contamination rules and pick up raw things with them (I do say nothing). Much easier just to snatch morsels from the “done” plate and make a little shatteringly crisp rice paper boat loaded with meat and a bit of grilled basil – some sort of textural analogue to tostadas, maybe, but completely Vietnamese in flavour. I’m dreaming about them already. And despite initial concerns, we cleaned everything out, and strutted out there perfectly sated with protein ringing in our ears.
“Do you see how wise we are in the ways of Sa Pa grill? We didn’t give you too much. We didn’t give you a platter of fresh baguette pieces because you would obviously have exploded or complained you silly Westerners, and we only have one hose and I don’t know if it reaches over there. You can rinse your hands with it, though.”
This is going to be one of those once a month things, I can tell.
Dồ Nướng Sapa
83 Nguyễn Thái Học street
Hoan Kiem, Ha Noi
On Facebook even.