Tried some Xoi (pronounced Soy) on Hang Gai street in the Old Quarter of Hanoi. Xoi is sticky rice kept warm in a bamboo basket day and night and is usually served with meat and vegetables on the side. It is widely considered one of the best street food dishes in all of Vietnam. The particular vendor we encountered was selling a variety with some type of dried sausage, some ham concoction (the spam of Vietnam, who knows?), fried tofu, shaved pork skin, and deep fried balls of egg. As foreigners in a country without any signs in English and even fewer English speakers ordering food from locals is like gambling with your gut. What looks like beef soup in the pot may contain fish eggs and fish eyes (just because nothing goes to waste), so you always have to remain mindful of the diversity in each dish. This is a potential nightmare for people with allergies or weak stomachs, but for people like myself who see food as part of the travel adventure I dive in mouthfirst.
And this time I hit the jackpot.
It was delicious and the flavors were diverse, the sticky rice was savory, and the fried egg balls were unusual and a nice addition. We sat there savoring our bowl of Xoi, which only set us back 2 US dollars, and were already planning a return trip to Hanoi.. if only in our dreams.
1 - Xiao Long Bao at Crystal Jade in the IFC Mall, Kowloon Side. The best pork soup dumplings I’ve had since Singapore, though we had to wait about 45 minutes for the dish to make it to our table. This would be totally unacceptable if these weren’t some of the best buns in Hong Kong… and I think the restaurant takes advantage of this fact.
2 - Pigs ‘hanging out’ at a random dai pai dong in Hung Hom, Kowloon in the food streets near my apartment building. It doesn’t get much realer than this. Char siu fan (BBQ pork + rice) for the equivalent of USD $2.70 - not too shabby, although I did not partake.
Don’t get me wrong - I enjoy Cantonese cuisine - but variety is the spice of life and sometimes a girl just wants a Western style meal before she overdoses on noodles and MSG. So off we went to Mr. Taco Truck to try “Mexican fast food” in one of Hong Kong’s busiest districts - Central. I knew I had to manage my expectations before walking into a Mexican restaurant in Asia and I appreciate the effort the kitchen made in preparing my chicken and al pastor tacos, but they didn’t quite deliver.
Disclosure: Spending my high school years in central Florida, home to a burgeoning Mexican and Central-American community, I was spoilt for Hispanic dining options. The food was good and inexpensive, and we quickly grew accustomed to refried beans that were seasoned with peppers, salt and cumin and were slow cooked to perfection.
Exhibit A below -
Now you understand my disappointment when I received brown, runny liquid instead of refried beans on my plate. But hey, I’m still *managing my expectations.* I imagine they’d taste better if you were drunk at midnight somewhere around Lan Kwai Fong and stumbled upon this place like bedouins in an oasis.
The tortilla chips also leave much to be desired, which is a real shame when you consider that they are a staple of Mexican cuisine and easy to prepare/hard to mess up. The seating area was packed with suits and other business types grabbing a quick lunch meal, so I’ll excuse the kitchen for serving me really oily and chewy tortillas this time around.
The standout order was my cup of iced horchata, a milky looking drink made of rice, nuts and/or seeds and sprinkled with cinnamon. It was ‘pretty decent’ according to my friend from Texas who joined me for lunch. Texas is as Mexican as USA gets, so I’ll take his word for it.
With two locations - one in Quarry Bay and now one in Central - the team at Mr. Taco Truck has had enough time to refine their menu and to produce quality dishes, but the taste is bland and quite pricey. Not worth a visit unless you happen to be drunk and in the area, which is a definite possibility considering their proximity to all things social.