Nancy is in Hanoi, seeing the sights for a few days before the start of the Operation Smile mission in Quang Gnai. She is so nice that she left the air conditioned comfort of her hotel ($48 per night — she refused to stay in the Marriott which would have cost about $100) in search of barbecue. Thanks to Google, she found out about Quan Nuong Cay Sun.
Actually, finding the restaurant itself was another matter. It is tucked away in an alley off one of the warren of streets named Kim Dong Street — sort of like Peachtree Streets in Atlanta. But a cab driver knew the way, and Nancy and Joanna Ehrlich, the coordinator for the Operation Smile Mission, sallied forth. (I met Joanna at the Operation Smile headquarters in Virginia Beach a while back. She is friendly, bursting with energy, and, like all of the Operation Smile coordinators, intrepid.)
Quan Nuong Cay Sun is very much a neighborhood restaurant, It sits behind a bank of the customers’ motor bikes, the front open to the elements. That meant that it as about 90 degrees inside.
They had both ceiling fans and oscillating fans, which helped some. Smoking is allowed, and many patrons seize the opportunity. The restaurant was filled with young people and families, seated on plastic chairs at steel tables, all talking and enjoying themselves.
Nancy and Joanne were the only Westerners there, and the only English-speakers. That made ordering a problem, and the menu was of limited help. (“Chien,” by the way, means “fried.”)
Eventually they had Ms. Tram Ahn, the owner and/or manager, call her son to translate. Nancy ordered chicken, pork, a vegetable and a couple of beers Then Nancy handed the phone to a server, who spoke to the son and then brought them food in stages.
First, meaty pork ribs which had been ch0pped, and garnished with mint — or is that basil — cucumber, and real tomatoes, along with a sweet-spicy dipping sauce
Next came Vietnamese broccoli sautéed with garlic and served with a soy-chili dipping sauce
And, finally, a whole, head-on chicken, chopped
There also was rice and beer — the restaurant offered both Hanoi brand and Truc Bach. The beer had not been chilled, but the server brought ice to add to your plastic cup to cool it.
Nancy and Joanna had tried to order some sliced pork, but the language barrier got in the way, as did the noise level in the restaurant, and they had more food than they could eat as it was. They did not order the fish. My friend Philoan Tran, a distinguished Houston attorney, had alerted me to a toxic chemical spill in Formosa that made the seafood … iffy.
The food was good. The meat had been cooked on vertical wood-fired grills outside, in front of the restaurant, near the motorbikes.
The ribs were delicious, and the chicken was very tasty. The grill guy knows his craft. We could use him in DC. Are those sausages?
There’s nothing like wood smoke to flavor meat. Eating ribs and large pieces of chicken with chopsticks can be a challenge for people who don’t do it regularly, but Nancy and Joanna were more than up to it. It was a great meal and a great experience.