You can’t help shivering even under layers of sweaters and coats, and you’re getting caught up in the rush hour grid of downtown Hanoi. Your hands are numb, your eyes are irritated, your eardrums are rattling with the deafening honks and humming engines all around. Then you put your first step into the restaurant, inhale a lungful of fresh food aroma and spot your friends waving from the corner. All of a sudden, the day-long fatigue and annoyance are gone.
You’re now at Ộp, a frog restaurant in downtown Hanoi. By the way, you may want to know that the name mimics the sound of frog croaking in Vietnamese – aptly named, isn’t it?
I don’t know whether this really is “the best frog restaurant in town” as Hieu said, but their food is absolutely mouth-watering. Two of the main course dishes we have tonight are stir-fried sweet and sour frog and frog hot pot. Yum yum!
Stir-fried sweet and sour frog:
You can just tell there are frog skin and flesh, pineapple, green pepper, spring onion and coriander in the dish. The pineapples help make it sweet and sour though the cooks must also have added spices of their own recipe. As for the coriander, it’s not until now that I know it goes so well with frog flesh. Crunchy chunks of the herb nicely flatter the softness and juiciness of the frog flesh, which must have been shallow-fried and simmered for quite awhile to get to its perfect flavor. A great treat to the taste buds!
The other star of the night is frog HOT pot \drum roll/. Things to put in are:
Frogs flesh, of course! Here is a bunch of frog flesh camouflaged under some coriander. You can also see sliced bamboo shoots underneath. The flesh is not as tasty in the pot as when stir-fried though.
This is called I-don’t-know-what. (Just joking!) I guess it’s a byproduct of making tofu, dried and fried. When it’s soaked into the boiling stock, it’ll get softer and a little bit chewy, and taste mildly sweet and buttery. Not my favorite, but my friends went for an extra dish. Different tastes!
Golden needle mushrooms: I love it when they soak up the broth and arrive scalding hot into my bowl. Crunchy and smooth. Plus, they absorb the best tastes of the pot.
Rice noodles and noodles: not very special, good for glucose intake.
Mixed vegetables: include morning glory and Chinese cabbage. They also soak lots of broth. Taste great when dipped hot into soy source and… good for your health.
This is how they look altogether. Very typical of a hot pot, isn’t it?
Overall, the stock is mildly sourer than that of a beef or seafood hot pot. The contents are less heavy for the stomach, which saves you from the sluggish aftermath. That makes it a perfect way to treat your palate without getting your stomach to suffer.
If you are in Hanoi around this time of the year, these two are must-eat dishes. Staying around the table by the swirling film of aromatic steam and laughing hard with your friends are just how life can be spent the c’est la vie way…