With a little ingenuity and unusual ingredients like ostrich and a mysterious vegetable, Nui Tan has set its menu apart from the competition. Du Van Nga discovers a new favourite in Ba Dinh District.
They say it’s better to be born lucky than rich, and I know fortune was definitely smiling on me as I wandered down Ha Noi’s Giang Vo Street with a rumble in my stomach last week. If I hadn’t been hungry I might never have chanced upon local eatery Nui Tan and would have missed out on a very tasty treat.
Nui Tan has simple decor – checked tablecloths and prints of romantic landscapes adorning the walls – so it doesn’t exactly stand out from the crowd. But it’s cosy enough to be inviting and although it didn’t lure me in with flashing signs and promises of exotic taste sensations, it looked comfortable enough for me and my friend to pop inside for a look.
Sensing our interest, a member of the restaurant staff immediately stepped out to meet us. She led us to a table and gave us a minute to peruse the menu. Among the more familiar dishes, the first thing that caught my attention was the ostrich and vegetables. This type of meat is a common feature in many Ha Noi restaurants but I had yet to try it. So I decided to jump on this opportune moment and order some. Fearing being left out, my partner did the same.
But the choice-making didn’t end there. The meat could be pan-fried or cooked on a hot plate. I couldn’t decide so chef Luong Thanh Hai came out to give us a hand.
“The difference between the two dishes is the texture of the meat,” he said.
“The hot plate comes to your table and the meat cooks right in front of you. It’s a really special flavour, infused with butter and a hint of seasoning. The texture is slightly crispy on the outside and soft in the middle, delicious.The pan-fried ostrich is cooked longer so it’s not so tender.”
We opted for the more dramatic choice, the hot plate, and decided on a VND105,000 (US$6.50) piece of meat. You can order any size, according to how many people want to eat it.
In the need of a little greenery but in the mood for something new, my eye was caught by a vegetable I hadn’t heard of before, known as bang, cultivated on Tan Vien Mountain in Ha Tay Province. The bright green plant is known as being good for the skin and blood. A plate of bang with garlic costs VND35,000 ($2.10). We also picked some seasonal vegetables, cucumber and papaya, to have sliced on the side.
“The best way to eat the bang is with a bowl of fish sauce blended with garlic and a hint of chilli,” Hai said.
As soon as the hot plate arrived, the smell of the meat freshly sizzling in the butter made our stomachs cry out with desire. Our risk-taking certainly paid off. The rich buttery meat of the ostrich balanced perfectly with the subtle flavour of the bang.
Soon our plates were empty, but I thought to myself, why stop if you’re on a roll? So I decided to order my friend’s favourite food, pork leg roasted in honey, at VND125,000 ($7.80).
Normally I’m pretty strict about my low-fat diet, but the smell of the roasted pork was too tempting to refuse. The skin was cooked to perfection, crisp enough to make a good crunching noise but not break your teeth. This we ate with pieces of our newly-discovered bang dipped in the special recommended sauce. It was more than enough and soon we had to admit defeat and stop eating.
On being handed the moderately priced bill, the two of us agreed that the only unfortunate thing about coming to Nui Tan was succumbing to that full feeling before the plate was empty. They even gave us a small gift of homemade mango jam as a keepsake.