A while back I tried to consume some grilled bird in Hanoi. When I say grilled bird, I don’t mean a juicy boneless, skinless chicken breast. No, what I mean here is the actual bird…something along the lines of fresh out of the nest bird like a sparrow or blue bird. That meal was more than dead on arrival as the birds were as dry as the desert with anemic meat virtually impossible to pry off the bones. Besides that, the head with eyes, beak and all was staring me down and I just couldn’t do it. A plate full of this foolishness yielded maybe half a thimble full of sawdust dry nonsense.
I have never forgotten how nasty that Hanoian mess was, and for months a smoking grill of horrors filled with bird parts at Anh Tuyet restaurant at 71 Ngo Tat To Street in Binh Thanh District has given me flashbacks. Now I have to admit the smell of the smoke wafting all over the sidewalk is always enough to whet my appetite yet just not enough to push cause me to take a detour to one of the tiny squat stools for more bird madness.
Never say never in life for a friend’s request for some authentically crazy street food led us right to this very joint. Of course I had to show no fear in front of him when confronted with chicken feet, chicken innards and the piece de résistance, whole quails flattened out and grilling away. Truth be told, a lot of food over makes me overly squeamish and I wonder what are they thinking eating that. I ordered us one chim cút nướng each, and steeled myself for the imminent meal from hell.
Much to our delight this quail was delicious and I was actually able to overlook the charred head attached to a thin neck. The insides were mercifully scraped clean and all that was left was juicy, marinated meat. I loved the lemongrass and spice that hit my tongue with every bite. I found myself picking the bones clean and we ordered several more.
We squeezed the tart juice out of some oranges the size of a large gumball into a mixture of salt, pepper and dried chili pepper. This sauce was absolutely perfect for the sweet quail and I could have eaten a dozen more. This meal combined the customary sweet, sour, salt, and spice along with a food choice full of street cred.
My friend enjoyed eating out a meal out on sidewalk just feet away from traffic and mud puddles precariously within splashing distance of our perch. I enjoyed getting to know a new dish quite outside my comfort zone. And I will be back to this restaurant for sure.