Chuối Chiên Fried Banana – 2 of 365

Chuối Chiên in all Its Greasy Splendor

For over a year and a half now I have wondered what the ladies all set up along the Yen Phu Street sidewalks in the Tay Ho district of Hanoi are serving up.  A constant stream of snackers crouched atop tiny footstools doubling as chairs circle bubbling vats of oil.  Others on motorbikes drive up and shout out an order and within seconds cash and food in all its greasy splendor exchange hands at this most Vietnamese of drive throughs.  Ladies deftly maneuvering chopsticks drop battered something or anothers into the grease pits and this deep fried goodness floats right up to the surface.  Another precise flick of the chopsticks deposits the crunchy heart attacks onto metal cooling racks.

I can’t help but make the snide remarks inside my head that this stuff is surely a gutbuster in more ways than one given that all is prepared bare handed out on the sidewalk and only Buddha knows how old that cooking oil really is.  And besides providing us a trip to the porcelain god, doesn’t recycled cooking oil contain carcinogens?  Yeah, I can’t help but be cynical sometimes about appearances such as the banana stands.

The Banana Stand

This past week I found myself back in cold and cloudy Hanoi for a work related trip and wandered around Tay Ho on foot. Well I can report that curiosity finally killed the cat so to speak, and I decided to bite and check out the goods.  My most immediate concern quickly became how does one even choose which woman to go to and how much is the local price before they add the obligatory Person of European Descent Tax.  I observed for a few minutes and finally chose the lady with several people crowding her batter tubs and oil vats and ordered “mot” or one while pointing to a flat golden hued disk fresh out of its oil bath.

The fry cook appeared pleased enough I could say “one” in Vietnamese but little did she know that counting to three and saying thank you about exhausts my vocabulary.  She rattled off something in return so fast my only flustered response was to hand her a 10,000 Dong note.  In return I got back 2000 in change along with a fritter wrapped in newspaper. In other words 38 cents bought me the hottest street food snack going on Yen Phu.  And best of all I paid the local price.  Being that Yen Phu Street is far from the tourist confines of downtown, these street cooks are for the most part honest and one price fits all patrons.

Now about the newspaper cradling my grease bomb…two years ago I would have questioned the cleanliness of wrapping food in  recycled trash whose journey from the printing press to street food stand has taken it god knows where.  Living over here, however, makes me not really even care anymore.  A constant diet of these experiences slowly chips away what we would call our western sensibilities and fully immerses us into standards we can never fully explain to our friends and family back home.  When in Vietnam, do as the Vietnamese do, right?

I nervously bit into the hot fritter, prayed it wouldn’t revisit me later on, and discovered a sweet mashed banana under a crunchy shell tasting vaguely of a sweetened breakfast cereal.  Ah yes, I have now eaten a Chuoi Chien as its known here in these parts.  I wish I knew how to say delicious in Vietnamese because this truly was a street food experience even the most picky would enjoy.  Then again doesn’t anything fried taste good?  The grease by now had turned the newspaper into a soggy mess and I couldn’t help but envision the same happening to my insides.  But I did walk around for an hour so that negates the grease, transfats and cholesterol, doesn’t it?

Today’s discovery goes to show we can’t judge a book by its cover.  The surroundings definitely do not even rise to a 10 out of 100 on the sanitation scale, but who would have thought such a tasty street food snack could be had in front of a tiny lake at a Hanoi hotel?  I feel lucky to have finally sampled the real deal in all its authenticity for just 38 whopping cents.  Were this in America, some celebrity chef would have complexly reinterpreted this simple dish, charged $8 and served it with a pretentious side of ginger coconut mascarpone.  No thanks..I prefer my newspaper wrapped version of Chuoi Chien on the cold sidewalk fried up by a hard working woman earning a living.

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Categories: Vietnamese Food

One Comment on “Chuối Chiên Fried Banana – 2 of 365”

  1. joe
    January 10, 2012 at 2:16 am #

    fried banana? even that I can do

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