Bo Ai at 19/12 Nguyen Thi Minh Khai street in District 1 specialises in two dishes. Bun oc Ha Noi and Banh da cua. Bun oc is a light Hanoian noodle soup with snails. I have no idea what Banh da cua is, although cua means crab and banh means some kind of cake, although Banh canh is a soup... Crabcakes/Crabcake soup? I'm not sure, and I'm here for the Bun oc anyhow, so let's not stress. Unlike the petite snails we scoffed on Tu xuong street these earthbound molluscs are massive.
We're here early and out on the pavement, restaurant front, snail-prep is underway. This chap takes a snail from a large box, slips off the 'hood' into the red basket, washes the snail in the blue basin, disposes of the snail crap in the yellow colander and puts the edible end of the escargot in the tall blue bucket. Colour co-ordinated escargot prep - how very cool. Below we have the freshly prepared snails. The snail killer did tell me the name of this snail, but I didn't have a pen to hand to note down the particulars and promptly forgot.
The restaurant is open to the street and is filled with the usual aluminium tables, TV and a beer and soft drink filled fridge. Below, the snail slayer's missus takes over in the skullery. She wears one plastic glove to handle the snails - which we previously saw on the pavement outside, handled by hubby sans plastique. The chef's plastic glove is relatively uncommon in Vietnam although I understand there has been pressure from the authorities to improve hygiene standards in these basic restaurants. Glass cabinets, refrigeration and gloves and part of the trend.
It's a mang di ve I'm after today (takeaway) As with other noodle soup takeaways it's thick with bun (vermicelli noodles). Thicker than if you had the sit down version. The snails err towards chewdom, but thankfully don't dwell too long there. There's plenty of them hidden under the noodles in the bowl below. The soup is a bit strange, slightly yellow in colour, but somewhat bland with no chili present. The dish comes with the usual shrubbery including a splodge of banana flowers.
It's a street soup, perhaps best served on the pavements of the chilly north. For myself, I have to say I wasn't too impressed. The Vietnamese have many ways of cooking snails and I hope I get to try a few more of them. However, I would be interested to know what goes into the soup as I couldn't find a recipe via Google. If you can help out, please post a comment. This mix of molluscs and noodles will set you back 8,000VD. View the business card.