When I was little, my mom was the one to tuck me in. They put me to sleep not with lullabies and fairytales, but with their stories of their own lives during the Vietnam War, the most difficult and miserable in Vietnam’s history.
I cannot forget my mom’s eyes when she told me about her most regretful day in her life, it was the day that her mom (which is my grandma) died. My grandma died when my mom was just 14 or 15. Before she passed away, she told my mom that she was really wanting to eat giò (Vietnamese pork sausage). But during that time, you couldn’t just go and buy it right away, you have to line up at the grocery store with your food stamps. Long story short, the line was very long, my mom had to line up from the early morning but she couldn’t buy it. My grandma passed away without having her favorite food and my mom keeps blaming herself until now.
Cửa Hàng Ăn Uống Mậu Dịch Số 37 is a restaurant that is re-modeled and designed just like the food/grocery store during subsidy period in Vietnam. During that time, goods are distributed according to the state stamp mode. The goods were not allowed to freely trade in the market, or from local to local and money exchange was very limited. So in order to get food in Cửa Hàng Ăn Uống Mậu Dịch Số 37, you have to pay for the stamp before you can have the food.
I did a little research about this restaurant the day before, they said that you need to make a reservation because it will be very crowded. I got there around 12pm and it wasn’t that packed. Half an hour later, I don’t know where did people come from but all the tables were full, the staffs and waitresses were running around loudly talking at each other just like the old time, I assume.
Located in a pretty unknown street in West Lake area, Cửa Hàng Ăn Uống Mậu Dịch Số 37 is a small building with fun decoration that gives you the wow effect. From the banner to the bike hanging up high, this restaurant makes the customers becoming curious.
Living in a big and modern city like Hanoi, I’ve never expected to step in a space that is totally separated from the outside world. Even the playing music was some old songs encouraging farmers to work or some loud alarm about bombs.
You are probably thinking that there are too many stuffs but they are more than stuffs, they are priceless memories.
If you’re looking for some quality food and fancy plating, then this is definitely not the right place. With the purpose of bring back the old feeling of difficulties during subsidy period, the menu is so simple wit not a lot of meat but fishes and vegetables. Instead of serving per person, it is more like a family meal.
The first dish came out was Stir Fried Pumpkin with Garlic. Pumpkin is really good for health, especially for pregnant women. This is my childhood’s dish because as a kid, I did not enjoy eating greens but pumpkin is sweet and easy to eat with the signature taste of garlic. However, they could leave the on the stove for another 5 mins because I like my pumpkin well-done.
The next one is Mậu Dịch’s Fried Rice. Rice was so expensive that time and not everyone can afford to buy it. So instead of cooking all the rice they have, people mix rice with cassava to make it more; therefore they can feed their whole family. This actually tasted nice.
Deep Fried Pork Belly is my favorite one. Even though the meats are a little bit hard and close to burn but this is how it is supposed to be. Meat was also expensive so they made it very salty so with one piece of meat, they could eat it with a lot of rice. I found this dish so delicious! The meat was crunchy and perfectly seasoned.
Braised Pork Belly with Fish Sauce and Trám. Trám is a special fruit that I cannot find out what is the English word for it. Trám is very helpful for your throat. Even though the meat was braised with trám, you can barely taste it. This dish would be perfect if you have it with rice.
Last but not least, Sweet and Sour Meat Broth. I love this soup! It has the sweet taste of pineapple and sour of tamarind. It’s another basic Vietnamese dish.
It won’t be a complete meal without a cup of Vietnamese Iced Green Tea. In a hot summer day, this will give you a refresh splash.
All the bowls, dishes, cups, and utensils in general are from the subsidy period. One of the owner told me that they had to look over in their storage or even spend a lot of money to get these because they are very limited nowadays.
Cửa Hàng Ăn Uống Mậu Dịch Số 37 is not only a restaurant but also a museum. It gives you an idea of the living style back then when the economy was difficult.
Me and my friend were the only two that are from the young generation. Most of the customers are older. Some came here straight from work for a lunch break, some were looking for a flashback. Seeing two young girls, the owner was excited to explain stuffs for us. Here is one of the quote during the Vietnam War:
The owner was so friendly, he even showed us the Guess Note and some touching notes that the customers left here.
I was so happy that day, not only of the good meal but also a new experience. Lesson learned that I have to appreciate what I have now and always remember my root, Vietnamese. Thank you Cửa Hàng Ăn Uống Mậu Dịch Số 37 for an unforgettable day. I will definitely comeback soon. And I hope you will have one of your “time of your life” moment here.
Location: 5/10 Delivery: No
Service: 7/10 Take out: No
Food: 8/10 Price: $
Address: 37 Nam Tràng, Ngũ Xã, Quận Ba Đình, Hà Nội. Tel: 04. 371 543 46
Until next time, stay freaky.
Thank you my dear friend Bun H. for taking these beautiful pictures. Check out her blog!