Previous Street Snackers have covered all manner of rice, noodle and bread-based street food delights. The one thing these dishes all have in common is good value, a characteristic held in high esteem by the thriftiest of all creatures; students.
The alleys around Kim Lien High School, Dong Da, are a perfect example of one of the many student-centred street food haunts found in Hanoi. One of the tidiest set-ups, containing more fashionable teens than a CGV cinema on a Saturday night, is The Canteen.
Once upon a time, student food was a byword for nasty, cheap grub suitable for students able to operate a microwave. Enter Instagram, and suddenly every meal is an opportunity to look trendy.
The menu at The Canteen reflects that desire, with international dishes offered alongside the more local nosh.
A plate of nem chua ran (VND28,000) or banh mi with sausage and pate (VND20,000) ensure that typical Vietnamese student food is represented. The former are tasteless skewers of fried grey matter, whereas the crusty banh mi is filling, tasty and a more well-rounded meal.
The rest of the menu, however, is held together by contributions from America, Korea, France, Italy, Thailand and Japan.
The greatest of all Parisian inventions, mozzarella sticks (VND25,000 for four), make for an excellent snack and ideal replacement for the forgettable nem chua ran.
Hit and Miss
In the Korean corner, fried rice with kimchi (VND35,000) limbers up alongside fried gimbap (VND28,000) and spicy kimchi soup (VND 35,000). The gimbap are quite stodgy, but the fishiness of the laver seaweed punches through, demanding recognition.
The rice is a dynamite dish, with a crusty layer formed under the main bulk, and plenty of lean pieces of grilled meat to break up the spicy and sour notes coming from the cabbage.
Representing a swing and a miss, the hamburger, in either beef or chicken variety, fails to make an impression, even with the wallet-friendly VND15,000 price tag. Don’t expect wagyu, but do expect mayonnaise and ketchup as standard.
Packing the most flavour was the chicken and cheese (VND39,000). Small pieces of stir-fried chicken in a thick tomato sauce, under a blanket of melted cheese; every rushed bite an obstacle to the next.
The sum of VND25,000 will get you a plate of the most buttery French fries imaginable, which are sure to divide opinion as to whether they are sickly and fattening, or addictive and divine.
Elsewhere on the menu, you can find spaghetti, egg crepes, bulgogi sandwiches and ramen, all boasting low prices.
The biggest surprise of the meal was the Thai green tea, which at just VND10,000 is in equal parts good value, delicious, sweet and refreshing. Ready-made caramel puddings (VND8,000) will satisfy all but the most fussy sweet tooth.
One of the best things about The Canteen is the location. Every alley around it contains several student eateries; each one is packed to the rafters with students during lunch and after school, and each offers different food.
At The Canteen, the prices are low enough that you can order several dishes, and find yourself using good variety as an excuse for quality; something that many of the dishes do have, in addition to their aesthetic value.
The Canteen is located at 104/4C Dang Van Ngu, Dong Da, Hanoi and is open daily from 6am to 9.30pm