Unpretentious and down to earth, Hakata Kouryu provides a cheap alternative to sushi bars. But is it worth downscaling? Photos by Julie Vola
Going out for Japanese in Hanoi is synonymous with having an expensive night. No matter how much we love our sushi rolls or udon noodles, it’s hard to find a spot that doesn’t dip into the upper-middle price range. Japanese food is expensive.
But as Hanoi’s Japanese restaurant scene grows increasingly saturated, budget options have emerged that allow for cheap, albeit simple Japanese meals.
Hakata Kouryu on Giang Vo demonstrates that not all Japanese nights need to be pricey or fancy. While you won’t find elegantly arranged sashimi or premium sake, Hakata Kouryu provides no-frills noodles ramen and snacks.
Located out of the way of the main nightspots, this converted shophouse skips the pomp and gets directly to the point. You won’t find memorable décor in the dining room, but the booths provide for a quiet, intimate setting.
We were seated upstairs and mostly had the restaurant to ourselves. The setting lacked any sort of real imagination — no frills, so to speak — but the pragmatist in me can accept a trade-off of atmosphere for inexpensive eats.
Hakata’s focus is ramen, which comes in six varieties. No wheels are reinvented at Hakata Kouryu, but the broth works.
We tried the Hakata pork broth (VND120,000) and the red ramen (VND140,000). Both were what I would expect of a standard Japanese soup. They lacked the sort of zest that would make them stand out from the crowd, but were pleasant to the taste buds.
The pork broth had a distinctive swine-like taste. In addition to the superb meaty texture of a proper slice of pork, I could taste a whiff of a live pig’s light fur coat.
The sides were appetizing, served almost in a tapas style. The Hakata fried chicken (VND50,000) went down well along with the dumplings (VND40,000). With a bit of white rice, the hors d’oeuvres themselves would have made for an acceptable meal.
I tried washing the snacks down with the sake (VND40,000). It was served as a highball mixed with water and ice. Many sake drinkers like their tipple served with ice — in a hot summer it’s the perfect cool down from the humid heat. Others just like it chilled. But used to the version which is served neat and warm, for me it was undrinkable, despite my many efforts to allow the drink to grow on me. I switched to Hanoi beer (VND40,000).
The food at Hakata Kouryu is worth the low price tag, though better deals on beer and options on how you would like your sake served would go a long way to attract a crowd. It’s got a pub-like feel, with cheap eats to accompany Vietnamese brew, and friendly waitstaff that don’t make you feel ignored.
Hakata Kouryu is at 25 Lang Ha, Ba Dinh, Hanoi
Food, Decor and Service are each rated on a scale of 0 to 15.
13 — 15 extraordinary to perfection
10 — 12.5 very good to excellent
8 — 9.5 good to very good
5 — 7.5 fair to good
0 — 4.5 poor to fair
The Word reviews anonymously and pays for all meals