Thursday, March 05, 2015

Rice noodles with snails in Hà Nội (Bún ốc cô Thêm)

It's surely one of the most famous places for this popular traditional rice noodles with snails in Hà Nội, it's simply called "Bún ốc cô Thêm" in Hàng Chai, located in small, short alley between hàng Rưoi and Hàng Cót. Living in Sài Gòn, I'm quite familiar with this kind of dish, but I would love to taste it in Hà Nội where the cuisine is way famous for their delicate authenticity.

            "Bún ốc Cô Thêm" - Thêm is a name of this lady-owner, inherited this business from her mother.

"Bún ốc cô Thêm" was on the top of my list during my stay in Hà Nội. I came to Hàng Chai around 9:00 am, quite crowded, all customers sitting on small low blue plastic chairs around Mrs Thêm's in a tiny room that she probably rented for over 25 years since her mother's time. The smaller red plastic chairs were used as the table here.

                        You have a choice: big or small snails or a mix of big and small. 

It was my first time so I had no idea how to order, until she asked "big snails" or "small snails" I said "big"! To me it seemed the bigger, the better but according to many others "small snails" are more tasty and the big ones - slightly tough but also good. They were actually two different kinds of snails!
Anyway she added everything: the shrimp paste, the light-yellow liquid from a plastic bottle - which turned out a "special vinegar" to enrich the sourness of the soup, the sate...

                   Look at the basket of the rice noodles - it was only one of many baskets per day!  

                    I was the first customer in my second visit, when the business wasn't ready yet! 

It was a bit difficult for me to sit in a small chair, where all people, very close to each others, and then suddenly the bowl passed to me, I hold it, a hot and full bowl, with my two hands...luckily another chair nearby and that became my table.

Despite the tiny room, tiny chairs and super tiny table, full of people...I had to say I was impressed by this "bún ốc cô Thêm". Hard to describe the taste of the dish here, it has so many flavours: the sourness of fresh tomatoes, original liquid-like-vinegar called "dấm bỗng" (made of fermented sticky rice), the sharply strong taste from the shrimp paste...and finally the fresh, tasty snails...either big or small.

                    The business starts from 7:00 to 11:00 as latest, around 9:00 - the busiest time!  

Different from bún ốc in Sài Gòn, where people prefer more sweet, a lot of other things like deep-fried I didn't feel it, instead - the simple but quite authentic taste, that probably made this rice noodles with snails special in a Northern style. 

                           My bowl with only big snails...

                            Another bowl with big, small snails mixed together...

              People surrounding Mrs Thêm, hold the bowl on their hands, enjoy eating...

There is many dishes I want to try whenever I has a chance to stay in Hà Nội, I quite like the Hà Nội taste, probably because of their original simplicity and the delicate taste. Nowadays some places, in order to double, triple...their benefits, by risking the human health, they go using some, even banned intoxicating substance in their food preparation. Bún ốc cô Thêm has its reputation for over 25 years, I'm sure the lady-owner understood the value of the asset that her mother left for her, it's much more than anything that she could wish...


  1. You should try more famous dishes in HN such as: bún đậu mắm tôm, bún chả, chả cá...etc
    Btw, can you give me some suggestions of specialities of SG?(Name, add to enjoy, price...).
    Im going to travel to SG in 1 month but I dont know anything abt SG cuisine :(
    Thank u ^^

    1. Hi there, thanks for reading my blog and for your suggestions. I did try some other specialities that you mentioned and plan to review all in one post " Most popular street foods in Hanoi". It would be nice if you could help me to list down around 10 specialities. I did try bun dau mam tom Phat Loc, pho Bat Dan, bun ca cay si, banh goi Ly Quoc Su, bun doc mung, cafe truing o cafe Giang, xoi Yen, banh khuc...Regarding in Saigon, you can check other posts in my blog, hope it helps. Cheers


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