Lau Hot Pot (lẩu riêu cua) in Hanoi
I opened the lid to peak inside. The thin, clear broth in the battered metal hotpot was just starting to simmer over the small blue flame. Bright red tomatoes, fried tofu and green onion tips bobbed and swirled. I could smell tamarind (maybe lemon grass?). Our Vietnamese language teacher and friend, Thao, added a pile of fresh leafy greens: mixed lettuce, morning glory, perilla leaves, cilantro, banana leaves, and mint. Then closed the lid.
The best food is shared food. This evening, our small party of three dined at The 1946, an up-scale restaurant near Dong Da Lake in Hanoi. We sat cross-legged on the floor, drinking tiny cups of rice wine, nibbling on salty peanuts, green mango salad, and crunchy fresh veggie crudités while our dinner began to boil. Thao added thin strips of lean beef and a crimson-colored mixture of pounded fresh-water crabmeat and stewed tomato paste. We waited a few minutes until the it came to a roiling boil.
My husband dolled out strands of rice noodles into palm-sized bowls over which Thao poured ladles of the colorful hot pot stew. I squirted a tiny small lime over the top and dug in, discovering why the rich tasting, slightly-sweet Field Crab Hotpot (lẩu = hotpot, riêu cua = fresh water crab) is such a well-loved dish in the northern region of Vietnam. The depth and diversity of flavor -- tomatoes, the tang of lime, pungent herbs, the texture of tofu and beef, all accented by the sweet taste of crab -- commanded our full attention as we paused our conversation for several delicious moments to savor "eating all the things". #noFoodnoLife