Come 4-6pm onwards and you’ll find Lau hotpot slopping out onto the streets all over town. Lau is drinking food. Chim cut chien (fried Quail), Trung vit lon (Embryonic duck eggs), Bo la lop (beef leaf wrap) and innards sarnies are also part of the booze scene, but they’re George Lazenby to Lau’s Roger Moore-esque status. Some dread Lau, some revere it.
It’s basically a communal trough, heated on the table. There’s a plate of greens, one of meat, a nuoc mam (fish sauce) dip and a side of bun (cold vermicelli noodles). Chuck the meat and greens in. Wait… eat. Nothing fancy, but very popular with boozers. There are a tonne of these restaurants on (I think) Truong Dinh street, but you’re never far away from one wherever you are. Check out the signs above, front and back. I love the lack of thought that goes into these things. Note the blue pen drips. Rainmungsly ace.
Out front we have ‘the goods’. Lower tray is filled with raw rau muong and another green leaf number I don’t think I’ve seen before. Middle row we have slices of ‘sponge‘ (another veg. I don’t know the name of, but often appears in a Canh chua ca also) and okra. Top shelf is chokka with banana flower, pineapple and tomato. Behind the stall is a large soup vat. This no-fannying-around joint at 314 Hoa Hung street in District 10 serves a Thai style Lau with either ca (normally ca loc – a river fish) or luon (eel) for 20,000 – 30,000VD. At that price even the plusher version is less than a British quid.
The restaurant proper is little more than a front room come motorbike park. It’s got that functional tatty look of many a good foodshack in Saigon. However, I’m not here to soak up the atmosphere. I ask if they do mang di ve (takeaway) – they do – I order a Lau luon to go. Doesn’t seem to matter whatever you want in Saigon, you can get it ‘to go’. Marvellous.
To one side of the restaurant is this wee trailer with an aged polystyrene ice box inside. This is the fish depot.
Not that spotless ehh?
Oh bollocks. I’ve already ordered…
Here’s the Lau itself, the hotpot. Beansprouts, pineapple, bamboo sheets, acres of spring onions and mucho chilli. Ouch. The Thai signage means you’ll be getting your hellishly hot Lau here. This must be the hottest thing I’ve ever eaten in Vietnam. Vietnamese food normally goes easy on the chillis. Quel surprise.
Chopped eel, more spring onion and ‘dust’. Are we talking prawn dust?
Once your hotpot’s hot, chuck in Green Mountain above along with your eel. Unfortunately, this eel is still full of bones which is more than a smidgen fiddlesome. In fact, it’s an outright pain in the arse. I’d probably opt for the ordinary fish version on a follow up visit. I’ve had Lau in Hanoi many a time. It’s quite different up north, more basic, different noodles and more than a bit crappy when all’s said and done. Saigon’s is way snazzier, bags more hotwired fruity sweet bite. All in all it’s a far more interesting score than the northern heap of crap. I intend to try more Saigon Lau. Will blog when I have.