On our last night in Hanoi, we headed for a one-stop pork dumpling shop. During some of our food adventures, Lindsay and I are following in the footsteps of Anthony Bourdain, and this particular family-run spot gained some claim to fame during his visit. It was a must.
At about 4:57 in the evening, we walked up to the 200 square foot restaurant spilling into the sidewalk. A tall, skinny, grey-haired gentleman that reminded me of my late grandfather was moving tables and chairs and sweeping the front entrance. From the curb I smiled the warmest, most excited smile I could, “are you open?” He smiled back and promptly waved us away.
Sometimes we’re not sure how to take this gesture. Earlier in the day we were waved away from our favorite little Pho Bo spot because it finished serving its remaining broth moments before, or so we told ourselves. Well, we lingered for a moment down the street discussing our options, maybe we’ll come back.
At around 7:30 after procrastinating by wandering the streets of Hanoi’s Old Quarter, Lindsay and I approached the pork dumpling mecca for a second attempt. We passed the man from earlier on the sidewalk, he made no acknowledgement.
We passed a women seated outside of the restaurant, almost on the sidewalk, spreading what I figured to be dumpling dough around a hot griddle. Her daughter sat on the other side of the griddle and when the dough was ready it was handed to her at which point she immediately began creating the dumplings. Neither looked up at us.
This time I made it to the doorway, the threshold, the few feet from intended dumpling heaven. Another daughter stood by a small cash box and several empty plates on which she plated the dumplings handed to her by her sister. She worked fast, and when I said hello and asked if we could take a seat, she didn’t make eye contact.
My face turned red, I began sweating, I paniced. We turned around and escaped to the other side of the street. I sat down and contemplated. Were we not welcome? Were we doing something wrong? Should we give up?
Though the old adage “third time’s the charm” is actually pretty rarely true, it gave us confidence (that and the english sign advertising the restaurant above the Vietnamese words). Maybe persistence would pay off.
We walked humbly across the street, passed the man, passed the women, passed the two daughters without a hello, a smile, a greeting of any kind. We went right in and sat down, just like we read about in our guidebook. Why hadn’t we done this before?
The daughter who served as both the dumpling plater and the waitress walked by us and held up two fingers. We nodded. Yes, two, two of something, hell, two of anything, we didn’t care, we were there, we had been acknowlegded, we had done some little thing right this time.
Moments later she set two overflowing plates of dumplings before us with mint leaves piled high as a tasty garnish. She pointed to the sauce dish and indicated that we were to dip the dumplings there for full flavor. We did. The light, thin rice paper defied the laws of physics and held together some delicious mixture of ground pork and fresh herbs made all that much better by that lovely dipping sauce. All finished off by a bite of mint and then a quiet laugh that we had finally reached this little slice of goodness.
The waitress walked by from serving another family and I held up my index finger. “One more,” I said softly, “we’ll have one more.”