Mau Dich 37, Hanoi - review by Rusty Compass
Hanoi | eating guide

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Mau Dich 37, Hanoi

| 28 Nov 2012
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Mau Dich 37, Hanoi
37 Nam Trang, Ngu Xa, Ba Dinh, Hanoi

Our rating
28 Nov 2012

Mau Dich 37's quirky nostalgia for the impoverished days of Hanoi in the 1970s and 1980s makes for an intriguing and surprisingly tasty dining experience.

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Most travellers to Vietnam will devour the country's delicious cuisine unaware that only three decades ago, food rationing and hunger were the most reliable staples of life here.

Mau Dich 37, a recently opened Hanoi eatery, draws on a surprising nostalgia for those difficult days. It's a recreation of an old, State food store - a "mau dich" - where Hanoians once lined up and exchanged coupons for small parcels of rice, pork fat, vegetables and other modest essentials.

The decoration, including the cups, bowls and cutlery, go some way towards recreating the period. But the knives forks and spoons are better than the bent cutlery that was common in Hanoi eateries even in the early 1990s.

Serving staff wear the uniforms of the old state food stores and sell food coupons to diners that are exchanged as dishes arrive.

The menu is more extensive than anyone in the 70s and 80s could have dreamed - but it's faithful to the simple delicious basics of northern cuisine. And Hanoian friends assure me that many of the dishes are reminiscent of the period too.

The objective back then was to create as much flavour and nutrition out of the most basic ingredients - enhanced by pungent sauces. And it's remarkable how tasty some of the dishes, born of deprivation, are.

Plenty of thought has gone into this place. And while nostalgia for penury may seem peculiar, Hanoians, young and old, are flocking to Mau Dich 37. Lunches are especially busy.

The opening of Mau Dich 37 coincides with the most serious economic and political crisis Vietnam has faced in twenty years. It's tempting to speculate that nostalgia for such difficult times is in part driven by a backlash against the rampant corruption and inequality of the present.  Some Hanoians told me that despite the hardship, the 70s and 80s were "kinder" times.

This is definitely on my list of Hanoi favourites.

Mau Dich 37 is located just back from Truc Bach Lake (where John McCain's plane was shot down in 1966). It's 5 - 10 minutes by taxi from downtown Hanoi.
Mark Bowyer
Mark Bowyer is the founder and publisher of Rusty Compass.
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