Xuan Xuan is a deservedly popular place to try bo nuong, or grilled beef (and other meats), in Hanoi’s Old Quarter.
The concept is basically this: sit on tiny stools at just-as-tiny tables with grill pans in the middle, and cook your own meat. For the meat, choose from beef, pork or goat udders (or a combination of beef and udders). Unsurprisingly, there is no vegetarian option. Once that decision’s made, select the size you want, based on the number of people in your party, then order extras such as bread, chips and drinks. Note that a tub of margarine is charged as extra – just use the free oil if you’re watching your budget.
Helpful young staff — all dressed in bright yellow shirts bearing the name of the establishment in red — will light the block of paraffin under the foil-lined grill pan and provide a plastic bottle full of oil. Squirt the oil onto the pan and scoop on the meat and veg with the supplied chopsticks. Griddle until cooked, dip in a mixture of salt (or it might be MSG…), kumquat and chilli — squeeze the kumquat on yourself — and eat. The staff will regularly replace the foil to prevent sticking.
The quality of the beef at Xuan Xuan is better than we’ve tried elsewhere — though we’ve yet to try the udders so can’t comment on those — and it comes with just enough onions, spring onions, aubergine and tomato to add some variety. Portions of meat look large but they are easy to work your way through as the speed of eating is somewhat limited by the need to cook it yourself.
Xuan Xuan has tarted itself up since we started going there some years ago, and while it’s reasonably clean and bright, it’s still by no means salubrious. It’s still packed every evening, with both locals and travellers, which guarantees a good turnover of food and a lively atmosphere. Aim for a table outside on the pavement or just inside the main entrance so you can watch the goings-on on busy Ma May.
A plate of meat comes in at 100,000 VND + per person. Add to that bread and beer and you’re looking at around 150,000 VND each. It’s not cheap, but it’s a good feed.
Xuan Xuan is, of course, by no means the only place you can get bo nuong. A few other places lie along the same stretch of road or just keep your eyes peeled for signs.