Cơm gà Bà Buội

22 Phan Chu Trinh St, Hoi An

The charming exterior. What horrors await inside?
The charming exterior. What horrors await inside?

Shabbiness: 3 laowais

Food: 5 laowais

Mood: Vaguely colonial

Theme: Venerable shabbyplace

We’reeee baaaack! (Though only for some vietnamese special features, but still). This time we visited a famous restaurant in Hoi An, who’ve apparently been around since the 50s. That’s older and more famous (except for Tim Ho Wan) than any shabbyplace we ever visited before, so we enter with somewhat mixed expectations. The facade, like all of Hoi An, is painted in a pleasant yellow hue and looks generally, generically pretty in a somewhat bucolic fashion. Can this really be what it’s purported to be, a shabbyplace?

Yes it can! Asia always delivers.
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The cramped (‘cozy’) interior space sports some fancy hardwood pillars and terraces, but the grease-stained and bleached mint-green walls and hard concrete floor offsets any comforting feelings this might engender. Unless you’re like us, that is; now, we’re giddy with excitement. The color scheme and the peeling paint creates a vaguely Caribbean colonial atmosphere. An open kitchen, cold metallic tables, plastic footstols, bleached photographs and random plastic sheets with floral patterns completes the wonderful picture, though a bonus mention goes to the mystery door with a blue plastic curtain, framed by walls where the paint have peeled of and exposed the grey concrete underneath. What horrors lurk behind? Could it be the only thing worse than an Asian shabbyplace; an Asian bathroom?

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We don’t dwell on this, however, but eagerly proceed to the food. Like in a hundred thousand times more fancy (but less cozy) places in Europe, there’s one single dish. In this case; Chicken rice. One should be able to assume they’ve mastered it by now, because we do have fond memories of similar shabbyplaces, surprisingly excellent, back in Kunming. Not taking anything for granted however, because Asia is the continent of randomness and weirdness, we take a bite. And two. And three.

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There’s tender, tasty chicken pieces on top of masterfully steamed rice, decorated with onion slices and a cornucopia of herbs, and accompanied by some bowls of a really, really amazing broth. Like most good vietnamese food, there’s an odd feeling of freshness and crispness to it, despite it’s ramshackle surroundings. Though the portions could have been bigger, of course it’s dirt cheap, and we leave satisfied (and mystified that we haven’t gotten stomach sick yet). Once again we’ve proven our case! The best food is found in the shabbiest places, in China as well as in Vietnam.

Uncle Shu-Shu

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Lánzhōu Zhèngzōng Shǒulāmiàn 兰州正宗手拉面

In an alley off Wenlin Jie 文林街

Shabbiness: 4 laowais

Food: 4 laowais

Mood: Refugee camp

Concept: Late night drunk food

This Kunming institution in the alley next to the entrance of Wenlin Memento is one of two near-identical muslim places in the same decrepit building, both of which has the concept of almost never closing, serving late night post-drinking binge-food to the city’s bar crowd. Like all truly proper muslim places, they both serve shaokao (that is, barbecue), and have a nearly identical picture menu with classical staples like a plethora of hand-pulled noodles, noodle soups, fried rice, gaifan and similar chinese comfort food. The main difference between them is that one has recently renovated and is therefore less shabby than it used to be, which makes the other one, colloquially dubbed ‘Uncle Shu-Shu’, the obvious choice.  Also, Uncle Shu-Shu has better food, and a bigger outdoor seating, and nothing can really compare to the insane frustration of sitting down for dinner in the alley, and then suddenly having to move because some fucktard with a ridiculously huge car just has to squeeze the beast through this tiny alley even though it doesn’t lead anywhere. And upon asking him “why, god, why so big?”, he proudly answers: “大是好” (Big is good) .

CIMG1105The outdoor seating is probably the main feature of Uncle Shu-Shu, but you might also wanna experience the interior of the place, which manages to look improbably similar to a makeshift barack made out of sheet metal, fabric and old cardboard, combined with generous amounts of tin foil from the set of some B-sci-fi-movie. There’s dirty glass/plastic windows trying to wall of the kitchen areas, which is not strictly necessary because the area where they actually cook the food is hidden away from sight in a dark, remote corner man was not meant to know, saving you the horror of  actually having a clue what goes on in there. As one sits down on the broken plastic footstools one might briefly toy with the notion that the place is rather decent (it does have a cozy wooden roof), but then comes the sensation of the fat-encrusted tables and walls and the flies swarming around to their tiny hearts’ content. The sheer popularity of Uncle Shu-Shu does ensure a high customer turnover, and the thrash cans are of course there to be missed, so don’t ever put your bag on the floor here, ever. Yet, all of this, the roofs and corners stained black from decades of smoke, the cracks in the floor, the dirty, Harbin Beer-sponsored wallpapers about to peel off…while definitely a true, hardcore shabbyplace in its own right, it just can’t compare to Shípíng Shāokǎo.

CIMG1108The reason you’d visit Uncle Shu-Shu is mostly, however, because they make good food, and does so while being open at those really inconvenient dark hours when you’re truly 饿死了. The 炒饭, fried rice, is better here than at almost any other place, and the various fried noodles dishes are savory, tasty, just spicy enough, and almost guaranteed to make you full. The staff will happily make ridiculously spicy food for you if that’s your idea of awesome, and they somehow have an uncanny ability to make all the vegetables in their dishes feel weirdly fresh (probably a masterful illusion). The food here won’t win any awards, and there’s better places if you want gaifan (dishes on rice) and barbecue, but Uncle Shu-Shu will always deliver your noodle fix, and whether you want their great 丁丁炒面 (fried noodles chopped in tiny pieces so you can just gobble it up with a spoon, for when you’re too drunk for chopsticks) , their 新疆拉面 (cold Xinjiang noodles that you mix with a bowl of meat and vegetable matter) or the ubiquitous noodle soup, satisfaction is almost guaranteed.

One of the few places we've seen with the dreaded 'C'-rating, and proudly displaying it. (We've never ever seen any place, no matter how fancy, with an 'A', so we assume the minimum requirement for that is a really fat bribe).
One of the few places we’ve seen with the dreaded ‘C’-rating, and proudly displaying it. (We’ve never ever seen any place, no matter how fancy, with an ‘A’, so we assume the minimum requirement for that is a really fat bribe).

 

Lǎo Déhóng | 老德宏

In an alley in the neighborhood called Mayuan 麻园

Shabbiness: 4 laowais

Food: 5 laowais

Mood: Weirdly mediterranean

Concept: Trial by fire

Tucked away in the Hongkong:esque alleys off Laowo bar is this neighborhood hangout, complete with cheap booze and an outdoor seating shaded not only by adjacent concrete colossuses, but also plastic vines. It quickly dawns on us that this is a Dai place, and having gone here the first time with non-laowai, who promptly ordered for example a soup with inedible, fat chunks of ox skin, we’re surprised to discover that the menu is actually quite possible to interpret, even if your hanzi-fu is somewhat lacking.  This will be the story of the 鬼火怒 and  情人泪, two dishes notable for their evocative names and the fundamental weirdness of their composition. Being a little bit chicken after having ordered these two dishes (the first one, Guihuo nu ,means something like ‘Ghostfire fury’, the second, Qingren lei, ‘Lover’s tears’), we opt for some standard choices to complete the dinner, 白菜 and  腌菜肉丝; the first of these being fried cabbage, the second sliced meat with a kind of sour, pickled vegetable, that are pretty much standard fare in Yunnan.  It turns out that, in Lǎo Déhóng, , they’re not that special, and going for something else (like the godawesome mashed potatoes) is probably a better idea. Qingren lei is mostly just…weird; cold, sliced red onion with lemon and an unholy shitload of coriander. It’s not for everybody, though it certainly looks very appetizing. .

The Ghostfire fury, though..we stand in awe before the sadistic mind that conceived it.

The lover’s tears

Let’s get something straight: we like 辣椒, as in, chili. We like it a lot. One of us routinely eats the hottest Jalfrezis swedish indian restaurants have to offer, and subsequently goes around suffering from burns in his mouth all day. That’s just how viking we are. But this dish is insane, like something freshly crawled out of a smoldering pit in the buddhist hells. It consists of some kind of mashed, supernaturally strong chili, all cold, mixed with an ungodly amount of coriander, put  on a plate. That’s it. That’s this dish. We want to love it, but, well…no. Some meat or something to like soak in and savour the absurd spiciness could have saved it, but as it stands, ‘Ghostfire fury’ tastes like genocide.

With that remarkable achievement in mind, there can only be one rating for Lǎo dé hóngs food; a great one. While the menu is somewhat hit-or-miss, there are hidden gems all over it (there’s many nice fish dishes, and as previously stated, the mashed potatoes are to die for), and weird stuff in abundance, with the guihuo nu as some kind of twisted golden star. This is not the place to take your parents, but maybe hardcore backpackers who wants a challenge, or insane gourmets, and of course all lovers of Dai food. But it is a shabbyplace, to be sure, and this is reflected in the pricing; the beer costs like nothing, and we assume the liquor, too.

Ghostfire fury

As for the shabbiness, the outdoor seating is quite cozy, if spartan, and there are some awesome metallic footstools with huge gaping holes where your  ass is supposed to be. Somewhere close by is a live chicken making sounds, but we can’t seem to locate it, and the food has to be ordered and picked up from a opening in the back, where the kitchen is located in some kind of weird attachment to the main building, extremely cramped. If you’d rather sit inside, there’s a claustrofobic interior with a corner covered in used newspapers and piles of random 东西, dirty walls and weird cans with something pickled inside, looking suspiciously like olives. A whole has been carved out in the wall, covered on all sides by a shelf, so that you can peek into the kitchen. The laoban’s kid is frequently hanging arouund doing homework or playing with toys lying about, and his dad frequently gets angry at him and screams and curses, creating an extremely awkward atmosphere. To the guys defense, , he is also eager to offer laowai customers cigarettes and baijiu, though.

It seems somebody has almost tried to give this place a somewhat mediterranean feel, but the end result is so random it just adds to the fundamental shabbiness, and Lǎo dé hóng ha the added benefit of being located in one of Kunming’s shabbiest neighborhoods, where every street is more or less a must-see. The shabbiness rating, accordingly, is also quite high.

Also, say hello to our new photographer, and behold the awesomeness that is the new picture quality.