Yet we thought we’d try something different this month, something to add a different angle on where you eat. Vietnamese che desserts are popular in Vietnam, yet hardly ever make the menu in a proper sit-down restaurant.
Vietnamese che is a staple dessert that generally consists of a mix of fruit, jelly, beans, sticky rice, and coconut cream, and is extremely popular with young Vietnamese. The variations are endless.
Keeping Traditions Alive
Lutulata Dessert Café serves che, as well as tofu-based desserts and drinks in an old townhouse on the edge of the Old Quarter.
The building is decorated as it would have been back in a time before motorbikes and glass towers came to prominence. The desserts sold here keep to old recipes, the ones used for sweet snacks by the street vendors who would sell to the owners when they were kids.
“This place reminds us of our childhood, and when older people come here it reminds them of the old days,” says Phuong.
Lutulata is a family business. Phuong is studying at university and helps out where she can, while her brother Hung works in the café. Her mother selects all of the ingredients, ensuring only fresh and good quality fruit and tofu is used. Her sister-in-law makes the mix during the morning.
“If you arrive in the morning you can see my sister-in-law making all of our che on the second floor,” says Phuong. “People like to come and see that it’s fresh.”
You can tell when you walk through the door that this is a family business — the staff are friendly and obviously close to each other, they’re laughing away behind the counter throughout our visit.
The whole of the third floor is outside, sheltered by tarpaulin, and decorated with plants, wooden benches and tea lights. It’s an ideal atmosphere to escape and get some work done, or perhaps bring a date in the evening.
It’s also worth having a look through the selection of ceramics on sale between VND50,000 and VND100,000.
For the Sweet Tooth
The menu is easily readable; che is the main dish served — we try the Lutulata Special (VND35,000), a mix of three kinds of sweet potato accompanied by banana in coconut milk and topped with fresh and dry coconut. This is a filling dessert. The potato pairs well with the coconut, while the aftertaste brings hints of banana.
Next, we try the cassava soup (VND28,000). Also based in coconut milk, the woody cassava root is complemented by ginger and is best enjoyed hot.
“The cassava soup is very popular in this cool weather,” says Phuong. “A hot soup with ginger is the best at this time.”
Lastly comes the most enjoyable of the desserts; yoghurt with jackfruit, jelly, and hat dac (VND32,000). Hat dac is a small, chewy fruit native to Nha Trang and is certainly worth trying. This dessert is best eaten with crushed ice to better bring out each flavour.
The space lends itself to cosy winter evenings — there’s something inherently homely about the atmosphere here. It’s generally filled with groups of people chatting, working and painting, and young couples enjoying their desserts together.
Che brings out a part of Vietnamese food culture that visitors often overlook. While dining in Italian restaurants and gourmet burger joints is always a pleasure, making a trip to Lutulata will give you a deeper understanding of Vietnamese food culture and traditions. And it won’t hurt your wallet.
Lutulata is at 39 Hang Cot, Hoan Kiem, Hanoi. Opening hours are 8am to 11pm.
PHOTOS BY TEIGUE JOHN BLOKPOEL