Paris Brest @ Beard Papa’s, Hanoi Old Quarter, Vietnam
In my tireless pursuit of Sydney’s best doughnuts, I sometimes find myself outside of Sydney… searching for the world’s best doughnuts. In this case, Vietnam.
Hanoi. A crazy city. Beautiful yet also crazy. And quite a culture shock for this guy raised in Western culture.
I just arrive. There’s a buffalo walking down the main highway from the airport. The closer we get to the city, the heavier the traffic gets, the smaller the roads get and the greater the number of motorbikes. Before long it’s insanity, but clearly it’s nothing unusual for the locals. What I see as insanity, they see as just another day.
Amid the chaos, there must lie doughnuts. And I’m going to find them.
It’s Saturday evening when my wife and I arrive at our hotel room, but we soon set out to explore the city. We know what general direction we want to go, and we’re prepared to walk it, despite the aggressive offers from taxi drivers, other forms of transport and the unbelievable traffic.
First challenge is to cross a busy intersection. There appear to be no formal road rules, so we cross with some locals. Success. Okay, now we understand the system. Be careful, walk and they’ll avoid us.
Humanity is in no short supply here. Many roads are blocked off for Saturday evening so it’s easy for us to get around. It’s like a huge party. The spirit of joy is infectious.
We find the big Saturday Night Central Markets in the Old Quarter. It’s crowded. Tourists everywhere. Australians everywhere. Vietnam is popular with Aussies at the moment. Despite the narrow walkways, motorbikes are still threading their way between tourists. Anywhere else and I’d be furious, but I’m the outsider so I look at it as a curiosity.
Among the old buildings there is an illuminated store sign: Beard Papas. Strange name, but I must investigate.
Beard Papa’s is a small chain of stores that sell custard puffs. They have one in the shape of a doughnut, so I’m calling it a doughnut. They call it a Paris Brest, which I discover is a French dessert made of choux pastry and a praline flavoured cream. I’m still calling it a doughnut. I guess it’s legacy of when Vietnam was a French Colony. (I could of course make lots of Brest jokes, but I’ll keep this on a family level).
There are three young kids behind the counter, each only do their assigned job – one to take the order, one to watch the other one take the order, and one to fulfil the order – so the going is a bit slow.
There is a choice of fillings and the vanilla custard is sold out, so I go with one that’s not listed – strawberry cream.
The pastry is a bit crusty but it’s nice. It’s light and airy. There was a dusting of icing sugar on top. The filling has a bit of a yoghurt flavour to it.
All round, not bad for my first Vietnamese doughnut.
By the way, I discovered they once had a presence in Australia – in Sydney they had stores in Chatswood and Macquarie Centre in North Ryde – called Beard Papa Sweets. But it seems they have disappeared.