First published October 2021 | Words and photos by Vietnam Coracle
Huu Tri is a local, hole-in-the-wall, Vietnamese-style ‘donut’ shack in Duong Dong town, on Phu Quoc Island. Bánh chiên (fried dough) of all shapes, sizes and varieties are made freshly on the premises each day, from dawn till dusk. For over a generation, this family-run ‘donut’ shack has been serving customers with bagfuls of sweet and savoury deep-fried treats. About a decade ago, a brief craze for American-style donuts swept the nation, but has since petered out almost completely. Perhaps the reason American donut chains never captured the market here is because Vietnam has its own, long-established bánh chiên ‘donut’ scene, as exemplified by Hữu Trí on Phu Quoc Island. Friendly, local, family-run, unassuming, long-running, informal and inexpensive – Hữu Trí is everything that the best food and drink establishments in Vietnam always are. I’ll take bánh chiên over Krispy Kreme any day.
THE ‘DONUT’ SHACK PHU QUOC
Name: Tiệm Bánh Hữu Trí | Open Hours: dawn to dusk | Price: 8,000vnđ/piece
Address: 18 Bạch Đằng Street, Dương Đông town, Phú Quốc Island, Kiên Giang Province [MAP]
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Hữu Trí ‘Donut’ Shack, Duong Dong Town, Phu Quoc Island
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Place & Location:
For 25-35 years (I got different answers depending on who I asked) Hữu Trí has been preparing, frying and selling hundreds of fresh bánh chiên every day at the same location. A small, rundown-looking shopfront opposite the marina in Duong Dong town, Hữu Trí specializes in one thing: deep-fried dough. Like many of the best food outlets in Vietnam, Hữu Trí is about the food first, décor second. The paint may be faded, the plaster peeling and the signage weathered, but the ‘donuts’ are fresh, fluffy and tasty.
Open all day everyday, three generations of the same family take turns in the various roles of the business, all taking place in one small space. Even as you purchase your bánh chiên from the front of the store, dozens more are being prepared – kneaded, rolled, pounded into shape, then filled, fried and garnished – in the back of the store. Popular with locals, I hope Hữu Trí – and similar establishments nationwide – can continue to thrive, resisting the tide of domestic, regional and international chains that are increasingly swallowing up these local, family-run businesses, especially in the big cities.
Huu Tri offers at least a dozen varieties of Vietnamese-style donuts, called bánh chiên (‘fried dough’). Freshly made on the premises, all bánh chiên are deep-fried but surprisingly light and not too sweet (a couple of them are even savoury, filled with pork and egg, like a pasty). The average cost is 8,000vnd per bánh. Below is a list of some of the bánh chiên varieties available:
- bánh cam mè: fried dough ball sprinkled with sesame seeds, sometimes filled with a mung bean paste
- bánh cam đường: fried dough ball coated in sugar, sometimes filled with a mung bean paste
- bánh tiêu mè: large, light, puffy, airy ‘donut’ sprinkled with sesame seeds
- bánh tiêu đường: large, light, puffy, airy ‘donut’ coated in sugar
- bánh đùi gà: big, dense, asymmetrical ‘donut’ said to resemble a chicken leg (đùi gà), coated with sesame seeds or sugar
- bánh quẩy: light, greasy, savoury ‘twist’ bread resembling two dough strands intertwined
- bánh xếp: small, dense, savoury pasty filled with pork and quail egg
- bánh bao chiên: deep-fried dumplings filled with pork and quail egg
- bánh chuối chiên: greasy, sweet, deep-fried banana fritters – a house favourite: they sell out fast
How to Eat & Order:
The bánh chiên at Hữu Trí are takeaway only. Pick up a few to eat while strolling along Duong Dong town’s harbourfront and backstreets, or as a dessert after a bowl of local noodles at nearby Bún Quậy Kiến Xây or Bún Kèn Út Lượm, or after checking out the night market, or as a snack while riding around the island or for a picnic by the beach.
Even if you don’t speak any Vietnamese, ordering is easy because all the bánh chiên are on display on trays at the front of the store. Pointing will suffice, but sometimes staff simply give foreign customers a pair of tongs and a bag so you can serve yourself. Because each bánh chiên is so cheap (8,000vnd), you can afford to make ‘mistakes’. For vegetarians, there are only two bánh chiên to avoid because they have meat in: bánh xếp (the ones that look like little pasties) and bánh bao chiên (the ones that look like big dumplings).
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