A Unique Style of Hanoi Dessert: Chè

If you’re a sweet tooth and happen to have plans for visiting Hanoi in the near future, "Chè" (sweet soup) should definitely go to the top of your food list. This dessert has always been kept close to the heart of Hanoian. Sure there will be lots of surprises once you taste it for the first time.

The origin of "Chè" - a unique Hanoi dessert

Chè originates from China, with the Chinese word for it meaning sugary water. It is a specialty of Chinese, mostly in the Quang Dong area. Through times of cultural exchange between China and many countries in Asia, Chè has made its way to be present in many countries, including Vietnam.

It’s definitely hard to trace back the first time ever Chè was introduced to Hanoi because all of these happened so naturally that barely any writers or historians noticed in books. But for sure, Chè has made their distinct mark on Hanoi’s food map since forever.

A kind of "Chè" (sweet soup) at Lang Lieu restaurant

Hanoi’s delicate style of "Chè"

Compared to Chè in China or any other cities across Vietnam, Chè in Hanoi has something simple yet hard to replicate: the simplicity. Hanoians have always cherished and harnessed sophistication in everything they do. With Chè, they have set some standards that can still be seen nowadays.

A fine bowl of Chè doesn’t have to be too colorful; the essence is to deliver your own peace of mind to eaters when making that dish. From the preparation, Hanoians are very selective with their ingredients. Every bean needs to be hand-picked or carefully selected because little things count. Even the decoration, as simple as sprinkling cốm or sesame on top of Chè, needs much attention. With much effort and time put into it, Chè offers you a sophisticated taste of dessert, which touches your soul.  

Some unique Chè that most Hanoians are familiar with when growing up is chè cốm, chè bưởi, chè đỗ xanh (green bean), chè đỗ đen (black bean), chè đỗ đỏ (red bean), … The style of making Chè like this in Hanoi has been festered ever since. Nowadays, though many variations of Chè have been introduced to the public, on traditional occasions or family gatherings, Chè in its purest form is still cherished and adored. 

Variations of "Chè" and its unblended features

Spanning decades or even centuries, Chè has been greatly alternated from only a few renditions to many variations nowadays. To list them all is ambitious. But some very unique Chè can be named:

The traditional "Chè"

These have already been mentioned above with the familiar chè đỗ xanh, chè đỗ đen, chè bưởi, … A thing in common other than their sophistication is the simple ingredient. Most traditional Chè only have one main ingredient. For example, chè đỗ đen focuses only on black beans, dedicating and delivering all of the fine taste of this bean. Most of these are made at home since it’s very simple to cook. We Hanoians grow up with grandmas and moms making this dessert. Traditional Chè is good no matter the temperature. In summers, we add ice to the dessert. In winter, it’s served when it’s hot off the pot.

Many stores nowadays add lots of other ingredients like shredded coconut or jelly to the traditional dessert, creating various renditions to this. Some even mix them up in one dessert. 

  • Chè thạch (jelly): The main hero of all kinds of jelly chè is obviously the jelly. A Chè thạch usually has many cute little jelly with different shapes waddling among coconut-flavored juice or dessert soup liquid. To list a few unique ones:
  • Chè thạch or chè rau câu - made from agar agar
  • Chè thạch lựu - made from seaweed and other pomegranate seed-shaped tapioca pearls.
  • Chè thạch sen - made from seaweed and lotus seeds
  • Sương sâm - jelly with Tiliacora triandra extract
  • Sương sáo - Grass jelly
  • Chè thạch sen - thin, vermicelli-like jellies. For any sweet tooth, this dessert is definitely recommended. Sweet blended by both the taste of the jelly and dessert soup is heavenly delicious and so addictive. 
  • Chè hoa quả (fruits and plants). It truly brings out the tropical side of Vietnam and Hanoian creativity. Interesting how from simple fruits like banana or longan and mango, people have found out ways to process them into very delicious desserts. These named below are some of the familiar ones:
  • Chè hoa quả (northern dialect) or chè trái cây (southern dialect) - mixture of various fruits including pineapple, watermelon, apple, pear, mango, lychee, dried banana, cherry, and dried coconut with milk, yogurt, and syrup. This one has remained on top of the list for many Vietnamese lately. 
  • Chè nhãn - made from longan
  • Chè xoài - made from mango
  • Chè trái vải - lychee and jelly
  • Chè bưởi - made from pomelo oil and slivered rind
  • Chè chuối - made from bananas and tapioca (Vietnamese: bột báng)
  • Chè sầu riêng - made from durian
  • Chè thốt nốt - made from sugar palm seeds
  • Chè mít - made from jackfruit
  • Chè lô hội - made from Aloe vera
  • Hột é - made from Sterculia lychnophora extract and basil seeds

Until now, many kinds of "Chè" have been introduced and popularised in Hanoi. It could be a totally new one or imported from other regions in Vietnam. The mentioned "Chè" in this article are only a drop of the ocean when it comes to discovering this distinguished dish. Just take your time and enjoy "Chè" the way you want.

In Lang Lieu's menu, we offer our customers a wide selection of "tea" dishes. If you want to satisfy your sweet tooth in a Hanoi way, come to Lang Lieu, we won't let you down!