Mi Op La 33: The ‘Full-English’ Vietnamese Breakfast!
Any visitor who likes a drink will find out that Vietnam has some of the cheapest beer in the world. Following that evening of small serendipity will be the second realization that tropical hangovers are brutal. Backpackers crippled with hangovers often spend the morning crawling around Hue looking for a suitable breakfast cure. Unfortunately, visitors cave in to their desires for comfort food, often left choosing between over-fried eggs or a banana pancake. Banh my (Baguette-inspired Vietnamese breakfast sandwich) is a nationwide favourite with locals and guests. While they are available from a food cart, street vendors leave a lot to be desired in the overall experience. Mi op la 33 is the perfect Vietnamese breakfast spot and a hangover cure that leaves you full, yet pancake-free.
Op La: Eggs, bread, steak and the secret sauce
Like most Vietnamese dishes and restaurants, Mi Op La 33 has an unassuming name that translates into ‘bread fried-egg 33’. Nevertheless, there’s 11 variations of this dish including various meats and the restaurant’s secret sauce. For all the works and trimmings, go for the ‘đặc biệt: thập cấm’ (Speciality mix) which includes eggs, sausage, beef, fish and the meaty sauce. Drinks are also available in generous portions. Coffee, lemon juice, salty lemon juice and both hot and cold soya milk can be ordered to accompany your food.
The restaurant’s ‘secret sauce’ is what keeps the punters coming back. It’s a well-crafted combination of what appears to be tomato sauce, freckles of beef and a friendly dose of chilli/pepper. Developed by Trinh the owner, people have offered large sums of money for the sauce’s recipe. Up to now, Trinh has refused to sell the recipe and intends to leave it to her children as a form of inheritance.
From Mi Op La 33’s menu, Khanh the manager recommends the ốp la bò (baguette served with sizzling beef and eggs in the secret sauce) accompanied with a glass of chanh xí muội (Salty lemon with apricot) for a lean wholesome breakfast. Personally, I like to try and stuff all contents into a sandwich whereas Khanh likes to eat everything separately and use the bread to mop-up the sauce. The fate of the bread is in your hands.
The building and opening hours
Mi Op La 33 isn’t an unknown establishment. Comparing their tripadvisor and their Foody pages proves it’s extremely popular with the locale and tourists are seldom seen there. Tucked a few yards down alley 33 of Le Quy Don street and spanning two floors. Rush hours can be hectic but the whole business runs functionally throughout opening time. Unusually for Vietnam, the restaurant primarily functions on the second floor and bike parking underneath, unless it’s really busy like in the featured photos. Clients come from all walks of life and the restaurant makes for a good family environment. Although Mi Op La 33 is open from 6am until midday, we prefer to go later in the morning during the weekdays. When most people will be at work, a small array of mysterious characters will sometimes disperse across the restaurant and give it the feel of a 1970s Tarantino truckstop diner.
Khanh and Trinh: a Female-Fronted Family Business
Mi Op La 33 is a family business headed by Khanh and her mother Trinh. Khanh is often on the shop floor orchestrating staff while her mother takes charge of the kitchens. It started in 2003 when Trinh’s husband became redundant and she used the surrounding garden as a cafe to generate income. Trinh and Khanh sold coffee to neighbors who would often bring a chessboard to the garden to pass time. As business grew, clients asked for food and the mi op la was the solution. From there on, the restaurant evolved into something they never expected. ‘We started very small and built on a loyal customer base. Now, we serve around up to 180 people on an average day. Holidays and weekends can bring as many as 500 people. That can be more than a 1,000 eggs one morning.’
Aside from the building’s renovations and the menu’s development, the restaurant’s family values still stand at it’s core. Trinh is very much seen as a benevolent matriarchal figure in the community. She’s known to help staff that have personal issues and children are excited to see her for the candy she gives. Khanh tells us that her mother Trinh had only been a housewife before but now she’s the best cook in town. ‘Owning a restaurant hasn’t only been about making money, it’s taught my mother and I new things. I feel that this restaurant has made her more confident and open-minded. What she loves most is communicating with the guests. She likes to hear their feedback and make new friendships along the way. She’s definitely more in love with life.’
Khanh has seen her mother’s business grow alongside Hue city’s transformation. While the restaurant has seen a growing number of visitors from around the world, Hue has become more open to foreign investment and receptive to tourist trade. Khanh welcomes the city’s newfound diversity. ‘More people are speaking English. The city’s cleaner than before and public consciousness has improved. I hope we don’t begin suffering with traffic jams though!’
Mì Ốp La 33
Alley 33 Le Quy Don
Photos and additional research by Ana Fortuna