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Thuy Ta House: A unique historical building in the heart of Hanoi
Jenna Duong 07:35, 2023/08/20
Interesting historical details are revealed about the oldest and only restaurant built on the shores of iconic Hoan Kiem Lake.

Since 2008, Hoan Kiem District's authorities have strived tirelessly to carry out tasks to deserve the position of economic hub of the capital.

This remains particularly significant since the city's administrative boundary expansion 15 years ago

The appearance of the capital’s central district had changed drastically with many new works, especially public works like cultural centers, flower gardens, and schools. In addition, many typical heritage sites of the capital have been renovated to meet modern needs.

Among them, Thuy Ta Restaurant, a typical French-style building in Hanoi, has become a favorite tourist attraction and entertainment venue for both local and international tourists.

A symbol of Vietnamese “culinary diplomacy”

Thuy Ta is the only one located on the shores of Hoan Kiem Lake. Viewed from the east, the restaurant looks like a graceful 50-meter ship moored at the beginning of Le Thai To Street. Especially when the city is lit up, Thuy Ta’s sparkle enchantingly catches the eyes of passersby.

Since its inauguration on December 30, 1936, this Oriental-style building has been an important landmark of the capital In 2006, Thuy Ta Restaurant was honored to welcome many delegations of national leaders and attendees of the 2006 APEC Summit, contributing to introducing Vietnamese cuisine to the world. This is the place that Vietnamese cuisine is put to a new height with the newly-established definition of “culinary diplomacy”. It is difficult to find a restaurant in Hanoi that is more suitable for state receptions than Thuy Ta Restaurant. Located on an iconic heritage site of Hanoi, it boasts to have a beautiful view overlooking the Hoan Kiem Lake while offering a variety of wonderful Vietnamese dishes.

 Thuy Ta House is an ideal rendezvous for the coffee of Hanoians. Photo: Nha hang Thuy Ta

The iconic restaurant on Hoan Kiem Lake

In 1958, Thuy Ta Restaurant was established as the only eatery on the bank of Hoan Kiem Lake – “Thuy Ta” means “pavilion over the water”. With three gardens and two indoor dining rooms that can accommodate up to 450 diners, this place has been a popular culinary rendezvous for the elegant Trang An (Hanoian) people. Besides a variety of breakfast dishes such as beef noodle soup, chicken noodle soup, or Hoang Pho sticky rice, there are also nutritionally balanced lunches for office workers.

In particular, for family parties, romantic dates, or meetings with friends or business partners, Thuy Ta Restaurant offers a diverse banquet menu with hundreds of dishes - now not only Vietnamese specialties but also delicacies such as American beef grilled on volcanic rock, Hokkaido scallops, Atlantic cod or imported wines.

The Thuy Ta House in 1963. File Photo

Thuy Ta Restaurant is also a great place for “culinary diplomacy”, thanks to its both traditional flavors and central and scenic location. The restaurant was also selected to host delegations of leaders from other countries attending the 2006 APEC Summit, introducing Vietnamese cuisine.

But that’s not all the Thuy Ta building has to offer! As the oldest ice cream brand in Vietnam - nearly 70 years old, Thuy Ta is an icon in Hanoi's culinary culture. Tourists visiting the city often tell each other to “go to Hoan Kiem Lake and eat Thuy Ta ice cream.”

Meanwhile, many senior Hanoians still cherish their sweet childhood days, when they got to eat Thuy Ta ice cream every family outing at the lake. A little older, they would take the electric tram here with friends to enjoy ice cream every summer.

In the 1980s, the State-owned store in the Thuy Ta building was the first to introduce people to fancy ice cream glasses that differed from ordinary popsicles. From the original 14 flavors, Thuy Ta now offers around 50 ice cream products, which are modernly processed but still retain the traditional flavors of Vietnamese fruits: lemon, orange, strawberry, durian, coconut, and others.

 The magnificent view of the restaurant from the opposite side of Hoan Kiem Lake. Photo: Dao Hien 

Who designed Thuy Ta House?

In the 1930s, on Hoan Kiem Lake, some nearby houses looked old enough to be replaced by a new building that would harmonize with the whole area, where the Ngoc Son temple and the Thap But (Pen) tower are located. The new building was to be a rental facility for bars, cafes, and dance halls.

Therefore, the city did not finance its design and construction. Instead, a full package contract was offered, which meant that each bid was to include a design. The successful bidder was to finance the construction and have the right to operate the building for an extended period of time.

Despite being the best location in the capital, the huge investment required meant that there were only three bidders. The dossier of Nguyen Huy Ai, 51 Hang Dao Street, met all the criteria and was selected by the bid evaluation committee. Nguyen had the right to operate the Thuy Ta building for 14 years, from 1936 to 1950.

It's a wonderful space for ice cream. Photo: Nha hang Thuy Ta

It is said that he hired architect Vu Duc Dien to design the famous Thuy Ta House.

Architect Vu Duc Dien (1906 - 1961). From 1929 to 1934, he studied architecture at the Indochina School of Fine Arts, in the same class as Nguyen Xuan Tung, who later co-designed the Quan Su Pagoda in Hanoi.

However, a newspaper article claims that French architect Lagisquet designed the Thuy Ta building and shows a copy of the original drawing of the Thuy Ta facade signed by the Resident-Superior of Tonkin, Auguste Tholance, Mayor Henri Virgitti, and the draughtsman - Lagisquet, secretary of the committee.

It should be noted that François Lagisquet was deputy mayor of Hanoi at the time (from April 24, 1934 to April 25, 1936). According to the regulations, it is unlikely that he worked for Nguyen Huy Ai both as an official and as a secretary, but he still had the right to edit the original draft to improve it.

Thuy Ta House offers a great view overlooking Hoan Kiem Lake. Photo: Nha hang Thuy Ta

The verdict is that based on the above evidence, the legendary Thuy Ta House was designed by two Vietnamese architects, Vu Duc Dien and Nguyen Xuan Tung. Meanwhile, the French architect Francois Lagisquet is considered to be the author of the design and responsible for the administrative management of the Thuy Ta House.

Setting along Hanoi's iconic Hoan Kiem Lake and covering an area of over 800 square meters, with curved eaves and circular columns above the lake surface, the whole structure of Thuy Ta House shows the beauty of ancient Vietnam and reminds visitors of Hanoi fairy tales.

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