The author of a Vietnamese cuisine guidebook said “I discovered new taste buds that I didn’t know I had.” I think that is the most accurate description about Vietnamese cuisine.
As an avid eater, I was really excited about a month trip to Vietnam. And yes, I did eat a lot. Spring rolls, Pho and many other unique Vietnamese meals. Along with all the great dishes I had, Bun cha Hanoi comes first on the list of my favorite dishes in Vietnam.
Jenny, my friend and the writer of Runaway to Sister’s City: Hanoi, Vietnam recommended Bun cha as the food we must try in Hanoi. And she was right. You have to try it.
It is basically a cold noodle soup with pork. You’ll be served by a plate of rice noodles, fresh herbs, and a bowl of cold broth with grilled pork. The rice noodles and fresh herbs are pretty common in a Vietnamese restaurant. The broth and the pork are the ones make this dish unique.
After experimenting different restaurants, discussions, and research, I discovered the broth is based on vinegar, sugar and fish sauce. It’s sweet and sour, and also it has the unique taste of fish sauce. Without the fish sauce, Vietnamese food wouldn’t be completed. Anyway, even though we know what’s in it, controlling the portion of all the ingredients would be the tricky part. The broth tastes similar as Galbi; Korean BBQ pork. It usually served as room temperature. Picked radish and carrot are also commonly come together.
The pork is served in the broth. Depending on where you eat, there’ll serve grilled pork belly and grounded-grilled pork. In Bun cha restaurant which everywhere in Hanoi, has a fireplace to cook the pork.
Now you have it: rice noodles, herbs, and broth. Dip everything together in the broth and enjoy! There’s no complicated how-to with Bun cha. You’ll know what to do. I really enjoyed the harmony of fresh mint and a sweet piece of pork. Fresh garlic, chili pepper, and lime are always on the table as basic ingredients. Use it as you wish.
It is just so good, but there are few more reasons why you should try it in Hanoi.
Like Jenny said in her guide of Hanoi, people nap during the afternoon in Vietnam. Bun cha is a lunch food; it means you can only find it between 12pm – 3pm. I tried to find Bun cha restaurant at 2:30pm once. Wasn’t easy. You’ll see they grill the meat in the sidewalk before 12pm and closed after 3pm.
People believe that Bun cha originated in Hanoi. It’s usually not available in another part of the country and even if some restaurants have it on the menu, the taste just doesn’t right. The ingredients are pretty common, and the way they cook is also not so difficult, but I couldn’t find it after leaving Hanoi. Only one time at a beach resort in Phu Quoc Island we had it for 5 times of a price. It was worth it after a month of withdrawal though. So if you are in Hanoi, eat it as many times as you can. You’ll be missing it.
Bun cha gained its global fame when President Obama went to eat bun cha with Anthony Bourdain. Where did they go? It’s a restaurant called Bun Cha Huong Lien in Hanoi. They even have a set menu called “Obama Set”, serves a list of dishes they ate. This restaurant is always full, and rightfully so. Bun Cha Huong Lien was already popular for the exquisite bun cha taste and now more visitors come here after the press coverage. In my opinion, it’s harder to find bun cha that’s not good, but Bun Cha Huong Lien does it exceptionally well.
If you go: the prices vary according to the quality and quantity of the pork. I had it usually between 25,000 VND – 45,000 VND (1.50 – 2.5 USD).