The Art of Bun Cha Hanoi: My Favorite Vietnamese Dish

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The Art of Bun Cha Hanoi: My Favorite Vietnamese Dish

I give you my favorite Vietnamese dish; Bun cha Hanoi.

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.

So, what is bun cha?

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.

Bun Cha Hanoi Ingredients

Bun cha Hanoi; rice noodles, herbs and broth

The broth

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

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.

The how to

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.

Cooking Bun Cha Hanoi on Grill

Cooking Bun cha Hanoi; pork on grill

The uniqueness

It is just so good, but there are few more reasons why you should try it in Hanoi.

It is a lunchtime-only food

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.

Only in Hanoi

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.

Find the “Obama Bun Cha” in Hanoi

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).

Juno Kim
Juno Kim
Juno Kim, a happiness-seeking storyteller. Photographer, writer, and trained mechanical engineer. Life-long nerd. I left the cubic farm to follow my true love: the world. A firm believer of serendipity, astronomy enthusiaster, and living by passion and love in life. Currently, on a quest to discover stories and find the place where I can call 'home'. Follow my journey through @RunawayJuno and Google+ .

17 Comments

  1. Oh my favourite dish from Vietnam too!! absolutely loved it and ate it every other day in Hanoi 🙂
    Though we did try the street food version of grilled pork belly and the minced grilled pork i preferred the latter…your pictures are making me hungry!! 🙂

    • Juno says:

      Thanks Lavanya! Shame we didn’t have a chance to meet in Hanoi 🙂 I miss Bun cha… They were great. I moved my way down south, so I didn’t have chance to have it again. Ahh! Hope you had a great time in Hanoi! Where are you going next?

  2. Jenny says:

    Great post! You’ve made me hungry for Bun Cha! My mouth is watering. I’ll have to have some when I get back.

    • Juno says:

      Thanks Jenny! Food in south are really different, but I miss Hanoi’s food very much including Bun cha. And I met a guy traveling from Hanoi with his girlfriend who’s living in Hanoi, and we talked about the chicken street and how great their chicken is. 🙂 Thanks for introducing that to us!

  3. Andi says:

    I really need to try more Vietnamese food!

  4. I don’t know that I could pick just one favorite food from my travels in Vietnam, but bun cha is definitely amongst the top dishes. I was constantly in search of it. I do think I got it in Mui Ne….but that could be the sun and sand talking.

  5. Mark Wiens says:

    Bun Cha is also my favorite Vietnamese dish! I loved it so much especially for the variety of herbs and for the ever present supply of fresh chopped chillies and garlic – I could eat it all day long! Making my mouth water!!!

  6. […] Buncha, the dish I’ve never heard of it before Jenny told me through her article, became my favourite Vietnamese dish of all. The simple assembly of cold-sweet broth, rice noodles, vegetables and grilled pork made a fantastic taste. My taste buds were very happy, and demanding more. […]

  7. Jackson says:

    Hey,

    I’m wondering if you have any idea of the quantities to make the broth? Every recipe I’ve googled doesn’t have the broth, just “dipping sauce”. When I tried to get a cooking lesson in Hanio they just told me Bun cha was too hard and they couldn’t teach me it! I need Bun cha in my life haha.

    On another note I also managed to get pretty good Bun Cha in Sapa but none further south.

  8. […] Curious about Bun Cha? Here’s all you need to know about Bun Cha. […]

  9. Danielle says:

    I’ve never had Bun Cha before, but it sounds wonderful. I’m a big fan of all dishes with fish sauce! I was excited and ready to start searching for it in the States until I read the part about it only being available in Hanoi. I’ll probably still look for it. It also sounds like something I am going to try hard and create on my own.

    Vietnam has been on my list of places to visit for quite some time now. I’m hoping to get there in the next year or two. Thanks!

    • Juno Kim says:

      Thanks Danielle! Bun cha is a very regionalized dish to Hanoi, even though it’s really really popular. It was hard to find it even in other parts of Vietnam. But I think it won’t be too hard to create. All you need is a fish sauce, rice noodles, and grilled pork! I’d be interested to know if you succeed!

  10. Charlotte says:

    Hi! Great post:-)
    I have a question: is bun cha always served with broth? I also see pictures of the meat served ‘dry’.
    Hope you can help me!

    Cheers,
    Charlotte

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