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 of Vietnamese cuisine. As a food lover, 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 with 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 Vietnamese restaurants. The broth and the pork are the ones that make this dish unique.
After experimenting with 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 is usually served at room temperature. Picked radishes and carrots also commonly come together.
The pork is served in the broth. Depending on where you eat, there’ll be grilled pork belly and grounded-grilled pork. In Bun cha restaurant which is everywhere in Hanoi, has a fireplace to cook the pork.
How to eat bun cha
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 a 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 12 pm – 3 pm. I tried to find Bun cha restaurant at 2:30 p.m. Wasn’t easy. You’ll see they grill the meat on the sidewalk before 12 p.m. and close after 3 p.m.
Only in Hanoi
People believe that bun cha originated in Hanoi. It’s usually not available in other parts 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 once at a beach resort in Phu Quoc Island, we had it for 5 times the 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.
Update: with growing popularity especially after President Obama’s visit to Vietnam, now you can find bun cha in many restaurants around Vietnam.
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”, which serves a list of dishes they ate. This restaurant is always full, and rightfully so. Bun Cha Huong Lien was already popular for its exquisite bun cha taste and now more visitors come here after the press coverage. In my opinion, it’s harder to find bun cha which is 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). Read more about what $1.50 US would get you in Vietnam.