What makes bun cha, the Vietnamese dish which U.S. President Barack Obama had for dinner on his first night in the Vietnamese capital on Monday, a delicacy of Hanoi people?
Popular in the northern region of Vietnam in general and in the Vietnamese capital in particular for its taste and simplicity, bun cha is a dish made from very simple ingredients.
It is comprised of two main simple parts, bun (white rice noodles) and cha (grilled pork and meatballs), and always served with vegetables and dipping sauce made from fish sauce, carrot and green papaya.
A combo of bun cha could also be complete with an optional dish of nem cua be (crab spring rolls).
A classical meal
Becoming a favorite of many northerners, the dish could be found everywhere in Hanoi from an outlet on the sidewalk, a storefront, or a stall at a market to a restaurant, and is easy to be made at home as well.
Being favored by Vietnamese people, the noodle dish has also become a choice for many tourists coming to the country, and been recommended by travel and cuisine sites.
Last year, a story about street food in Vietnam of The New York Times mentioned bun cha as “a classic Hanoi meal of charcoal-grilled pork slices and pork patties, served over thin noodles.”
According to the author of the piece, the Bun Cha Nem Cua Be Dac Kim storefront, a one-dish joint in the Old Quarter of Hanoi, is “where phenomenally flavorful grilled meat arrived hot and juicy, and the dipping options included a mountain of pepper-spiked garlic, along with fish-sauce-based condiments.”
In 2014, the dish was chosen as the world’s best street food by the internationally-renowned National Geographic Travel website.
The selection was made based on comments from National Geographic Travel’s Facebook fans, who were asked to share the best lip-smacking street eats they had sampled around the globe.
Earlier in 2011, bun cha was listed among the top 40 delicious Vietnamese dishes by CNN Travel.
“Pho might be Vietnam’s most famous dish but bun cha is the top choice when it comes to lunchtime in the capital,” the site said.
Hanoi’s most famous bun cha outlet is at 1 Hang Manh in Hoan Kiem District, according to CNN Travel.
Other famous and long-time outlets for bun cha in the capital include Bun Cha Duy Diem at 140 Ngoc Khanh Street in Ba Dinh District, Bun Cha Sinh Tu at 8 Ta Quang Buu Street in Hai Ba Trung District, Bun Cha 34 at 34 Hang Than Street in Hoan Kiem District, and Bun Cha Huong Lien where President Obama and renowned American chef Anthony Bourdain stopped by on Monday at 24 Le Van Huu Street in Hai Ba Trung District.
The southern version
With the dish’s popularity spread, it is not a surprise to know that the Hanoi delicacy has made its way to Vietnam’s most crowded city, Ho Chi Minh City.
Like in Hanoi, it is also easy to find a combo of bun cha everywhere in the southern metropolis, which has been known as a place of cuisine thanks to its convergence of foods from many parts of the country.
According to some diners, bun cha was first sold in Ho Chi Minh City when some people moved to the southern hub from the capital city and wanted to make the dish to remember their hometown.
One of the reasons that make bun cha enthusiastically embraced by southerners is that it is quite similar to a southern dish called bun thit nuong (rice noodles with grilled meat).
An interesting thing which diners may find when stepping into severalbun cha storefronts in Ho Chi Minh City is that they have the same style with stainless steel sets of tables and chairs, and serve the same type of Hanoi’s iconic soft drinks and desserts like Trang Tien ice cream, dracontomelon and apricot water besides the famous bun cha.
Some of the most well-known places for bun cha in Ho Chi Minh City include Bun Cha Hoa Dong at 121 Ly Tu Trong Street in District 1, Bun Cha Ho Guom at 135 Vo Van Tan Street in District 3, Bun Cha Anh Hong at 140b Ly Chinh Thang in District 3, Bun Cha Dong Xuan at B92 Bach Dang Street in Tan Binh District, and Bun Cha Xuan Tu at 291A Hoang Van Thu Street in Tan Binh District.
In February last year, American food blogger Mark Wiens also listedbun cha one of the 25 Vietnamese must-try dishes recommended by him after his trip to Ho Chi Minh City.
“It wasn’t as good as I remember in Hanoi, but it was still pretty tasty and definitely worth eating,” he wrote.