The capital of Vietnam – Hanoi is full of great places where you can not only visit the historical heritage but also intrigue your new taste buds with the spectacular culinary culture. Nowhere is this better illustrated than Hanoi’s iconic Bun Cha which is perhaps the greatest Hanoi dish of all time. Bun Cha, in essence, is a feast of rice noodles served with grilled pork patties, pork belly, fresh herbs, and a sour-sweet fish-sauce-fortified broth. It has very lively colors, but the harmonic combination of meat and vegetables is the thing that makes the dish really special. The origins of Bun Cha are not very precise, but it has become a habit of Vietnamese people in a natural way. Together with the famous Pho dish, Bun Cha is the second most popular dish that comes from Vietnam.
Bun Cha gained its international popularity when former US President Barack Obama ate this dish together with the famous chef/traveler Anthony Bourdain on his famous TV show “Parts Unknown” that aired on CNN. During Obama’s official visit to Hanoi, they stopped at a local restaurant and enjoyed Bun Cha. Bourdain told Traveler in a 2014 interview that his first trip to Vietnam “changed his life” and he “constantly shocked by what we eat in this country though; like, the Cinnabon.” In honor of Anthony Bourdain, the tour “A Tribute to Anthony Bourdain: Taste of Vietnam” was launched by a Vietnamese-based travel company Exotic Voyages, featuring some of the best and most authentic Vietnamese dishes and restaurants in nine cities across the country
What is Bun Cha?
People believe that Bun Cha originates from Hanoi. There are other similar dishes that you can find throughout Vietnam that are made almost the same as Bun Cha, but this dish has its own specifics. Being so simple to make means that you can find it whenever or wherever you go in Vietnam. Regardless of whether you eat Bun Cha on the street or in some fancier restaurant, you will always get a plate with a bun, basket of fresh green veggies, and a bowl of broth with delicious grilled pork.
The bun part of the meal, or the noodles, are carefully chosen and prepared with extreme devotion. In order to have a tasty bowl of Bun Cha, the noodles need to be very soft and thin. Cha is the second part of the dish, which is the meat and broth served in a bowl. The pork meat can be cooked in a couple of distinct styles. It can be either grilled thin slice pork or ground pork – Cha Mieng or Cha Vien, as the locals say.
The broth is the dipping sauce of the dish, which is an important part of Bun Cha. In order to make the dish both sweet and sour, the person that prepares the dish combines sugar, rice vinegar, and fish sauce. Although ingredients are same everywhere you go, the taste of the dish may have a different taste in different places because of the number of ingredients added or taken away from the dish. The flavor of the dipping sauce is usually what separates a good from bad Bun Cha. Besides, fresh herbs and vegetables are irreplaceable side dishes that let you enjoy Bun Cha to the fullest.
The key ingredients of the dish include minced pork, pork shoulder, fish sauce, shallots, oyster sauce, garlic, carrot, green papaya, sugar, salt, rice vinegar, black pepper, as well as fresh lettuce basil, coriander, cilantro, chili, and fish mint.
How is it made?
First, the pork is marinated. The ground pork and pork shoulder must sit in a marinade of shallots, fish sauce, black pepper, garlic, oyster sauce for about one hour. After that, the pork slices are then grilled until they get their nice aroma and beautiful color. Bun Cha is served together with a dipping sauce and rice noodles on one plate and herb garnishes on another plate.
How and When to Eat Bun Cha?
To start eating Bun Cha, you first soak the noodles, meat, and vegetables in the fish sauce and then enjoy every bite. The noodles, fresh herbs, and pork are all mixed together in perfect harmony, so you will love the taste of this dish.
Vietnamese people usually consume Bun Cha for lunch, but all street food vendors, restaurants, and diners are open almost all the time so you can eat the dish whenever you feel like it. Interestingly, Bun Cha can be eaten in two distinct styles – northern and southern.
The northern way of eating Bun Cha is simpler than the southern. With this style of eating, you just need to dip all things into the broth, mix them well, and then eat them in the same way as the bowl of pho is eaten. Remember that the noodles are very soft and slippery, so you may need some time to get used to eating them with chopsticks.
Southern way of eating Bun Cha involves wrapping and rolling everything before eating. With the lettuce leaves, you can wrap the noodles, herbs, and pork, then dip that wrap into the sauce and take the bite. With this way of eating you do not need to use chopsticks but only your hands, so that is the advantage of the southern style.
No matter the way of eating, the best advice is to follow the locals and try to eat and enjoy in the same way as they do. That’s how you taste a culture to understand the place you travel to.
Places to Eat Bun Cha
Some popular places for eating this dish include Hương Liên, Đắc Kim, and Sinh Từ.
– The first restaurant Bun Cha Huong Lien can be found at 24 Le Van Huu and that is the place where Anthony Bourdain and US President Obama shared a table and enjoyed their bowls of Bun Cha.
– Other places to visit include Bun Cha Dac Kim (1 Hang Manh Street).
– Bun Cha Hang Ma (59 Hang Ma Street).
– And Bun Cha Que Tre (27 Dao Duy Tu Street).
The price of Bun Cha ranges between forty and fifty thousand VND or between $1.75 and $2.17. Being the most popular Vietnamese dish together with Pho means that Bun Cha is definitely one of those dishes that you simply must try.
>>> It is recommended you ask the locals if you do not know where or how to enjoy this dish and they will be more than happy to help you with everything regarding Bun Cha. In the end, enjoy every bite of this delicious dish and gradually feel the sophisticated taste of Vietnamese cuisine.
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