If there is one interesting moment that grasped the attention of the shutterbugs in 2016 it was Barack Obama and Anthony Bourdain eating the Bun Cha in Hanoi. After all, it’s not every day that the President of the USA enters a nondescript restaurant with a swashbuckling celebrity chef to enjoy a bowl of the dish. Tucked in the south of Old Quarter, Hanoi, the Bun Cha Huong Lien, a family run restaurant works arduously to make this iconic Vietnamese wonder day after day. It’s gotten used to the attention and swells with pride at being the chosen one. The restaurant is on every traveler’s list and highly recommended for first-timers in Hanoi. After all, if two famous international personalities, Barack Obama and Anthony Bourdain chose this place to have a meal, then undoubtedly, it has to be the best.
Traveling in Hanoi is never an issue. There are Xe Om (motorcycle taxis), Cyclos ( bicycle rickshaws ) and taxis. Haggling before stepping into either one of them is, however, one big issue. It’s annoying and cumbersome. Much like Ola and Uber are an answer to the Indian commuters, Grab is the first phone app that any tourist must download in Vietnam. They have a wide coverage from urban to suburban areas and give a cost estimation before you take a ride. On our trip, this was our savior and we practically used it all the time. We used it this evening too when we headed off to the restaurant.
For the ignorant, Bun Cha Huong Lien can easily be missed. There’s nothing fancy about it. In fact, it looks more like a canteen, rather drab with long aluminum tables and blue plastic stools. It’s the beaming photos on the wall that grab attention instantly. President Barack Obama and Anthony Bourdain in the midst of their conversation, President Obama with Nguyen Thi Lien, one of two proud owners of Bun Cha Huong Lien and more. The restaurant definitely had its ‘crowning glory’ moment with that visit, how long it sustains the reputation lies in its food. Or as they say “The proof of the pudding lies in its eating.”
A laminated menu stuck on the wall makes it easier to glance over the meals in offing. There’s the ever-popular “Combo Obama” which is basically a bowl of traditional Bun Cha paired with some deep-fried Hanoi-style spring rolls and a bottle of Hanoi beer. One can order the Nem Hai San (Fried Seafood Roll), Bun Cha, Thit Xien (Pork Skewers) and Nem Cua Be (Fried Crab Roll ) separately as well. The “Combo Obama” is a good choice to try out all the dishes and we ordered that.
WHAT IS BUN CHA ?
The word “Bun” basically means Noodles and “Cha” means pork – the two essential ingredients of the dish. The Bun Cha is a Vietnamese dish of squiggly rice noodle, grilled fatty pork, pork meatballs, fresh herbs, and a meticulously balanced dipping broth. Supplemented by a plate topped with fresh green leafy herbs that lend their own distinct flavor, it is one of those dishes with a smoky, lingering scent and varying levels of textures and color.
Served in separate bowls, the Bun Cha looks rather simple to make but it’s the intricacies involved in making each component that make it an intense dish. For one, the noodles are freshly made in the kitchens every day. Using a packaged noodle would be an inferior substitute and compromising on the taste. The dipping broth uses vinegar, sugar, chili and fish sauce primarily and the trick to making a perfect one lies in the fine proportion of these ingredients. The recipe for making the savory dipping broth is held close within families and each restaurant has their own special way of making it. The glistening, tender pork that lies in a bowl has its own story too. After a marination of salt, black pepper, and fish sauce the pork is skewered and dipped in caramelized sugar before it reaches the smoldering fire coals to sizzle.
HOW TO EAT A BUN CHA?
Freshly chopped garlic and red chilies are served with Bun Cha. The way to eat the Bun Cha is pretty simple. Add the garlic and red chilies as desired. Throw in the noodles and the spring rolls. Finally, tear the herbs and dunk them in the broth and you’re ready to go.
In Huong Lien, eating the Bun Cha is a happy experience. Enjoy the harmony of the flavors – the tender sweet pork, the saltiness of the fish sauce, the crunchiness of the herbs and the aroma of this bowl in its entirety. This is a healthy bowl of textures, color, and flavors. When there don’t give it a miss. And if you forget the name of the restaurant don’t worry. Just say “Bun Cha Obama”. Everyone knows it.
( Disclaimer: Featured image courtesy – Mashable. )
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