Vietnam: bún chả

Bún chả - A Hanoi specialty
Bún chả – A northern Vietnamese specialty

Phở (beef noodle soup) is no doubt Vietnam’s most famous export.

But let me introduce you to bún chả, if you haven’t heard already. It is the holy trinity; a sweet and sour fish sauce broth with grilled pork (usually belly) goodness, combined with fresh greens and fresh vermicelli noodles. If phở is the perfect food for winter, I’d nominate bún chả to take the crown for summer.

Photo 21-02-2014 12 15 43 pm
A typical bún chả set in Hanoi. Note the huge mound of noodles.

It is wonderfully fresh and crisp. How do you eat it? That is the beauty of bún chả. Grab a portion of each and shovel it in your mouth. Hell, dump all the noodles in the broth and eat it like a noodle soup. Wrap the noodles in the lettuce and dunk it in the broth. It doesn’t really matter. Some shops even offer nem rán, a type of spring roll if you will. Usually it’s rice paper wrapped with mushroom, pork and herbs, then deep-fried.

The secret of bún chả is in the pork. In Hanoi at around lunchtime, you can smell the grilling of pork in the air. There are fans trained on the grill, with the pork pressed together by a metal contraption. It is serious business. The smell wafts through the streets, amidst the chaos of Hanoi’s scooters, motorbikes and street vendors. It is almost impossible to find bún chả after 2pm. By this time, the vendors are already closing up shop.

I loved how proud the Vietnamese were about their food. ”Have you tried Vietnamese food before? What do you think of it? Do you like phở?” were just some of the questions I was constantly asked by locals. I can’t wait to go back.


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