Monday, March 15, 2010

Extreme bun cha

I know, I know, I'm being terrible about updating right now. It's just too hot and now I'm falling behind. But bringing up these pictures from two weeks ago have already made me nostalgic about Vietnam. I've written before about how much I love bun cha, and my feelings have only deepened since then. I don't know what it is about bun cha--I think it's that combination of fish sauce and vinegar that gets me. I love just about anything that's doused in vinegar, but find a way to get some noodles into the equation and I'm in fatface heaven.

In case you've forgotten, bun cha is a big plate of vermicelli noodles, a soupy fish sauce and vinegar mix with pickled green papaya and/or carrots and daikon and a bunch of pork in various forms: grilled pork, pork patties and sometimes a few pieces of offal throw into the mix (if you're lucky).

I'd been eating random street bun cha on a daily basis and found that despite the numerous obstacles the universe was trying to put in my way--a bowl of vermicelli filled with hair, an ornery old woman raising the price on my meal post-consumption--that bun cha and I were fated to be together, forever. So on my last night in Vietnam we decided to search out some serious bun cha.

First we tried 20 Ta Hien as recommended by noodlepie but found that the family running the place seemed to have forgotten they had a giant sign up outside that said "bun cha" and were hanging around the place doing nothing bun cha-ish whatsoever. How soon we forget. Instead, we went to the place on Hang Manh Street that noodlepie refers to as "utter bollocks."

All I can say is if this is bollocks, give me more.

I have never seen such large portions of bun cha in my life. It was easily five times the serving you'd get on the street. At first I was certain that they had given us so much food as some sort of weird high bill cum "you're white so must need double helpings" thing. But then a large Vietnamese group came in and all received helpings the same size. The difference was that they didn't feel compelled to eat every last bite on principle as your hero did.

"What are we supposed to do with these?" Jenn hissed, waving around a spring roll. "I'm going to ask the guy next to us."

"Don't, he's a tourist!" I had seen him taking a picture of his meal before tucking in, a dead giveaway. I had visions of Jenn asking some confused American guy how to eat her dinner.

As it turns out, we were both right. He was from Saigon (but had just spent four years at college in Canada) and said he liked to dunk his spring rolls in his fish sauce-soup. He said that bun cha was one of the only foods from northern Vietnam that was better in the north.

He emphasized everything he said by making air quotation marks, which was only heightened by his very long fingernails, a popular trend amongst Vietnamese men. And to be fair, Saigon is generally thought to be a better city for eating.

The group of 10 people that came in after us were done in less than fifteen minutes, leaving bowls and bowls of pork behind. I'd passed a recent resolution "No Pork Left Behind," and as such, we were forced to stay in the place until I had devoured every last morsel.

If you are still wondering what bun cha is or are interested in making bun cha (I made a pretty successful version in Ireland before I had ever tried the real thing) check out the Ravenous Couple's great article and recipe.


  1. Hey we went back to this bun cha place last Monday. We only ordered one serving to share between us, it was a forest of greenery which we left about half of but we cleaned up the noodles and pork in less than ten minutes. Either we are developing a more Viet (fast) eating style or we were just very hungry... Either way, I think I need to eat more bun cha this week. It's addictive!!!!

  2. Dr. Lina prescribes at least one serving a week!

  3. I hope you don't mean you ate all the pork from the other people's table. Cleaning your own plate is one thing; going from table to table gobbling up everyone else's leftovers seems a little extreme. (Although I have to say there have been times I've been tempted to do it myself.)

  4. It's okay to gobble up leftovers from plates at your own table, right? RIGHT?

  5. Only if you have slept with the person'who's plate it is on.