Bun cha Ha Noi
HA NOI, October, 20, 2017 – “There is no better place to entertain the leader of the free world, in my opinion, than one of these classic, funky family-run noodle shops you find all over Hanoi,” says Anthony Bourdain.
It is true that the whole country of Vietnam runs on pho and it has become a national obsession in the capital city. But Hanoi actually produces a less well-known to travelers yet more popular to locals bun. In fact, as travelers usually associate Italy with pizza or pasta; ask a Vietnamese citizen which food they think of when mentioning Hanoi, one answer that always comes up is bun. Here are a few signature bun dishes to further extend your food experience in Hanoi:
When it comes to simplicity and popularity, nothing can compare with bun rieu cua. Like other noodle soup fares in Vietnam, bun rieu cua is built from the bowl up. A handful of blanched vermicelli noodle is ladled with steaming hot paddy crab stock. An assortment of greens is laid aside. Thinly sliced banana stem, Vietnamese balm, shiso, coriander, and helancha are some common herbs that usually accompany bun rieu cua. Salt and chili are the perfect match for the dish and pepper is unnecessary because with all these accessories, a bowl of bun rieu cua is flavorful enough already.
Slurp the broth of bun rieu cua and you will see how Vietnamese cuisine highly regards the balance among the spices. Paddy crab butter contributes to the savory taste while tomato wedges add the tart-sweet flavor. Most experienced cooks will agree on one thing that fermented rice or wine vinegar will ensure an authentic sourness that qua doc (Garcinia multiflora fruit), star fruit, and tamarind cannot replace.
There aren’t many types of smoke that are soothing and can trigger your appetite like the way that of bun cha does. And why all the bun cha vendors char-grill the meat despite the popularity of electric ovens you ask? Because the coal will add the final essential touch to the meat-the signature smoky flavor. There are two options when it comes to bun cha’s meat, flat pork patties with fine chopped onion included and slices of pork belly; both are grilled until crispy-edged and put into the dipping sauce bowl so that they can absorb part of the flavors.
Unlike other bun dishes that rely heavily on the quality of the broth, bun cha takes its dipping sauce as the determining factor. Again, it’s all about the balance. Fish sauce, sugar, vinegar, and chili follow a strict rule that no flavor is allowed to be dominant over others. A heap of herbs is there to soften the fatty taste in the mouth after eating that generous amount of grilled meat.
This used to be an unaffordable luxury catering to the elite in Hanoi. Consisting of a deeply savory pork, chicken, and prawn broth laced with slippery vermicelli noodle, it is a perfect warming dish on a cold day.
Unlike pho which only requires a modest amount of meat, bun thang’s topping is highly complicated and play an as crucial part as the stock. Omelette eggs and gio lua sliced into threads, shred chicken and prawn are arranged into section on the noodle to make sure the bowl is beautifully presented. Vietnamese coriander, spring onion, and chopped coriander are on top to add some green color to the blend and balance it out. And right before the hungry craving diners tuck in the mouth-watering noodle soup, some belostomatidae essence and mam tom (fermented shrimp paste) are seasoned to boost the flavor. Mam tom by itself emits a pungent smell that can drive most of first-time diners away, but when dissolved into bun thang’s stock, the smell totally disappear.
To be clear, oc here means snails, the large pried out of cavernous shells, chewy and slimy kind of snail. The base of bun oc is not much different from that of bun rieu cua. Tart-sweetness is imparted by tomato wedges, sourness is from wine vinegar and mam tom adds an indefinable depth of flavor.
Here in Vietnam, even street food is served to please the eye as well as the stomach. A handful of spring onion and herbs in contrast with the redness from tomato is accompanied by turmeric stained tofu cubes. Since tofu is completely absent of flavor, it absorbs part of the warmly spiced broth and releases all the flavors as diners take a big bite into the custardy texture. The snail to make the most authentic bun oc is oc nhoi (a large edible snail) and escargot and sometimes when the two types become too expensive, black snail is used too.
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