If you've only got two meals in Hanoi, swallow pho for breakfast and do the bun cha for lunch. You can then boast that you did the cuisine of the north for real!
While pho is available for breakfast, lunch and dinner, bun cha is a lunch munch only. A word of warning about the timing of lunch in Vietnam: it can be had from around 10.30 but there ain't much doing by one, particularly at popular local eating holes. Lunch is a smash and grab meal, wolfed down to maximise shuteye time. As Vietnam envelops development, the masses still insist on their post-lunch 40 winks! You can't even go to the bank in the capital between half eleven and one.
Half the Hanoi populace does the bun cha for lunch! Yesterday, I did too. Every road, street and tiny rabbit warren serves up bun cha somewhere along its length. Hand-fan powered plumes of smoke signal a bun cha cave's location.This dish is basically meat grilled over hot coals served in a dipping sauce with bun (vermicelli) and herb jungles as sidekicks.
The meat is porky pig, formed into little patties with the double breath-fresheners, garlic and shallots, as well as egg, fish sauce and sugar. A variation has the patties wrapped in la lot (wild betel leaf), a damn fine herby touch. Porky's belly is also exploited for this meal, sliced into a thick bacon-like cut, marinated in the fish sauce potion, caged up in the wire griller with the patties and fan-cooked to well-done, edged with crunchy charcoal! Bun cha is the great Viet barbie!
Herbs and noodles are dunked in the bowl of dipping sauce which now contains the meat feast, acting as a dressing for the greenery and a loosener for the vermicelli. This soup cum sauce consists of the usual suspects: fish sauce, rice vinegar, sugar, lime juice and water. Normally luke warm, it can be doctored to taste with chili, garlic and pepper tableside.
Because mot xuat (one serve) of barbeque soup is not quite sufficient - and because I'm a bit of a porky pig myself - I generally partake in a couple of spring rolls, a stack of which is a standard fixture in all good bun cha eateries. These crunchy numbers sometimes contain crab but yesterday's had pork, rehydrated tree ears(!), cellophane noodles, onion and bean shoots. Regarding taste and crunch factor, see picture above.
When in Hanoi.....do the bun cha!
one serve bun cha, two spring rolls - 11,000VND (USD70c, AUD90c)
20 Ta Hien (next to bia hoi corner)