I've discovered superior bun cha.
The doorway from which it's served has been in my peripheral vision for a long time. In fact, I could've been wolfing down this fine exponent of the dish for at least six years - it's next door to one of my regular caffeine hangouts. For some ridiculous reason, I'd ignored it, thinking it shonky gutter style bun cha. My dismissal has turned out to be a huge error of judgement and, to put this wrong right, I am hereby nominating this barbeque soup vendor as my official bun cha of choice - if that counts for anything!
The husband and wife tandem and their team of young relatives from the provinces see to it that all the elements of quality bun cha are present. Herbs, lettuce and crisp white beanshoots are diligently rinsed in big plastic basins. The pork patties and chunks of pork belly are methodically arranged in wire grillers before being given the requisite charring over the hot coals. The husband must get a lot of the plaudits here as he doesn't rush the cooking process, ensuring that the meat is well done and edged in black. Nothing worse than under-cooked bun cha meat.
The wife is the chief of the operation, portioning big serves of bun (fresh rice noodles), handfuls of young papaya slivers, ladles of slightly sweet nuoc cham and the all-important meat bits. Crouched and surrounded by her ingredients, she swivels on her kiddie stool, her knees inserted into pink plastic bags to protect her floral slacks from splashes and drips. Her multi-tasking also includes the frying of the rather scrumptious spring rolls (nem), a normal accompaniment or side dish to bun cha, and doing the sums to collect the cash.
Chopped garlic and sliced chili on the tables allow the patrons to customise their dipping sauce-cum- soup. As no-one seems particularly concerned about garlic breath in Vietnam, I am heavy-handed with the former. The latter I am wary of. I like spice in my bun cha but I do take regular stock of the number of chili slices I place in my soup, as they can easily be picked up hidden in noodles or lettuce and accidentally swallowed.
The morning after burning ring of fire is an affliction I can do without!
A further word of warning: even though bun cha is lunchtime fare, this vendor packs the punters onto her plot of pavement. One time I arrived at 11.45, only to be told that the barbeque was over. Get there early!
Two serves of bun cha, two spring rolls - 50,000VND (USD$2.90, AUD$3.50)
48 Pham Hong Thai