Bun cha or Bun cha Hanoi is known as Kebab rice noodles in English. The dish is thought to have an origin in Northern Vietnam and can be considered one of the specialties of Hanoi cuisine. This authentic dish gets even more popular when President Obama and Chef Anthony Bourdain sit down at a Bun cha store on their business trip to Vietnam.
Bun cha is the harmony of three main components: the fatty grilled pork, the rice vermicelli and the highlight of the dish - the sweet-sour broth.
There are two types of pork in Bun cha: slices of grilled pork (Cha mieng) or minced grilled pork (Cha vien). Both types of meat are marinated in salt, pepper, fish sauce, sugar, minced onion, vegetable oil or grease before being grilled on the charcoal fire. When ordering, you can choose one of them or order both depending on your preference.
The rice vermicelli (pronounced as Bun in Vietnamese) is different from the rice noodles in Pho although they are both made mostly from rice flour because rice vermicelli is much thinner and stickier. In fact, the rice noodles in Bun cha and the rice noodles of Bun thit nuong (noodles with grilled pork) are exactly the same.
Dipping sauce - this wonderful liquid is made of fish sauce, vinegar, sugar, and water, added some crunchy carrot and green papaya. In spite of its simple ingredients, its taste is incredibly delicious and authentic when you combine them together.
Besides the main components, Bun cha would be incomplete without a basket of many fresh herbs including Thai basil, cilantro, balm-mint, coriander, lettuce, sawtooth leaf, heartleaf, and grated morning glory. You probably can see other familiar things on the table according to Vietnamese style, which is a little of sliced red chilies, black pepper, red chili sauce, and pickled garlic. These things are here for you to adjust the flavor of the dish individually. For example, some people might want to add a bit of heat by adding red chili or pickled garlic, which is believed to leverage the flavor.
Moreover, you can try Vietnamese crab spring roll and super crunchy shrimp crackers because they are usually served at Bun cha restaurant. This spring roll is made from wood ear mushrooms, pork, crab, and other seasoning ingredients and often wrapped in a square shape. Similar to Bun cha, spring rolls are eaten with vermicelli noodles and herbs. The shrimp cracker is the combination of fresh shrimp, sweet potatoes, and rice flour.
The delicious crab roll is served at Bun cha Ho Guom on Vo Van Tan Street
The crunchy shrimp potato crackers
Rice vermicelli is usually bought at the market or supermarket. It has to be freshly made to make the dish look appealing. About the main star, because there are two types of grilled pork, two parts of pork meat are used, which are the belly and shoulder. The belly is cut into thin slices while the shoulder is ground into a smooth paste. They are both marinated in oyster sauce, sugar, fish sauce, lemongrass (optional), chopped shallot, minced garlic, red chili, black pepper, broth mix, and liquid caramel. When the meat is marinated well, it is grilled on charcoal fire until it turns into golden brown color.
The special broth is a combination of savory fish sauce, sour green papaya and vinegar, sweetness from sugar and vegetables, and crunchy texture of green papaya and carrot. The green papaya and carrot are peeled, washed, cut into thin slices, then soaked in cold water to create brittle texture, and finally put in a mixture of fish sauce, lemon, sugar, vinegar, and chili.
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Thanks to its delicious flavor, Bun cha has made its long way to Ho Chi Minh City. The recipe in Ho Chi Minh City might be a little different from Bun Cha in Hanoi since the taste of Vietnam food change from North to South, and the chefs may need to adjust the recipe to meet the need of the locals. In fact, Bun cha Hanoi in Ho Chi Minh City could be sweeter, and its price could also be higher. However, a few restaurants offer two choices for two cooking styles, and you can make your own decision.
Bun cha is serving in both restaurants or local food stalls on the pavement, therefore, you can easily bump into one while getting around. However, below is three selected restaurants that would offer you a perfect taste of Bun cha in Ho Chi Minh City.
Address: this restaurant has three branches, located in:
135 Vo Van Tan, Ward 6, District 3
6 Tran Phu, Ward 4, District 5
26 Lu Gia, Ward 15, District 11
Opening hours: 7 AM - 9 PM
Price: VND 47,000
We come to the restaurant on Vo Van Tan Street, which is the largest one. They also have a big red label outside of the restaurant. Therefore, you can spot it easily.
The chain restaurant is very popular among Vietnamese and always crowded with many people almost all day long regardless that Bun cha is commonly thought to be a lunch dish. Coming here, you can experience the bustle and hustle, iconic Vietnamese style while trying Bun cha.
The restaurant on Vo Van Tan Street is filled with many people
Moreover, it is noticeable that the price at these restaurants is more reasonable in comparison to the other two restaurants in this list, but the flavor is still great.
Bun cha served at Bun Cha Ho Guom on Vo Van Tan Street
The design of these restaurants is not too fancy but you can see the cooking station. Overall, it is very clean and bright.
The restaurant has an open kitchen, so you can see how bun cha is prepared before serving
Sitting near the open kitchen, you would be amazed by the appetizing smoke from the grilled pork, laced with lemongrass, blended with the smell of spicy garlic sauce.
Address: 15E Nguyen Thi Minh Khai, Ben Nghe Ward, District 1
Opening hours: 10 AM - 10 PM. This place is very crowded, especially at noon, so ideally, you should reserve your seat before coming here.
Price: VND 60,000 (credit card is accepted)
How to get there: this store is situated on a one-way street - Nguyen Thi Minh Khai Street, so while riding a motorbike, ride a little slower and keep your eye on the right side of the street, then you will find a cozy dark brown restaurant crowded with many people.
This restaurant first opened in Hanoi in 2003. It now has two more branches, one in Hanoi and one in Ho Chi Minh City.
The inside of this store is clean and brings a cozy feeling with the dark brown color of wood furniture and yellow lights. Quan Nem has two spacious floors and air-conditioners, which is a great option for lunch in Ho Chi Minh City weather. There are not many tables and chairs so you can easily make your way to your tables or move around. The staffs here dress in green uniforms and are very quick and polite.
The cozy interior design of Quan Nem on Nguyen Thi Minh Khai Street
This place serves two type of dipping sauce. So when ordering Bun cha here, the staff will ask you what kind of dipping sauce you want to try: the Northern style, which is lighter but still flavorful, or the Southern style, which is sweeter.
We randomly choose the dipping sauce in Southern style, which is rich with sweet and a sour taste
The porks here are grilled after ordering; therefore, you need to wait for 20 minutes before eating. But your time would not be wasted because the porks here will come out hot, and are carefully grilled, so they have a delicious crunchy texture but not burnt.
Moreover, this restaurant boasts of its spring roll, which was voted by CNN in 2012, and its homemade cold sweet tofu, which is served as a dessert. There are also many types of drinks available on the menu such as Coke, ice tea, hot tea, beer, soda, Sprite or water.
Address: 121 Ly Tu Trong, Ben Nghe Ward, District 1
Opening hours: 6 AM - 9 PM
Price: VND 75,000
How to get there: this restaurant is located on the corner of Ly Tu Trong and Thu Khoa Huan Street, very near Ben Thanh Market, which makes it very easy to be recognized and approachable by many Vietnamese and travelers. You can go straight from the North gate of Ben Thanh Market until reaching the first conjunction, the store is on your left.
The menu of this restaurant has many types of signature Vietnam noodle dishes such as crab tapioca noodles, duck or chicken vermicelli soup with bamboo sprouts, and Bun rieu (crab paste noodle soup), but Bun cha is one of the iconic dishes of the restaurant.
The menu is put up on the wall
The pork definitely differentiates this place from others. The meat here is grilled in bamboo sticks and served right after they were cooked. Additionally, Bun cha Hoa Dong is served with a small dish of fresh bean sprouts.
The grilled pork at Bun cha Hoa Dong
Bun cha is served at Hoa Dong Restaurant
Where bun cha is prepared before serving at Bun cha Hoa Dong
This restaurant has been established for a very long time. Thus, it is designed in an old-fashion way, reminding us of the vintage Saigon in the 1970s.
Bun cha is a quintessence of Vietnam cuisine cause you could have a sophisticated combination of taste and texture of the vermicelli, grilled pork, and herbs, all in one dish. The secret of Bun cha probably is the simplicity of the ingredients and the skillfulness of the chefs, which has sublimated the street-side dish into a masterpiece of Vietnamese.
Besides Bun cha, Vietnam also has many signature dishes as well as street food, which are offered in I Really Love Food tour or Night Adventurer tour. These tours will give you the most authentic and “real” experience of Vietnam dishes.
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