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Bun cha

September 13, 2010

This morning we had our first good rain storm in Hanoi. This resulted in (surprisingly) the first truly cool breeze we have felt since we arrived. I’ve come to accept that clothes can only be worn once – and maybe not even for a whole day. I may seem like a spoiled American to change clothes so frequently, but I am of a much sweatier genetic make up than the locals.

In spite of the heat, we have been out on foot every day since we arrived. Our first day, we woke up around 9am. We missed the breakfast at the hotel so we followed the map they gave us the night before and headed over to the GO. We wanted to see the headquarters, meet the people who were already here working, and hopefully join them for lunch.

The GO is on the third floor of a high-rise that seems to pop up out of nowhere. It is hemmed in on either side by open air restaurants and cafes. It is impossible to walk side by side because there either aren’t any sidewalks or they are covered with goods and motorbikes. The streets are narrow and every time two cars pass each other I stop to see if it’s actually going to happen.

We arrived, dripping with sweat, and found our way up to the Air Mekong offices. They share a floor with the company that is the main investor in the airline. Our timing was perfect and after a tour we walked next door for lunch. The guys that have been here for a while have established that both surrounding restaurants are good and safe to eat at, so they refer to them, ingeniously, as Right and Left. Today we went Left.

There were 7 or 8 of us and we chose between bun cha and a combination rice, vegetable and meat plate. Those of us who wanted bun cha were instructed to just go to our tables and since downstairs was full we went up to an open room with two rows of plastic tables and stools. They were so low that it was difficult to sit on them and be modest in a skirt. They aren’t reclining on the floor Japanese or Middle Eastern style low. They are eating at the kiddie table low. From what I’ve seen in China, Thailand, and now here, this is common in this part of the world. It seems to me that Asians were born squatting on their heels so it is normal for them to sit on a little stool 9 inches off the ground.

Back to lunch. On each table was a container with chopsticks, napkins, hot sauce, and spoons. Those who had bun cha sat across from each other and they brought us first a dinner plate of rice noodles and a basket or bowl of greens. I’m pretty sure they are lettuce (looks kind of like Bibb to me), cilantro, mint, bean sprouts, and basil. Some of the greenery is a bit hard to manage in a small bowl since it’s a whole spring of it (the side of your hand). There is one that is purple as well but I don’t know what it is.

Next they bring you a bowl, the size of a regular soup or cereal bowl back home, with broth, grilled, minced pork, sliced carrots and some kind of sliced white vegetable. I’ve read that it’s anything from unripe papaya to radishes. It’s fairly mild and is more filler in my opinion. The last item is a small bowl of diced, raw garlic and diced chili peppers. You put as much as fits in your bowl and dig in. As you eat it you gradually add more noodles and greenery. It’s delightful, and I’ve had it for lunch at least 3 days that I’ve been here. I’ve heard it’s more of a northern food, but I’m hoping we can still find it once we’re in Ho Chi Minh City.

Our meals were 20,000 VND/$1 for the bun cha and either 25,000 VND/$1.28 or 35,000 VND/$1.79 for the plate depending on whether you got one meat or two.

After lunch we went Right for coffee. We had café sua da, which is iced, milky coffee. It comes in a glass with a couple cubes of ice (ice is safe as long as it has a hole in it which indicates it’s been filtered and mass produced and not shaved off a block in the back room), about half an inch of condensed milk in the bottom, and a tall spoon. I’m trying to put my finger on the flavor in the coffee here. Jonathan says it tastes like Nestle with a punch. I think it’s pretty good for $.50.

One Comment leave one →
  1. Israel Holby permalink
    September 22, 2010 11:31

    Be sure to get some of that sweat stain remover stuff from the supermarket and put it on the collars of your white shirts. Sweating like that all day will permanently stain them otherwise.

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