Apologies to regulars, but there’s another Bun cha posting coming your way. Noodlepie has a loose eye on finding the best pho in town, but if I was based up in Hanoi I would transfer that focus to the lunchtime dish – Bun cha. “We’ve heard all this before Pieman, give us something new for chrissakes,” I hear my lone reader cry. Tough. It’s my favourite Vietnamese dish and it’s rare enough in Saigon for me to realistically try the majority of places serving pukka pork balls during my stint here. We’ve covered the Ly Tu Trong and Tran Cao Van burnt offerings before. Today finds us up the end of one of Saigon’s many attractive back passages at 26 Le Thanh Ton Street in District 1. You’ll find griller-girl, pictured above, shop front and in charge of charring carcass. The rest of the nosh is rustled up at the back of this narrow diner and the hungry are squashed inbetween on lo-rise tables in tatty discomfort.
Judging by the accents of the staff and the name of the restaurant – Bun Cha Hanoi – this place is like previous Bun cha joints, a dishevelled shack run by Hanoians. Much the same as the Tran Cao Van scoffshed it’s popular, very popular. I sat down at 10:45am. By 11:05am every table was full and hungry customers were standing giving the evil eye to those already ensconced. Clearly an early arrival here is advised. The spread above came within 2 or 3 minutes
Here’s the main deal closeup. I won’t go into the details of it all again, check out this previous posting for that. Maybe I haven’t sampled the Hanoi original for too long, but I think this is an authentic southern rendering of the northern classic. The nuoc mam (fish sauce) is slightly sweeter than other Saigonese Bun cha, but you can easily tart it down with the garlic vinegar which you’ll find on all fourteen tables at Bun Cha Hanoi. The Su Su, called Chayote in English – as I recently discovered via reader phaocao – cheers;), is thickly cut and constitutes the only chopped vegetable inside the main event. You’ll also get a plastic basket brimfull with lettuce, basil, rau muong (stripped morning glory) and beansprouts. Meanwhile, the chefs over on Tran Cao Van Street dish up a better selection with seven different herbs on their tables.
These cha giao (spring rolls) harbour a decent crunch filled with minced pork, mushrooms, but no crabmeat. At least not to my taste buds. Dipped into your nuoc mam they’re a gnasher-pleasingly crisp entree. This restaurant, like the other Saigon Bun cha, gives you an extra bowl to eat out of, if you really need it. In Hanoi, there’s no extra bowl, you just mash everything into the main event and get stuck in.
If you poke your nose up this back passage you’ll also find what looks like a respectable Com binh dan, a couple of drink stalls and a Com trua. Bun Cha Hanoi is located at the very end of this alleyway. The lot above, with an iced tea, will set you back 13,000VD or less than a buck. Bonkers-good bargain I’d say.