In this post: A brief break from the Hakka Homecoming chronicles, to wish the city of Hanoi in Vietnam a happy 1,000th anniversary by paying homage to bun cha, my most delicious discovery while we were there earlier this year
"When you get to Hanoi, eat some bun cha for me," quipped Robyn Eckhart of Eating Asia nonchalantly when I had the good fortune of sharing a good chinwag about Asian food with her over a cup of coffee in Luang Prabang, Laos this past March.
Sure thing, I promised, having no clue about what bun cha even was.
Still, bun cha signs were easy enough to spot when we were prowling around the Old Quarter of Hanoi near Hoan Kiem Lake, looking for brunch. We finally decided to take a punt on Bun Cha Nem Cua Be Kinh Moi, the most crowded of 4 stalls we walked past that morning.
We sat-squatted on the last 2 available stools, with our knees just about up to our shoulders, and -- noticing that everyone else at the stall was eating the same thing -- trusted the waitstaff to eventually notice us and bring out 2 more portions of whatever they were making.
And so they did. Whisked onto our knee-high table: A large slitted basket piled high with lettuce leaves, coriander, bean sprouts, basil, spring onion and an assortment of other fresh herbs. Two mountainous platters of fat rice noodles. Two bowls of clear brown broth, cradling a pile of BBQ pork patties interlaced with pinkish brown BBQ pork slices.
At the bottom of the bowl of broth was a bed of sliced... I try to place the taste as I nibble... green apple? Green papaya? Radish?... Kohlrabi? Yes kohlrabi!
On the side: a saucer with 2 deep fried spring rolls. And a jar of sliced red chilli and chopped raw garlic.
With all these different and bounteous elements going on simultaneously, it takes a few mouthfuls to get the full bun cha experience. But once I do, I start cursing and swearing fairly violently -- about how I've tasted bun cha for the first time only now; that none of my Vietnamese friends (you know who you are! *shake fist*) have ever mentioned bun cha to me; that they've kept me out of their "we-who-know-about-bun-cha" inner sanctum all this time.
The pork patties were hot and sweet and smokey and had these charred crumbs from the marinade caramelised from cooking on a charcoal fire. The broth had the sweetness of pork bone and fish sauce and soy sauce and vinegar and lime and time -- a decadent but not yet cloying flavour for the always comforting rice noodles. The kohlrabi, herbs, chili and garlic lent crunch, zest, heat and a wake-up call just in case the meat and carbs caused too much wooziness. The spring roll didn't stand out next to everything else; I just remember that I could barely bite into it because it was still nuclear-hot from being very freshly deep fried.
You try it. You will realise that I am not being overdramatic. You will probably in turn demand to know what the hell else was so important in my life that I waited 7 months to write this post.
And so as Hanoi celebrates its 1,000th year, let me -- in the Chinese tradition -- wish it 10,000 more. May all its days, and all of you, be filled with a buncha bun cha. (Check out Sticky Rice and Noodle Pie for more bun cha leads)
And thank you Robyn for ending my bun cha ignorance.
Bun Cha Nem Cua Be Kinh Moi
43 Cau Go
Does a roaring trade at ~11am; packed up and gone when we walked past again at ~3pm