Tastes Like Hanoi

December 12, 2007
Cuisine: Vietnamese

140 Vo Thi Sau Street
District 3, Ho Chi Minh City

Phone: none
Website: none

Pho Cuon (15,000 VND)

Bun Cha (15,000 VND)

Asia Life HCMC, a lifestyle magazine aimed at the expat crowd, is one of my food inspirations. In every issue, the editors profile a lesser-known regional Vietnamese dish that I have usually never heard of. While flipping through a dated issue recently, I learned about a Hanoi specialty called pho cuon that is supposedly all the rage these days up north. With a little help from the restaurant directory in the magazine, The Astronomer and I tracked down the dish for lunch yesterday.

The eatery, located inside an alley, consisted of an open kitchen, tables, chairs and an awning. We ordered one helping of pho cuon and two portions of bun cha.

The pho cuon was served first and was comprised of lettuce, basil and grilled meat rolled up in a thick sheet of rice paper that reminded me of banh uot. According to the magazine, the rice paper is actually uncut sheets of banh pho. A watered-down nuoc mam and vinegar dipping sauce with sliced carrots and diakon was served on the side.

The smooth rice paper was the dominant flavor, while the meat and greens were merely background noise. The dipping sauce moistened the roll and tied the flavors together. Since this was my first time eating pho cuon, I can’t say whether or not this was an especially good rendition. The pho cuon was tasty, but not nothing to go crazy about.

The bun cha arrived next. Bun cha is made up of three components—herbs/greens, vermicelli noodles (bun) and little patties of grilled minced pork (cha) dunked in a watered-down nuoc mam and vinegar dipping sauce with sliced carrots and diakon.

Rumor has it, northerners eat this dish by adding noodles and greens directly into the bowl of cha. Since we were down south, we were given an extra bowl to make little portions using all of the ingredients.

The little patties of grilled pork were smaller than a pog, and sweet and savory in all the right places. Served with a heap of noodles, I found it impossible to stretch the two tiny patties as needed. The Astronomer and I have had bun cha on numerous occasions, we were neither disappointed nor thrilled with this version.

I am looking forward to traveling to Hanoi next year to taste these regional gems on their home turf.

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