It’s the go-to lunch for many Hanoians, worth braving the stifling humidity, the hazardous road crossing, and definitely worth fighting for space on a little plastic stool. Bun Cha has become synonymous with Hanoi gastronomy culture, even more so since former U.S. President Barrack Obama was famously pictured chowing down on a bowl of his own with celebrity chef Anthony Bourdain last year. In case it escaped you up until now, bun cha is a deconstructed dish made up of 2 types of charcoal grilled pork (pork belly and pork patties) served with cold vermicelli noodles, a generous plate of fresh local herbs, and a soup-come-dipping sauce seasoned with fish sauce, vinegar, sugar, and lime. Sling over a plate of crispy fried spring rolls that it is usually served with, and you have yourself a meal.
Everything is served in separate bowls usually, and as per standard Vietnamese practice, you can choose to season your dish to your own liking with the mounds of chili and garlic offered up on the side. The pork should be fatty, and tender- yet crispy- the pork belly resembles very thickly cut bacon. The herbs should be used not as a garnish, but as a main ingredient (the delicate, fresh tastes compliment the fattiness of the meat perfectly), and the sauce should be tangy and slightly sweet.
So, the million dollar (well, more like 35,000 dong) question is: where in Vietnam’s capital city can you get the best bun cha? Moreover, what exactly makes the best bun cha the best bun cha?
1. Bun Cha Huong Lien, 24 Le Van Huu street, Hai Ba Trung District
Nearing its 25th birthday, Huong Lien has earned a special place in the hearts of Hanoi’s bun cha gourmets (even more so thanks to its recently gained celebrity status). The waft of sweet smelling pork draws crowds in off the street with little hesitation, which is why it’s not unusual to wait for 30 minutes to get your meal. Is it worth it? Absolutely. If it’s good enough for the President, it’s good enough for me.
2. Bun Cha Dac Kim at No. 1 Hang Manh, Hoan Kiem District
Sitting bang smack at the top of Hang Manh Street, Dac Kim Restaurant has always done well thanks to its favourable location and high-quality ingredients that make their bun cha so tasty. The portions here are bigger than a lot of other bun cha restaurants, and even though you’ll be paying a little more for your meal here- it is completely worth it. The pork patties are just that little bit more succulent and flavourful than any others, and the generous portion size will make sure you’ll stay full til dinner time.
3. Bun Cha Ta, 21 Nguyen Huu Huan Street, Old Quater
Located in Hanoi’s quaint and cultural Old Quarter, Bun Cha Ta is a somewhat more commercial take on the stripped back street food dish. The restaurant is spread out over 4 floors (you’ll have to take your shoes off unless you’re on the ground floor), and even though the setting is more modern than most bun cha joints, Bun Cha Ta still has an authentic and homely feel. The food is flavourful, the staff are friendly, and the location is ideal.