Bun cha Hanoi, a dish imbued with the essence of Hanoi’s cuisine, contributes to the reputation of Vietnamese cuisine on the international stage. Join Deluxe Group Tours to explore what makes this dish so captivating that President Obama and the late chef Anthony Bourdain were enchanted by it.
Bun Cha Hanoi is a specialty dish from a land with a thousand years of cultural heritage, and along with many dishes in Hanoi, such as Pho, La Vong fishcake, and Vietnamese dry rice wafer, no one knows exactly when Hanoi-style Bun Cha came into existence. It is known that this dish has been an essential component of Hanoi inhabitants’ everyday lives for several generations. With its three main components—rice vermicelli, grilled pork patties, and dipping sauce—this specialty dish possesses an extremely captivating and enticing flavor. It is the harmonious combination of well-marinated charcoal grill meat, chewy rice noodles, and the dipping sauce‘s irresistible sweet and sour taste. The dish becomes even more delightful when enjoyed with various fresh vegetables, leaving you savoring every bite. Truly, this Bun Cha represents the cultural and culinary heritage of the capital city.
Bun cha, a special and rustic dish, is simple yet intricate in its preparation and presentation. A small bowl of bun cha contains the dedication of the cook.
A properly prepared bun cha platter must have a pristine white color from the handful of rice vermicelli, accompanied by the deep, rustic brown hues of the grilled pork patties. In addition, pickled vegetables and a range of fresh herbs that provide a vivid natural combination of green, red, yellow, and purple should be included. Furthermore, the refinement and sophistication of the dish lie in the delicate and intricate preparation by the people of Hanoi.
A standard bowl of bun cha must include cha vien (pork patties) and cha mieng (grilled pork slices). Whether making pork patties or grilled slices, choosing the meat for cha requires knowledge of different meat cuts to select the best ones. The fish sauce, pepper, and finely chopped dried shallots are usually used to season pork shoulder, which is minced into patties for a delicious scent. As for grilled pork slices, the sellers usually use pork neck or pork belly with a balanced ratio of meat and fat to prevent dryness and toughness. The pork will be thinly sliced, seasoned with spices, and grilled over charcoal.
In particular, the sliced pork and pork patties are essential to grilling over hot charcoal for the best and most authentic flavor. The grilling technique is also crucial—finding the right temperature to make the charcoal glow enough to cook the pork evenly from the inside out. An overheated charcoal can decrease fat, leaving an undercooked inside pork and a charred outside.
The bowl of dipping fish sauce is truly the essence of the bun cha dish and requires the detail and skill of the cook. The flavor of bun cha is somewhat similar to the grilled meat vermicelli dish in the Central and Southern regions, but the fish sauce has a lighter taste. A perfect dipping sauce must have a balanced combination of sour, spicy, salty, and sweet flavors with a subtle and alluring fragrance. Also, the pickled vegetables and pickled carrots dish cannot be forgotten. The well-prepared and delicious dipping sauce must be skillful and refined, ensuring that the sauce complements the vermicelli and fresh vegetables, creating a harmonious and satisfying taste without being too strong or bland.
Bun cha Hanoi is often enjoyed with various herbs, such as water spinach, basil, perilla, coriander, mint, etc. It is precisely these herbs that contribute to the distinctive flavor of Bun Cha Hanoi. Vu Bang once wrote, “Bun Cha Hanoi is unique, perhaps because of the mentha aquatica. Only the mentha aquatic in Hanoi has the true mentha aquatic flavor; if grown in different places, it develops a peppermint aroma.”
Grilled pork, fragrant and fatty, is paired with soft rice vermicelli, various herbs such as mentha aquatica, and cilantro, along with a flavorful dipping sauce (commonly referred to as fish sauce), creating a harmonious blend of texture and taste that makes diners crave more. The food enthusiasts at the culinary specialty site Slurrp have shared about Vietnam’s famous dish, bun cha, stating, “Enjoy the harmony of grilled pork, vermicelli, herbs, and excellent dipping sauce; this dish brings a creative touch symbolizing Hanoi.”
To make real Bun Cha from Hanoi, first get your ingredients. You need pork belly for grilled pork slices and pork shoulder to make grilled pork patties. You’ll also need things like fresh vegetables, rice noodles and different spices. These include ingredients like lemongrass, red onions, chilies garlic limes vinegar sugar beef broth fish sauce fermented shrimp paste food coloring seasoning powder or MSG might be used too.
In particular, you should choose pork belly with a dry outer layer, a pale red or fresh pink color, and a balanced ratio of fat to lean meat. For pork shoulder, select pieces with firm and high elasticity.
Before starting to cook, you need to preliminarily prepare the ingredients. For lemongrass, peel off the tough outer layer, thinly slice, grind finely, and squeeze out the juice. Don’t forget to finely grind the purple onions as well. As for carrots and papayas, peel them and soak them in diluted saltwater. Grate the carrots and papayas into thin slices, then discard the soaking water. Next, add sugar, vinegar, seasoning powder, lime, and chili, and mix well. Taste for a sweet and sour flavor, and you’re done.
For meat, you should wash it thoroughly. Cut the pork belly into large, thin slices, and for the shoulder meat, grind or finely chop it. After cutting the pork belly, marinate it with seasoning powder, sugar, monosodium glutamate, food coloring, fermented shrimp paste, and a little minced shallot with lemongrass water. Marinate the ground shoulder meat similarly with seasoning powder, sugar, monosodium glutamate, food coloring, fermented shrimp paste, and a little minced shallot in lemongrass water.
After the pork has absorbed the spices evenly, you can start grilling the meat. It is important to apply a thin layer of pear oil over all meat slices and little pig patties to avoid the meat from drying out during grilling.
As for the dipping sauce, you can mix warm water, fish sauce, lime juice, and sugar in a ratio of 10:4:2:1 well to make a sweet and sour blend. You can change the amount of salt or vinegar to match what you like more.
Once you’ve mixed up the dipping sauce, set everything out neatly and enjoy it. Don’t forget to add both fresh veggies and pickled carrots.
You can eat bun cha Hanoi in the way you prefer that aligns with your habits in the following manners. However, to truly savor it the way Hanoians do, you should eat bun cha in the first way.
Arrange the rice noodles onto a platter. Pour the fish sauce into a small bowl, then combine the pickled carrots, papaya, jicama, grilled pork slices, and patties with the aromatic dipping sauce. Add minced garlic and optional chili according to your preference. Next, use chopsticks to dip each fresh rice vermicelli piece into the prepared dipping sauce. You can also enjoy it with basil and lettuce, according to your liking.
With this way of eating rice vermicelli with grilled pork, you can adjust the amount of vermicelli accordingly. The grilled pork has a richer flavor as it is marinated in the dipping sauce, complementing the plain vermicelli and refreshing fresh vegetables.
In this way, you don’t soak the grilled pork in the dipping sauce beforehand, nor do you drown the vermicelli in fish sauce. Arrange the vermicelli and grilled pork on two separate plates. Pour the dipping sauce into a small bowl. Then, use chopsticks to pick up each piece of vermicelli and grilled pork, dip them into the sauce bowl, and enjoy.
This eating method allows for easy adjustment of the amount of fish sauce. If you prefer less saltiness, this is a suitable choice for you.
Pour the entire portion of noodles and grilled pork into a bowl. Slowly pour the dipping sauce with shredded papaya and jicama into the bowl with noodles and grilled pork. Use chopsticks to submerge the noodles and grill the pork in the dipping sauce. Now, you can enjoy Bun Cha like other Vietnamese noodles. Don’t forget fresh herbs and spices like pepper, fresh chili, etc.
The drawback of eating this noodle and grilled pork dish is that it is hard to adjust the amount of noodles. Putting all the noodles and grilled pork in the bowl may create a sense of fullness and lead to discomfort while eating.
As one of the longstanding bun cha eateries in Hanoi, Bun Cha Tuyet offers a distinctive flavor. Vermicelli dipping sauce made from a traditional recipe has a savory, somewhat sour, and sweet flavor that is expertly balanced and accentuated with a touch of ground pepper for spice. A bowl of bun cha comes with three exquisite types of grilled pork: pork patties, sliced pork, and pork wrapped in lolot leaves. Notably, it also features well-seasoned grilled minced meat, slightly charred, and served with the freshest and cleanest raw vegetables.
Branch 1: 24 Le Van Huu, Hai Ba Trung District, Hanoi
Branch 2: 14 Alley 59 Lang Ha, Dong Da District, Hanoi
Honored to have been visited by U.S. President Obama to enjoy the famous Bun Cha Hanoi, Bun Cha Huong Lien is increasingly attracting visitors, proving its excellent taste. Compared to other Bun Cha Hanoi eateries, Huong Lien offers additional delicious spring rolls, such as crab spring rolls and seafood spring rolls. The broth is meticulously prepared, flavorful, and sure not to disappoint.
For food enthusiasts, Bun Cha Ngo 74 is a very familiar address. The grilled meat at this eatery is cooked according to a traditional recipe passed down through generations. The grilled pork is tender, with a crispy outer layer, and eaten with fish sauce and pickled papaya, creating a memorable taste. The grilled pork is evenly cooked, retaining the sweet aroma of fresh meat, and the crispy skin is not tough, making it easy to eat. Additionally, you can order refreshing iced kumquat juice to quench your thirst and eliminate the lingering smell of strong fish sauce after the meal.