25 Oct2013

Bun Cha, Hanoi

by Marketman


Described in our Luxe Guide to Hanoi as “Yes, it’s a total dump, but who cares when the grilled pork patties and spring rolls are that good” — so obviously we had to try it. :) While you physically sit inside a cramped, multi-story building with winding cement staircase, much of the cooking is done on the sidewalk outside, and part of the first floor inside. The bottom line? For the extremely modest sums they charged, this was great value for money…


As far as we could tell, there were only two things on offer here, grilled pork patties and other grilled pork meat (wrapped in leaves) served in a broth that was ladled over thin slices of unripened papaya, and fried spring rolls. This all arrived at your table with rice noodles, the ever present bowl of herbs and some chilies and fish sauce. We just ordered whatever we saw from diners around us, 95% of whom were locals, despite this place appearing in nearly every guide book we had read.


The pork patties arrived in a lightly flavored broth or soup, laid on top of papaya slices (that’s more papaya slices in the bowl in the back) and the freshly fried spring rolls were stuffed with noodles and pork. The pork was drowning in a surface oil slick half a centimeter deep, too much oil, in my personal opinion. And I like lard, but this was a bit of a turn off to be honest. The pork tasted delicious, but you had to dab it on some noodles (that were not to be consumed) to remove some of the fat.


The spring rolls were delicious, and I suspect they must do a “double-fry” — apparently the key to great fried vietnamese spring rolls.


A bowl of fiery chilies and pungent chopped garlic was essential to concocting a personal bowl of noodles, and bun, and broth, grease, papaya and herbs whose sum was truly greater than the parts. I finished my entire portion of rice noodles, but Mrs. MM and the Teen struggled with theirs.


The plate of mixed herbs was always such a stunning, fresh and aromatic touch to all our meals in Hanoi…


…but these particular herbs were just plucked from this large plastic laundry basket that was laying directly on the sidewalk just outside the restaurant. There was that nagging voice of my long departed mother about typhoid and hepatitis and parasites that niggled in the background… but none of us got ill despite eating in less than what we would normally consider to be acceptable sanitary conditions. Service was cordial and swift and we were in and out of there in less than 20 minutes, paying a bill that was perhaps less than USD4 per person, including softdrinks/bottled water.


The head “chef’ doing her thing on the sidewalk. Notice the once fried spring rolls on her right, and the double-fried spring rolls on her left.

If you are in the vicinity, we recommend you give Bun Cha a try…
1 Hang Manh
Old Quarter



  1. Papa Ethan says:

    It’s interesting how these asian street side eateries don’t trigger outbreaks of disease, given their sub-standard sanitation practices. Those spring rolls look yummy!

    Oct 25, 2013 | 9:49 am


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  3. Artisan Chocolatier says:

    And one can tell she’s the “head chef” by the toque (hat) and pants she’s wearing! LOL

    Oct 25, 2013 | 11:22 am

  4. Eva Mondragon says:

    The Asian street eateries offer great-tasting food for a lot less money. Unless one has an extremely delicate constitution, it would be unlikely to get sick eating those yummy foods…they are always boiling, grilling, and frying. The spring rolls, for instance, get snapped-up by customers before they even get a chance to cool down. And I suspect that the chilies are so hot that the bacteria do not stand a chance. The only thing I would caution is the drinking water…it is always safe to drink bottled water that you are familiar with.

    Oct 25, 2013 | 12:32 pm

  5. Marketman says:

    Eva, actually, I think the greens are the most likely aspect of such a meal to be of concern. The possibility of herbs/lettuce being poorly washed, and containing traces of nightsoil or other animal manure AND/OR being handled by unwashed hands or in dirty water are the most likely source of cooties. Staff handling utensils and plates and bowls are another area of concern. Considering that as much as 60% of the populations of some Southeast Asian countries (ours included) are positive for intestinal parasites, hepatitis, and other worrisome diseases, the elders’ counsel for caution with some types of streetfood is probably reasonably rooted in fact… I think problems with fried, boiled or grilled food are less worrisome, but they exist nonetheless. Having said that, I am still tempted to partake in much of the food I see while traveling. But if you want to restrain yourself, simply think the worst kinds of amoebiasis and months of suffering after that with daily consequences and that might temper enthusiasm… I know several folks who have gone through that but still eat with gusto. :)

    As for chilies, don’t rule them out. Sister will convince you that some great chilies, freshly harvested, but potentially containing some nightsoil and then marinated in local coconut vinegar is what nearly did in a large picnic party of my mother on a beach many, many eons ago. There weren’t enough bathrooms in the nearby town to accommodate all those struck with the evils… :)

    Oct 25, 2013 | 3:55 pm

  6. La Emperor says:

    ” There weren’t enough bathrooms in the nearby town to accommodate all those struck with the evils… :)”

    HAHA! nearly fell off my chair.

    On the double fry, I always thought they were done to hide the true state of the rolls…for the day olds. :)

    Oct 25, 2013 | 10:54 pm

  7. netoy says:

    I think our constitution is far stronger because since childhood, we’ve been exposed to all of these ‘cooties’. Remember, the 5-second or 10-second rule? :) When we were traveling in Mexico, we were warned to always use bottled water even when brushing our teeth – I’ve used regular tap water to do that and have never been afflicted by Montezuma’s Revenge (knock-on-wood) while my Caucasian friends would suffer from it with just a tiny bit of tap water touching their lips.

    Oct 26, 2013 | 2:45 am

  8. betty q. says:

    Double fry….it would take forever and most likely will get the customers so impatient if they had to wait for the lumpia to cook to order. In most restaurants, French fries are for example, blanched and then fried again when the customers order…to ensure crispness and also hot when brought to the table.

    In all of the potlucks I aam invited, if lumpia shanghai is requested, I fry them at home first and then double fry at the party. it is pain to lug my deep fryer along with me but hey…ubos agad my lumpia!

    Oct 26, 2013 | 5:16 am

  9. EJ says:

    Bun cha is my favourite Vietnamese dish. It is a pity that it is very rarely offered in restaurants outside Vietnam. Like you, MM, I was always wary of eating street food in Vietnam but I got sick there only once – after eating at the Metropole.

    Oct 27, 2013 | 4:35 am

  10. Marketman says:

    EJ, hahaha, too clean there. bettyq, they deep fry first to just get it cooked inside, and to reduce moisture the first fry is then set aside to “dry up” for up to a day or overnight. Then they are flask fried again to crisp them up… that’s how they get that particular texture to them. I didn’t frankly realize you could do that with our lumpia, so I will have to try that soon, as I have been on the lookout for REALLY crisp lumpia for the restaurants… thanks for the tip! :)

    Oct 27, 2013 | 11:02 am

  11. Ruth says:

    Thanks for the double fry idea for the lumpias MM and Betty Q. Should have thought about this a long time ago since this is how I do fried chicken- double fried.

    Oct 27, 2013 | 12:16 pm

  12. EJ says:

    Double-frying is also the secret of crisp Chinese sweet-sour pork and sweet-sour fish, according to my Cantonese friends.

    Oct 28, 2013 | 4:21 am

  13. Eva Mondragon says:

    MM, you are one hundred per cent correct about the greens. In my case, I immediately dunk them in the boiling hot pho. If I’m not eating pho, then I don’t touch the greens. I also never order salad. (Yes, I’m very afraid of all those things that you mentioned.) For that reason, I also never touch the ever-present chili concoction. But, seriously, those street foods are very tempting.

    Oct 28, 2013 | 5:56 pm

  14. Eva Mondragon says:

    MM, this double-frying must really work. It so happened that I attended a party this weekend, and the hostess served lumpia. They were so crispy. Apparently, they were double-fried.

    Oct 28, 2013 | 6:08 pm

  15. MP says:

    How I wish there’s a good Vietnamese resto in Makati or Fort.. It is such a hassle to travel to tagaytay to have yummy Vietnamese food at Bawai resto..

    Oct 28, 2013 | 11:54 pm

  16. Bubut says:

    there’s a good Vietnames resto at Kapitolyo called Bahn Noi…. i love their food. try it.

    Oct 29, 2013 | 12:10 pm

  17. JB & Renee says:

    Street food at its finest. Love it. :)

    Nov 2, 2013 | 9:13 am


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