Bún Bò Nam Bộ in Hanoi – 52 of 365

Bún Bò Nam Bộ

When Hanoi’s Tay Ho neighborhood was home for me, my friends and I would meet at Cafe Chi Em on Xuan Dieu Road next to the Syrena Tower at least once or twice a week for some cheap street food.   When I found myself back in Tay Ho for a work overnight sampling some of my old haunts, this open air joint seemed the perfect way to reconnect with my former life in the north.  What better way than to order “southern beef noodles,” better known as bún bò nam bộ, to resample some of my old standards.

I watched as the young girls prepared lunch in the open kitchen just steps away and marvelled at how they use plastic gloves much the same as our friend from the other day at the soup joint next to my apartment in Saigon.   At least consistency reigns from one end of this S shaped country to the other.   The girl held my white ceramic bowl with her gloved left hand but handled the raw food with her bare right hand.   Particularly interesting was watching her use teeth and lips to unglue stray noodles stuck to her hand.  You got to do what you got to do when hunger strikes, right?

Cafe Chi Em

The bowl never left her gloved hand and I just can’t describe my relief that this vessel containing my food was kept so sterile.   Now if they could just work on the food dumped into it that actually enters our bodies.  Baby steps I guess.  One day they will discover the two glove method.  Just after I received my sanitized bowl of bún bò nam bộ, she let a wet cough rip right into her ungloved hand and then began prepwork for her the next victim.  Sorry, I mean customer.  The same probably happened to me but I just didn’t see it.  I shouldn’t be so smug.

Coughing aside, bún bò nam bộ is good.   I like it a lot.   I’d eat “southern beef noodles” more if I could actually find them down south.   This bowl handled with such utmost gloved care has a mound of the same bún chả rice vermicelli noodles, sliced beef, sweet pickled carrots and daikon, purple perilla, bibb lettuce, Vietnamese mint, and Thai basil, peanuts, and then fried onions just like the ones mom uses on that Thanksgiving green bean casserole.   As I picked up mouthfuls of noodles and herbs with my chopsticks, I got to thinking about how these same greens make their tasty appearance in so many foods here.   Back in America we mask our food with smears of ketchup and mustard from a factory tucked away in an industrial park.   Here we enhance our food’s natural flavors with the mother nature’s best.   Eating down into this pile reveals about an inch of a sweet peanutty liquid begging for a splash of the hot sauce from dirty red plastic squeeze bottles on each table.

The Vietnamese may not be able to put a man on the moon or even wear two gloves when preparing food, but they sure can kick the McDonald’s value menu’s butt when it comes to their own home grown fast food.   I will gladly pay a measly $2 for food this type of fast food so fresh and full of flavor.

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Categories: Vietnamese Food

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