Bún Thang in Hanoi – 88 of 365

Bún Thang

Sometimes the journey on foot in a city to find new foods proves as interesting as the meal itself.  The number of tourists clutching tattered guidebooks with all their might while woefully wandering the confusing tangle of streets rises exponentially the deeper we venture into Hanoi’s Old Quarter.  Near the intersection of Hang Dao and Cau Go Streets just a block off Hoan Kiem Lake, a group of such retired Floridians hit me up for directions.

The subject of breakfast came up, and I pointed to an entire street of pho joints.  This recommendation to sample some local flavor caused five pairs of feet to uncomfortably shuffle with averted eyes to match, and one of them finally piped up with a request for a more American approach to dining.  I pointed to Highlands Coffee and they seemed most satisfied this revised suggestion could deliver the tastes of Sarasota so missing from their diets in Hanoi.

One even incredulously asked, “What the hell do people eat over here?  It all looks like dirty crap.”  I don’t know sir, but seven million Hanoians hardly seem malnourished or starving for options.  While fleeing this trainwreck, I overhead the matriarch keenly observe, “These eggs sit out all day.  This isn’t fresh.”  Though I must concede I am not well versed in the poultry arts, I can say with confidence that the chicken’s butt likely does not shower eggs with an air conditioned breeze as mama hen sits atop her unhatched brood.  They come into the world without refrigeration and so shall they pass out of it with a crack into the frying pan.

Home of the Bún Thang

And our astute matriarch should note that even though Highlands may keep up appearances of suburban America, what lurks in that hidden kitchen is probably anything but.  I got to thinking how entering these restaurants so deeply frightening our Floridian friends really does require a great leap of faith for the uninitiated.  Trust me, I can relate having traveled to many a country eating nothing once upon a time but fruit with a peel and cookies from a hermetically sealed package.  Somewhere along the line my standards have dropped to about nothing here in Vietnam, and it’s been food bliss ever since.

An entire block of Cau Go Street seems devoted to a noodle soup called bún thang.  Surely a bowl of culinary gold was awaiting its discovery here amidst the jumble of street vendors and run down restaurants spanning the entire spectrum of sanitation and cleanliness.  Several pots of liquid boiling out on the sidewalk at #32 beckoned, and a lady squashed behind a table piled high with meats and vegetables dazzles all with the Vietnamese penchant for wearing a gloved hand to hold the food bowl while using the bare hand to shovel the ingredients into it.  Come on guys, let’s push the concept of food sanitation across the finish line once and for all by wearing two gloves you change after wiping your nose or handling money.  Maybe one day…

A dollar bowl of fresh bún thang with its boneless pieces of chicken may not be the most complex taste sensation in Hanoi, and indeed, the broth tastes suspiciously like our own home grown chicken noodle soup yet with a much more velvety texture.  Strips of paper thin omelet, rice noodles, a type of white pork sausage, mushrooms, scallions and bean sprouts round out the diverse ingredients, and table condiments such as vinegar infused with hot chilies and tiny sour oranges the size of a Gobstopper add some much needed heat and bite.  I like bún thang for it sure beats a tiny fast food processed breakfast burrito off the dollar menu back home.

Food is such a personal journey.  I am confident our Floridian friends enjoyed their bacon and eggs at Highlands as much as others enjoy a taste of true Hanoi.  It goes to show there’s something for everyone here in Vietnam.  We just need to know where to look.

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Categories: Vietnamese Food

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