It’s cold in Hamburg. So cold in fact that you wouldn’t believe it’s May and that you might be tempted to eat soup all day if you liked soup. Me, I’m not a fan of soup. I like the stuff that you put in soup but when I have the choice I eat that stuff on its own. Neither am I a big breakfast person. Yes, I know most important meal of the day and so on, but I could never muster up any excitement for breakfast. For one, you can’t really eat pasta for breakfast and also who has time to spend in the kitchen in the morning? That time is better spent sleeping in my opinion.
Pho vs. bún cha
So when I got to Vietnam I was faced with pho. Pho, the infamous Vietnamese soup, that has lured many mispronouncing tourists into dark corners in every city in Vietnam and that is eaten as a staple breakfast dish. So when I got to Vietnam I was not only was supposed to eat breakfast, I was supposed to eat soup!
The fact that it was a noodle soup couldn’t make it any better for me and that says something for a self-proclaimed pastaholic. As I said before – pasta/noodles for breakfast just ain’t right.
But when in Rome… and so I ate my way through a few bowls and must admit that there are worse things than eating a hot bowl of fragrant soup when you have just climbed off a night train and you are not feeling too well. In fact, this picture of me was taken at 6am after such a night train trip with a rumbling stomach:
I should have been grumpy and would have usually shoved any camera out of my way, but for some reason I didn’t. I blame the pho.
My friend Sophie wrote a wonderful post why Asian food is the best and commented that I also love pho in the conversation that followed. I had to burst her bubble (she looooves pho) and told her no, I didn’t. One nice picture of me eating a bowl and a soothed tummy didn’t mean I love it.
I did, however, at his very same spot in Hanoi, a little corner cafe close to Temple of Literature, fell in love with a soup. This soup is called bún chả and is in my opinion the most underrated Vietnamese dish and the whole reason why you are reading this.
The rule for any good street food stall is simple – you have one or two dishes and once the chef runs out it’s over and the smaller and more uncomfortable the plastic stools are, the better the food. I have no proof for the latter, it was just my impression of this particular place as the food was incredible and the chairs basically the size of half one butt cheek. It also only offered two dishes: pho for breakfast and bún chả for lunch. After the pho was approved by the pho lovers, we decided to return the next day for lunch. And oh, what a lunch it was!
Bún chả was described in 1959 by the Vietnamese food writer Vu Bang who called Hanoi a town “transfixed by bún chả.” according to Wikipedia. I have never quoted Wikipedia before, but I love this sentence as I was actually transfixed by bún chả too and there seems no better way to say it.
Bún chả is basically pork meatballs and/or crispy pork belly over noodles. In hindsight, I am a bit fuzzy on the details as all my research since didn’t say anything about a broth, but our lunch was definitely more soup than not. What do I know, it was delicious. Obviously I would have been happier to have it in non-soup format, but then again I added enough noodles, herbs, greens and extra tofu that it was more stew-like afterwards. The taste I cannot adequately describe without using all the cliches that writers are supposed to avoid. Spicy, sweet, fresh comes to mind. Just know that it is delicious and that pho has nothing on it (sorry, pho lovers!). So if you find yourself debating whether to go to Hanoi or to Vietnam at all, this dish gets an extra point on the pro list simply because there is food and then there is bún chả.
Picture of me taken by my talented and brave friend Tam Nguyen – it does take bravery to take a girl’s picture at 6am!