When you ask someone to name the definitive Vietnamese noodle dish, she will automatically say “Pho”. That’s a good start, but not quite. Even though “Pho” is the signature food of Vietnamese cuisine, my money is on the Vietnamese Bún – the Vietnamese rice vermicelli. I can name at least 30 dishes with Bun on top of my head, but for the sake of time, here are my top 10 Bun dishes based on my preference and general popularity. PS. I a skipping the ordinary Bun Bo and Bun Ga because they are for “noobies”.
1. Bun Bo Hue – Hue Beef Noodle Soup
I said that I will skip the ordinary Bun Bo, but I did not say I would skip Bun Bo Hue. It is indeed my most favorite Bun dish (or bowl) out of all even though it is most likely that I will have to drink 3 cups of water in the end. Obviously, Bun Bo Hue comes from… Hue! No surprise here. This delicious and super spicy bowl of Bun includes a handful of stuff in it: boiled pork meat, pork knuckle, beef, Hue meat cake, and even pig blood. The flavor that makes Bun Bo Hue stand out from the Bun crowd is its spiciness. As you may already know, the Central Vietnamese people are famous for eating spicy foods.
Bun Hen is another Bun dish from the Central of Vietnam. As the matter of fact, I believe Bun originates from the Central of Vietnam and it has been used widely only in the Central and North Vietnam. The preparation for Bun Hen is quite simple but its taste contains all the meaning and characteristics of the Central Vietnamese people: simple but deeply passionate at everything that they do.
This is probably the only Bun dish that I can think of from the Southern Vietnamese food menu. Like the name says, the noodle bowl is topped with egg rolls and grilled pork. After you added a few scoops of sauce, you are all set to satisfy your hungry tummy.
This dish is also known as “Bún Cha Quat Dong Xuân” because it first came from the Dong Xuan market area in Hanoi. Many people have mistaken this dish with Bun Thit Nuong from the South. The difference between the two dishes lays in several factors. First, “Bun Cha Ha Noi” has grilled pork meat balls besides the grilled pork slices. Secondly, the meat is marinated with different ingredients and seasoning. Lastly, rather than stirring the noodle and the meat altogether before you serve, “Bun Cha Ha Noi” requires the person to pick each item in small portions and combine them for one piece in an elegant manner. This way, you can accurately evaluate which ingredients of the dish have reached the standards and which have not. The term “Cha Quat” comes from the fact people grill the pork and meat balls by fanning them on top of the flaming charcoals.
Bun Rieu in general is a Vietnamese vermicelli soup that usually contains a lot of tomato in its soup base. The toppings are made out of crab paste or snails. Most of the time, you would see both crab paste and snails together in one Bun Rieu bowl. Due to the scarcity of freshwater paddy crabs in the U.S, the American-Vietnamese people have replaced the crab paste with shrimp paste. Although shrimp paste does not bring the same tasty flavor as freshwater crab paste, but it is the closest alternative out there.
When people talk about Bun Ca, they often talk about Bun Ca from Hanoi or Hai Phong. I have tried them all, but nothing beat the heaven taste of Bun Ca Nam Dinh. Nam Dinh is a smaller city located about 100 miles away from Hanoi. Bun Ca Nam Dinh contains both the sweetness that you will find Bun Ca Hai Phong and the tenderness of the fish filet in Bun Ca Ha Noi. What makes it stand out from the other two competitors is the secret formula that Nam Dinh people use to prevent the fish segments become too dried from deep frying but still maintain its super crunchiness while being dipped into the broth. Especially, just from sniffing the odor from far away already making everyone salivates.
Let’s move back to Hanoi because we cannot miss this. Bun Cha Ca La Vong is a dish that has grilled fish filets that get pan fried again when being served with Bun and other vegetables. There have been many restaurants try to put this dish on their menu but mostly unsuccessful. You maybe are questioning about the name of the dish right now. To be honest, I originally thought it was a Chinese food that the Vietnamese have adopted because the name of La Vong belongs to a famous character in China about a few thousands years ago. However, after a bit of research, I was able to find out that the Vietnamese family who invented this dish always has a small statue of La Vong sitting in front of their house. So, instead of calling it “Bun Cha Ca” just like any other ordinary Bun Cha Ca being served in the town, people stick the name “La Vong” to make it special for its superior delicious taste.
This bowl of noodle soup is perfect for a cold night in the winter. Although it takes a bit of effort to make, Bun Vit Xao Mang always brings to the Northern Vietnamese families the warmth of love and the sweetness of duck broth. Nowaday, Bun Vit Xao Mang has become quite popular in many areas outside of North Vietnam.
I cannot find any better English translation for this bowl of noodle as I don’t even fully understand the meaning of its name in Vietnamese. Opposite from Bun Vit Xao Mang usually being served in the winter, Bun Bung is best eaten in the summer. It brings the coolness from various vegetables such as: tomato, Alocasia odora, green papaya, tamarine, and green onions. The broth is slowly cooked with fresh pork ribs. In addition, Bun Bung is topped with pork knuckles and pork meat. Most of the times, tumeric powder was used to create the yellowish color making the food more appealing.
10. Bún Thang – Ladder Noodle Soup
“Ladder Noodle Soup” would be the straight translation from the Vietnamese name of this noodle soup that originates from the North of Vietnam. I have heard many explanations for its unique name, but I think the most accurate and simple one would be the following: “Thang” is a Chinese word for “Broth” or “Soup”. Since Vietnamese people were borrowing Chinese language in the past, it is most likely that they were just trying to say this is “Noodle Soup”. The name sounds simple but it takes tons of time to prepare this bowl of noodle. The ingredients include: shredded chicken meat, shredded fried egg, shredded steam pork cake, and various vegetables. To cook the broth, you would need both pork ribs and a whole chicken. Bun Thang requires a lot of time to make, but it is easy to eat and very nicely decorated as you can see from the picture.