Food and drink

World’s best dishes: Bun cha

Ian Paynton travels nearly 6,000 miles from London to Hanoi to find this meaty noodle treat

Something special happens in Hanoi every day. It’s called bun cha.

From 10am, vendors across Vietnam’s capital begin sizzling bacon strips on small streetside fires. As you walk through the smoky alleyways of the Old Quarter, the smell of flame-grilled pork will stop you in your tracks and persuade you to pull up a tiny red stool.

You’ll sit down to eat whether you came out for lunch or not. Such is the power of Vietnam’s underrated noodle dish. I’m hooked on it, and so are most people I know. We’d choose it over pho any day.

Directly translated as ‘vermicelli grilled meat’, bun cha originated here in the old town. The purely Hanoian recipe – it has no Chinese or French influences – is a fragrant, tasty combo of sticky white noodles, Vietnamese herbs, barbecued pork burgers and bacon, straight off the flame and into a sweet fish-sauce broth. Add a plate of deep-fried spring rolls to do it the real Hanoian way.

Typically, the dish is only available until the supplies run out each day. But there’s a kitchen at 1 Hang Manh Street that stays open for longer and is famous for serving huge portions.

For nighttime cravings, there’s Nha Hang Ngon at 26 Tran Hung Dao Street, which is a popular chain restaurant serving Vietnamese street food classics from inside a colonial French villa.

Bun cha belongs to Hanoi’s smoke-filled streets. Go for a wander through the Old Quarter and pull up a stool for the best bowl of Vietnamese noodles you’ll find anywhere.

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