“An Obama portion, please!”: the Bun Cha craze in Hanoi

By Pham Van, Kim ThuyMay 30, 2016 | 04:27 am PT
Yes, that’s it, you didn’t read it wrong. The “Obama portion” has created a craze among both regulars and first-timers at the ‘bun cha’ shop that served Obama during his trip to Vietnam.

And if you’re still wondering, an "Obama portion” is a portion of ‘bun cha’ with ‘nem’ and a bottle of Hanoi Beer.

Since Obama dined at a ‘bun cha’ shop named Huong Lien in Hanoi, the dish has gained unprecedented popularity among multiple news agencies and locals who have never thought of eating at the shop before.

Bun cha is not a strong competitor in comparison with other famous street foods, such as ‘banh mi’, ‘pho’ and ‘cuon’ (spring rolls). It is only popular in Hanoi because in other cities, even Saigon, people have never heard of it.

Photo by http://tourinhanoi.com/

Photo by http://tourinhanoi.com/

However, the dish’s destiny and the shop that served Obama have taken a turn.

People have been flocking to the shop and even queuing for hours on the street, waiting for their turn before the shop runs out of the "Obama portion".


Photo by Reuters


Photo by VnExpress/Huong Chi

The shop owner said that the plates and bowls that were used by one of the most powerful men in the world have been kept as a token.

What is it about ‘bun cha’ that makes it so special?

Unlike other favorites that have secret spices like ‘pho’, 'bun cha' ingredients are easy to find and the recipe is not that complicated.

But the thing that makes Hanoi’s ‘bun cha’ different from other versions lies in the skills required to make it, which cannot be mastered overnight.

As easy as it looks, there are only two kinds of meat: the meatballs and the thick pork slices.

The meat balls borrow their softness from the perfect ratio of lean and fat from the shoulder meat, while the slices satisfy fans of a chewy texture. The pork must be marinated with spices overnight so the meat can absorb all the aromas.


Photo by Philipp Manila Sonderegger

The sauce is another story and would take months to write about by even the laziest of foodies without providing a satisfactory answer. People just agree there is no single correct way to make it. The ingredients are no secret; it's the way people combine them that makes them unique. 

The craze will die down for sure, but you should have it now because it will never taste the same when people stop calling it an "Obama portion".


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