Holy shit. Mind blown last night.
My dad asked me the other day what the best thing I’d eaten in Southeast Asia thus far had been…and I struggled to come up with an answer! Sure, there has been a lot of good food, but nothing that I could say with certainty I’d LOVED…for long at least. Coconut based soups were good…at first. But quickly we became sick of their overpowering creaminess. Coconut sticky rice for dessert was also awesome, initially. But their sweetness was a lot to handle in any large dose. Many dishes, while good, have been simply too spicy for my western palate to enjoy (like koa soi in Laos, which was just painful to eat). And the pad thai here has been incredible, but truthfully – I think you can find comparable pad thai back home.
So last night when Alyssa and I took the first bites of Bun Bo- the reaction was an immediate and simple “holy shit- THIS is the best thing we’ve tasted so far.” We then spoke hardly a word to each other for the next 5 minutes, while we devoured our noodles in the indelicate way that only a westerner can.
Bun Bo Nam Bo, on Hang Dieu in Hanoi, is a tiny hole-in-the-wall joint that does an impressive business (having been written up in all the guidebooks helps I’m sure). We walked in, exhausted after 3 bus rides and one ferry back from Cat Ba Island, and were so happy to not have to make any decisions. At the counter by the entrance, the woman asked simply “two?” And we confirmed yes. We sat down at one of the many cafeteria-style picnic tables and were brought big warm bowls of noodles within minutes. Anything that requires us to not think or make a decision- is a very welcome break from the constant navigation in a new country.
Bun Bo is a dish comprised of vermicelli noodles, grilled beef, lettuce, mint and cilantro, papaya slices, bean sprouts, and topped with peanuts and fried onions. At the bottom of the bowl sits a small amount of broth, around 1/2 inch deep. The dish is wonderfully herbal and aromatic, with scents of lemongrass and mint and not too spicy at all. With a little bit of sweet garlic chili sauce on top – perfection.