Anthony Bourdain, celebrity chef and his Vietnamese favorite food
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Yesride / Travel  / Eat Vietnam with Anthony Bourdain
9 Jun

Eat Vietnam with Anthony Bourdain

From Bún Bò Huế to Bún Chả, find out where Anthony Bourdain ate in Vietnam and what to order when you’re there, as we retrace the footsteps of the legendary gourmand through Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City.

Anthony Bourdain – Photo courtesy of David S. Holloway/CNN.

Of all the individuals who have fallen under Vietnam’s spell, no one’s obsession with Vietnam outmatches that of celebrity chef Anthony Bourdain. Over 206 episodes and two shows, no country has enraptured the brazen itinerant more so than Vietnam, a country he calls “one of his favorite places on earth.”

“Vietnam. It grabs you and doesn’t let you go. Once you love it, you love it forever.” – Anthony Bourdain Early in his television career, Bourdain made his love of Vietnam known, taking viewers on an espionage-themed tour around the northern region of the country in an episode of No Reservations entitled “Vietnam: The Island of Mr. Sang”. Channeling his inner James Bond, Bourdain discovered “squeasel” and also learned the potency of the local brew, rượu đế, Vietnamese moonshine.

A few seasons later, he returned to Vietnam for a homecoming of sorts, as implied by the episode’s title “Vietnam: There’s No Place Like Home.” At the end of the episode, Bourdain is seen contemplating expatriatism. Later on, he visited the imperial capital of Huế in Parts Unknown, sampling dishes like cơm hến (minced baby clams on sesame rice crackers) and the legendary Bún bò Huế, in its birthplace.

“All the modern conveniences, all the charms of the past.”
His is not so much an obsession as it is an earnest love admiration for Vietnam and its people. In the season eight opener of Parts Unknown, Bourdain once again finds himself in Vietnam, this time in the capital of Hanoi. The day starts off with streetside bún ốc, and ends with the cheerful clinking of bia hơi. But the highlight of this episode is a guest appearance by US President Barack Obama.

President Obama and Bourdain break bread over a 70,000 VND assembly of bún chả, a Hanoian speciality. As Bourdain appraises the president’s chopstick techniques, the two bond over a shared love of the Southeast Asian region and the importance of cultural openness. Underscoring each episode is a story of tenderness and affection that is uncharacteristically Bourdain, yet understandable to those who have visited.

Former U.S President Obama and Anthony Bourdain

anthony bourdain obamaPresident Barack Obama meets Anthony Bourdain. Photo courtesy of David S. Holloway/CNN.
“All the senses are engaged here.”
Bourdain has always celebrated cuisines with strong identities that don’t rely on pomp to create a statement, which explains his particular reverence towards Vietnamese fare. Vietnamese cuisine is so complete, it provides a balanced, multisensory interplay of flavours and textures and aromas. It’s not modest fare under any circumstance, but Vietnamese food needs no dressing up.

Ready to follow Bourdain’s footsteps around Vietnam? Here are a few highlights for your list.

Lunch lady

Bún bò Huế at The Lunch Lady
The famed Lunch Lady (23 Hoang Sa Street, Phuong Da Kao, District 1) is sequestered in an unassuming alleyway on the northern edge of District 1. Hoards of Vietnamese businessfolk and now, tourists, meet here around lunch time. Snag a table close to the mobile kitchen where Ms. Nguyen Thi Thanh hurriedly orchestrates the operation. Sitting at one of these tables affords the diner a theatrical performance complete with the sounds of cleavers pounding against wooden boards and men barking out orders, fanning worn out Vietnamese dong to relieve themselves of Ho Chi Minh’s oppressive heat.

The lunch lady’s Bún bò Huế (40,000 VND) is dark broth was was riddled with a generous amount of delectables such as fatty pig trotter, slices of beef brisket, and hefty log of cha lua, a type of Vietnamese sausage. Strong citrus notes come through from long-simmered stalks of lemongrass.

bun bo hue lunch ladyA mildly spiced bowl of Bun bo Hue at the Lunch Lady.
Bún chả at Bún chả Hương Liên
Bun Cha Obama. That’s what this small canteen-style joint located on Le Van Huu street is now popularly known as. Ever since the photo of President Obama and Anthony Bourdain perched on low slung seats was released back in late May, the unpretentious eatery has become Hanoi’s most bustling bún chả hotspot. Try the “Combo Obama,” a deal of a cold bottle of Bia Hà Nội, bún chả and seafood nem rán, all for the stunningly low cost of 85,000 VND.

Obama noodle shop in Hanoi

Anthony Bourdain Bun Cha HanoiThe lunch hour commences at Bun Cha Huong Lien.

Bourdain eats with fisherman at a floating market. Photo courtesy of David S. Holloway/CNN.

Bun Cha Obama – The Combo Obama. Photo by Izzy Pulido.
Bún chả is unrecognisable to outsiders; it is the food of the Vietnamese middle class. However, its smell — the smell of grilled pork patties — hangs in the air and wafts out of canteens similar to this one. Expect a large bowl of bún chả’s unique broth consisting of nước chấm and sugar and laced with vinegar, a smattering of maybe eight patties and grilled pork swimming around in the bowl, plus a serving of bún, rice vermicelli, and a plate of fresh herbs.

Bourdain did right by his endorsement of this street food item. This spot is something you should not miss on a visit to Hanoi.

To map out your very own Bourdain-inspired foodie excursion through Vietnam, here are the establishments and dishes you cannot miss:
Bánh Xèo at Quán Bánh Xèo 46A
45 Dinh Cong Trang, Tan Dinh, District 1, Ho Chi Minh City
Bún bò Huế at The Lunch Lady
23 Hoang Sa Street, Phuong Da Kao, District 1, Ho Chi Minh City
Bánh mì at Banh Mi Phuong
2B Phan Chau Trinh, Minh An, Hoi An
Cao lầu at The Central Market
Food Hall, Tran Quy Cap, Minh An, Hoi An
Bia Hơi at Bia Hơi Hải Xồm
86 Le Trong Tan, Khuon Mai, Thanh Xuan, Hanoi
Bún chả at Bún chả Hương Liên
24 Le Van Huu, Pham Dinh Ho, Hai Ba Trung, Hanoi

A scrumptious spread of com hen. Photo courtesy of David S. Holloway/CNN.

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