Nov 29 2011

Hanoi street food: Bun ca, bun oc and banh tom

Published by at 8:45 am under Food


I’ve recently moved to a new office next to West Lake and near to the Tay Ho temple. Whereas I was previously eating pho cuon for lunch, the local Hanoi dishes here are bun ca, bun oc and banh tom.

Like fish and chips but without the chips

Fish and chips, without the chips.

Bun ca is prepared with bun noodles, the same round white rice noodles served with bun cha, but there the similarity ends. Rather than a dipping sauce with cold noodles being served on the side, bun ca is a one-bowl-soup: it comprises a light and fragrant hot broth, green veggies and – the reason for the “ca” – bite-sized chunks of white fish, dipped in batter and deep fried. It’s good; give it a try! There are, as always, variations — for example the fish isn’t always deep fried — but this is the version I’ve experienced.

Oh, there’s one more similarity to bun cha: it’s served with a big bowl of greens on the side. On the subject of sides, it’s worth throwing in some lime juice and the vinegar-based condiment that will no doubt be adorning the table — that’s the one with the garlic and chilli floating in it. If you want more spice add some fresh chillies or chilli sauce — not the tomato based one, the pure mashed chilli one. You’ll know it when you see it. My mouth’s watering just thinking about it.

If fried fish isn’t to your liking, how about snails? Bun oc is similar to bun ca, but served with shelled snails. I tried it last week for the first time — so as to write about it — and to be honest, it’s not my cup of tea. The overall soup taste is fine, but I’m not keen on the chewy snails. I’ve been assured that the snails aren’t usually chewy so maybe I just got a bad day — or a bad restaurant.

I remember the first time I saw banh tom: I was cycling round West Lake and rode down the road towards the temple. There, in pride of place at the dozen or so restaurants that line the street, sat these artistic mounds of banh tom. How to describe them? Large prawns (that’s the tom), on a thick batter base. Perhaps a photo will help:

Irresistable

Irresistable!

Before serving they’re re-fried and cut in half: pick them up with chopsticks, dip in the dipping sauce and enjoy.

Bun ca and bun oc are available in various locations around town — try Hoe Nhai to the north of Old Quarter, or Mac Hai Dai near Vincom Towers — but so far I’ve only seen banh tom near Tay Ho temple. If you find it elsewhere, please let me know!

To get to Tay Ho Temple, go down Alley 27 Xuan Dieu — also called Duong Ven Ho Tay — and at the end turn right, then left.

A great cycling route

A great cycling route.

 

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