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Most foodies have heard of pho, the noodle soup consisting of broth, rice noodles, herbs, and beef or chicken. But Vietnamese cuisine is known for its amazing variety of 'street food', much of it also noodle-based. A half dozen prime examples you can find in Vietnam's capital Hanoi:
A meat or seafood vermicelli soup (top), its distinctive crimson color comes from tomato paste and annatto oil, made from achiote tree seeds. It be also served with fried tofu to heighten its flavor, and you can also add lime and chilis. In Hanoi, try bun rieu in Tho Xuong alley, near St. Joseph’s Cathedral, or Nguyen Sieu street in the Old Quarter.
Thought to have originated in Hanoi, here the rice noodles are accompanied by a bowl of grilled pork (cha), dipping sauce, and greens. There are two kinds: cha vien (made from lean shoulder, softer than ham or butt, chopped and marinated in spices, then grilled) and cha mieng (made from sliced bacon, marinated and grilled, best with both fatty and lean bacon). They're served in many local eateries, but to find truly tasty bun cha depends on experience and the right recipe (especially when it comes to the broth, which can include papaya, carrot, fish sauce, vinegar, and sugar.
Look for it on Hang Manh Street or the Dong Xuan market alley in Hanoi's Old Quarter. Another superb venue is Huong Lien restaurant, where Barack Obama ate when he visited.
Cooked in a small pan atop a portable gas stove, the soul of cha ca (above) soul is shrimp sauce, and it's served with bountiful garnishes, chopped peanuts, and cold noodles. The best place to try it is Cha Ca La Vong at No.14 Cha Ca Street in Hanoi's Hoan Kiem district - an establishment more than a century old!
Snail rice noodle soup can be found everywhere in Vietnam, and while it seems rather simple to cook, in fact it requires serious cooking skills to make a truly excellent bun oc, it's a complex mix of ingredients and spices which must be selected, blended, and prepared with care. The snails must be fat enough, yellow in color, and other ingredients include fried tofu, tomato, rice noodles, broth, bean sprouts, and herbs. You can eat bun oc hot and room temperature (hot is more popular). Try it at Quan Ba Beo on Hoe Nhai Street, Ba Luong in Khuong Thuong at No.530 Thuy Khue Alley; and Dong Xuan market alley.
A famous dish from Hai Phong, a province in the north of Vietnam but popular in Hanoi, bún ca (above) means simply fish noodle soup. it can be mackerel, catfish, or other fish, sliced or made into cakes, and fried so it’s slightly crispy on the outside. The broth is usually pretty light, with hints of dill. It tends to be a bit tangier with tomatoes and sometimes a chunk of pineapple floating in it. This dish could surprise you every time you eat it. Try bun ca at No.111 Trieu Viet Vuong Street in the Hai Ba Trung district, or at Hang Chieu Street and Dong Xuan market alley in the Old Quarter.
Bún Bo Nam Bo
Southern-style beef noodles are from the south of Vietnam, with includes fried beef, fried onion, roasted peanuts, bean sprouts, and herbs. Unlike the other dishes I've mentioned here, it involves no soup but rather is served with a special dipping sauce, made from fish sauce, pickled papaya and carrot, garlic, lemon, chilly, sugar, and pepper, boiled together in a pot. Bun bo nam bo can be found throughout the Old Quarter, and I'd also recommend No.7 Hang Dieu Street in the Hoan Kiem district.