Bun cha Obama: the new star of Hanoi street food


Having a day off today and it is too hot and humid that it took me the whole morning deciding what I should eat for lunch. And “bun cha”- grilled pork noodle served with green herbs- came to my mind as the solution. Fresh, light and exceptionally delicious, bun cha is a perfect meal for a hot day like today in Hanoi.


Bun cha Obama story


When I was enjoying my bowl I could still heard people excitedly talking about US President Obama and bun cha. Probably Vietnamese people still don’t believe their eyes and ears when they saw president Obama eating a bowl of bun cha and drinking some Hanoi beer on the night of 23rd May during his Vietnam visit a few days ago. Everyone in Vietnam was happily shocked about how a president of the top 1 country in the world appeared and ate street food right in a very normal restaurant of Hanoi. And they were even happier to know that the everyday dish bun cha had successfully gained the attention of the most powerful man in the world.



Obama and Anthony in a Hanoi street restaurant



The image of president Obama sitting in a street food restaurant enjoying a bowl of bun cha like anyone else in Vietnam has been cheerfully spreading all over the World Wide Web. That even comes into the talks in every street corner, between every single person in Vietnam. That is a good message to the world that Vietnam is simple but attractive.


I remember years ago when US president Bill Clinton visited Vietnam, he chose “pho”- noodle soup with beef in a street restaurant. And that excited the whole Vietnam as well. But back in 2000 internet was not well available in Vietnam so the message was not as impressive as this time with Obama. Those images of important men of the world eating street food in Hanoi show the attraction of Hanoi food culture. Food has always been considered as part of Vietnamese culture and a must-do to any traveler to Vietnam. CNN once nominated Hanoi to be in top ten best street food cities in Asia. Lots of my clients and friends also confirm Hanoi is a paradise for street foodies.






The bun cha dish that president Obama and top chef of the world Anthony Bourdain had consists of all elites of Hanoi food culture: the taste, the display, the smell and atmosphere. Well marinated pork gets grilled until the good smell catches your attention from miles away. The pork that is being grilled has to have some fat and lean to make a balance. The dipping sauce is made of fish sauce, garlic, chili, pepper, vinegar and sugar well mixed. The noodle used has to be soft and fresh. All served with plentiful amount of fresh herb. The green salad on top of white noodle and brownish grilled pork is a pleasure to the eyes. The good smell catches your noses. Sitting on low plastic stools in a crowded street restaurant eating bun cha is an interesting experience to your mind. It comes best with some rice wine but I guess president Obama chose some Hanoi beer to make the impression not too casual hehe.


The restaurant that had that once-in-a-life-time chance to serve a US president is a famous bun cha restaurant of Hanoi for many years. And after this occasion they become even better known. Now when people come there to eat they just order an “Obama set”. This is understood as a set of bun cha with 2 pieces of crab spring rolls and a Hanoi beer bottle.


It’s been more than a week since that event happened but it is still well discussed in Vietnam. This once again confirms that Hanoi street food culture takes an important role in Vietnam culture. Now when my friends and clients from all over the world visit Vietnam will be offered by me when we go for lunch:” Fancy an Obama set?”



US president Obama drinking a Hanoi beer in Hanoi



But there one thing I always wonder when seeing the pictures of Obama and Anthony eating bun cha. Why the hell people eating in the same restaurant sit and ate like they don’t know nothing about him? I would be jumping up and down if Obama sit and drank a beer next to me in a restaurant. Weird!


Join our Hanoi Food Tour and sample Bun cha as one of many other dishes on our walk to the Old Quarter of Hanoi.


By Pham Tuyen