Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Bún Bò Nam Bộ

There's never a long wait for food. Though sometimes it's so busy here that your order may be forgotten.

This will probably be my final post on local eats in Hanoi. Not so much because I’m leaving Hanoi in less than five weeks, but because I have a hard time recommending places that don’t overcharge me for being a Westerner. Many places don’t, but just as many, I find, do. It’s one reason I haven’t updated my blog more recently than this.

In any case, I can recommend Bún Bò Nam Bộ at 67 Hang Dieu Street.

Although they don’t rip off foreigners, they do charge almost twice as much for a bowl of their shop’s specialty than most other bún bò nam bộ places in Hanoi (on Tran Quoc Toan Street, for example, where places charge only 25,000 dong).

It’s almost shocking that they charge 45,000 per bowl. I’ve been coming here since 1997, and while I can’t remember how much a bowl cost then (was it 8000 dong?), back in 2002 I recall it only cost 16,000 dong. I’m amazed that they’ve nearly tripled their prices in less than a decade—one look at either the interior or exterior of their restaurant makes it plain that with whatever profit they’re raking in, not a bit of it goes to making the place look any better.

They have two rooms on the first floor, and one low-ceilinged room on the second floor.

There’s a certain charm, of course, in letting a place age, and I’m as tolerant of grease and grime as 99% of people I know, but seriously…if you’re going to charge twice what your competitors charge, maybe wash the floors once in a while, and maybe dust the walls and ceiling clean of the decade-old cobwebs.

Despite certain unappealing aspects of the restaurant, it’s always packed, which attests to how good the bún bò nam bộ here is. Nam bộ means southern; bún refers to the rice noodles used in the dish; means beef. What you get in a bowl, then, is grilled beef, bún noodles, chopped cucumbers and lettuce, sliced green papaya and carrots, crushed peanuts, fried onions, bean sprouts, mint and various other herbs, and a fish sauce-based broth (nước chấm mixed with vinegar and lemon juice) at the bottom. Make sure to mix it up well before digging in.

Don’t expect to order anything here other than bún bò nam bộ. It’s the only thing this restaurant makes, though their menu also includes snacky items such as nem chua (cured, fermented pork) and giò (a kind of Vietnamese sausage). The hours are patron-friendly, too, especially if you’re susceptible to cravings of bún bò nam bộ at odd hours. They’re open from 7 a.m. until 10:30 p.m. and you can order takeaway if you don’t feel like fighting for a seat among the crowds (or skating across the greasy, napkin-strewn floor).

Grab some takeaway and avoid the hassle of parking your motorbike or bicycle.

Another nice thing about this place is that there are various chè shops up and down Hang Dieu Street––a nice way to top off the meal with a sweet, inexpensive dessert.

Good luck crossing the street. But there's chè across the street, and that's worth risking your life on.

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