Tracing the 'Food Steps' of Anthony Bourdain in Vietnam (Part One: Hanoi)

17 Jan, 2023 | Amazing Bite

“The minute you touch down here it grabs you, captivates you, and chances are- it will hold you forever.” Anthony Bourdain

Mr. Bourdain first visited Vietnam early on during his television career, in an episode of ‘No Reservations – “Vietnam: The Island of Mr. Sang”’. Once having been captivated by the hidden charm Vietnam possesses, he returns in another episode entitled “Vietnam: There’s No Place Like Home”. Grieving the loss of a dear friend, Anthony Bourdain contemplates moving to Vietnam with his family. Still not having had enough of the bustled city during his previous visits, he returns one last time in his most recent series named ‘Parts Unknown’, where he further delves into the hearts of Vietnamese culture and cuisine.

This blog has been created in honor of Mr. Bourdain, it features the names and descriptions of a variety of Vietnamese authentic cuisines, some well-known such as Pho, and some lesser-known dishes such as Bun Oc. Have a look at the ‘food steps’ he has left behind in Hanoi, a city that holds many harmonious memories of the legend himself - Anthony Bourdain. Follow Anthony's steps with our Vietnam Food Tours.

1. Pho – The Most Popular Vietnamese Noodle Soup

Famed as being the Vietnamese national dish, this hot bowl of steaming noodles better known as Pho has become an internationally recognizable Vietnamese export, as it can now be found in cities and restaurants across the globe. The Northern Vietnamese dish originates from the early 20th century, after which it was universalized by Vietnamese refugees following the Vietnam War.

The dish features in Anthony Bourdain's series ‘No Reservations’ in episode six entitled “Food Porn”. The unambiguous origins of Pho remain in Hanoi, the capital city, where it is said the best Pho can be found. Typically a breakfast food and despite its simplistic appeal, a surprising amount of ingredients are used in making the dish; the broth entails a simmering beef bone stock combined with grilled ginger, cinnamon, black cardamom, star anise, and fish sauce, it is then stewed for as long as 6- 10 hours.

Some say, using obscure ingredients such as the dried arm of a squid or dried seaworms brings out stronger flavors in the broth. Once the broth is done, the rice noodles are first placed into a bowl, followed by toppings which include beef and fresh herbs. The Pho is ready to eat once the hot broth is poured into your bowl, and placed in front of you. From your first slurp, you know why Pho is the must-eat dish in Vietnam.

Best Places to Eat Pho

General Price: from 40,000VND - 50,000VND ($1.68 - $2.50) for a bowl of Pho

  • Pho Bat Dan: 49 Bat Dan (It's my favorite) 900m from Thang Long Water Puppet Theater
  • Pho Cuong: 23 Hang Muoi 500m from Thang Long Water Puppet Theater
  • Pho Thin: 13 Lo Duc 750m from Hilton Hanoi Opera
  • Pho Suong: 24B Dinh Liet 400m from The Huc Bridge
  • Pho Bo: 69 Hang Non (Only open during mornings) 850m from The Huc Bridge
  • Pho Ganh: 4 Hang Ma (Opens from 3 am to 8:30 am) 130m from Dong Xuan Market

2. Bun Rieu Oc – A Vietnamese Snail Noodle Soup

Anthony Bourdain samples Bun Oc in his season eight opener for ‘Parts Unknown’. During the episode, Bourdain proclaims the dish as being “something they do here and it’s better than anywhere else”, right as he tucks into his dish, he can’t help but release a loud moan over how delicious it tasted.

Found across the capital city of Hanoi, Bun Oc derives from farmers having carefully selected the juiciest rice paddy crabs and snails, which are then beaten into a thick sticky paste. The paste is stirred into water, before being filtered through a basket. The remaining juice is finally cooked into a soup with sliced tomatoes until crab meat is seen bobbing around the brim.

Once the soup is whole; infused with the essence of crab roe along with some rice vinegar, it is accompanied by rice noodles, fried tofu, and some fibrous escargot. A small basket containing cilantro, lettuce, mint leaves, bean sprouts, perilla leaves, and banana blossom is typically found on the same table where Bun Oc is served hot. One of the 10 best noodles to try in Vietnam, we must say.

Best Places to Eat Bun Oc

General Price: 40,000VND - 50,000VNV ($1.68 - $2.1)

  • Bun Oc Co Giang: 36 Luong Ngoc Quyen 160m from Bach Ma Temple
  • Bun Oc Co Hue: 43 Nguyen Sieu 140m from Bach Ma Temple
  • Bun Oc Co Them: 6 Hang Chai 220m from Dong Xuan Market
  • Bun Oc Suon: 57 Hai Ba Trung 400m from Hoa Lo Prison Memorial

3. Banh Cuon - Vietnamese Steamed Rice Rolls

Banh Cuon - a Northern Vietnamese specialty features in Bourdain’s episode entitled “Hanoi” from ‘Parts Unknown’ which aired in September 2016. As he eagerly slurps down a few Banh Cuon steamed rolls, Mr. Bourdain is seen conversing with a Vietnam War veteran and scholar, Mrs. Thao, who explains some of the changes that have occurred in modern contemporary Vietnamese society within the last 40 years.

Preparing this dish begins with making the white translucent exterior from a mix of rice flour and tapioca starch, which is then spread on a flat surface to rest. A variety of takes on this dish exist such as the plain Banh Cuon (Banh Cuon Thanh Tri) or Banh Cuon Nhan Thit which is stuffed with ground pork and black wood ear mushroom. Other varieties exist such as Banh Cuon with shrimp (Banh Cuon Tom) or with chicken (Banh Cuon Ga).

The dish is usually served with Vietnamese pork sausages and fish sauce, along with a drop of giant water bug essence. Typically found on street corners around the city during early mornings, this dish makes for a great traditional breakfast. When you take a street food tour in Hanoi, Banh Cuon is always a stop on the itinerary. 

Best Places to Eat Banh Cuon

General Price: From 30,000 - 40,000VND ($1.26 - $1.68) at famous restaurants or ~20,000VND ($0.84) at traditional markets.

  • Thanh Tri Market: You need a guide here as it's a traditional market and people can't speak English.
  • Banh Cuon Ba Hoanh: 66 To Hien Thanh 1.8km from Hilton Hanoi Opera
  • Banh Cuon Phuong: 68 Hang Cot 400m from Dong Xuan Market
  • Banh Cuon Quang An: 72 Hang Bo 300m from Hanoi Night Market
  • Banh Cuon Ba Nga: 34 Yen Phu 650m from Tran Quoc Pagoda
  • Banh Cuon Kim Thoa: 49 Ham Tu Quan 850m from Vietnam Revolutionary Museum

4. Bun Cha – Grilled Pork with Rice Vermicelli

During Anthony Bourdain’s opening episode- “Hanoi” in the series ‘Parts Unknown’, he interviews former President Obama over what is arguably known as the second most popular Hanoian dish; Bun Cha.

In what is usually a busy marketplace, a fanfare of applause among a sea of red and yellow flags awaited the arrival of the POTUS. The former president Obama along with Mr. Bourdain stooped down onto some low-lying plastic stools and prepared themselves for a relaxing dinner among other local diners. Bourdain jokes “I’m guessing the president doesn’t get a lot of steak dinners, like this”.

The surprisingly simple dish provides a collaborative array of mixed flavors such as sweet, savory, and sour; it’s harmoniously composed of initially marinating ground pork along with pork shoulder, fused with sweet shallot, garlic, fish sauce, oyster sauce as well as black pepper, for roughly an hour. Once the flavors are intertwined, small pork patties, as well as finely sliced pork shoulder are charcoal-grilled, engulfing the surrounding streets with its aroma. Bun Cha is served alongside rice vermicelli, a basket containing a variety of fresh herbs, and sliced green papaya with carrots on top. The dish is usually found as being the “first love” of adventurers who decide to discover the greatness of Vietnamese cuisine in Hanoi, including Mr. Obama, who described it as being “killer, this is outstanding!”.

Best Places to Eat Bun Cha

General Price: From 40,000 - 50,000VND ($1.68 - $2.1)

  • Bun Cha Dac Kim: 1 Hang Manh (the most popular spot among local people in Hanoi) 650m from Thang Long Water Puppet Theater
  • Bun Cha Huong Lien (Bun Cha Obama): 24 Le Van Huu 350m from Hom Market
  • Bun Cha Nem Cua Be: 59 Hang Ma 290m from Dong Xuan Market
  • Bun Cha Ta: 21 Nguyen Huu Huan 500m from Bach Ma Temple

5. Bia Hoi – A Vietnamese Draught Beer

During the season eight opener of ‘Parts Unknown’, Mr. Bourdain is welcomed back to town by an old friend from his previous excursions in the south of Vietnam. The group sits at a roadside plastic table, reminisces about past times, and enjoys one of the finest products available in Hanoi. 

Scattered across the city are small and large eateries which feature a very imperative local treat; freshly made draught beer, or Bia Hoi! This beer which is brewed daily is only matured for a short period of time before it is ready to be delivered in metallic kegs to every corner and crevice in the city. The beer can be considered as being fairly light, only containing around 3% alcohol.

At half a dollar per glass straight from the keg, especially during the summer months, a fresh cold Bia Hoi is just what is needed in order to calm the senses down. Typically the later it gets the busier it gets, so grab a seat while they last! Enjoy a glass of cool draught beer in the sweltering heat of a Vietnamese summer.

Best Places to Drink Bia Hoi

General Price: 7,000VND - 10,000VND ($0.3 - $0.42)

  • Bia hoi Hai Xom: there are many of these in Hanoi
  • Bia Hoi Junction: at the corner of Ta Hien Street and Luong Ngoc Quyen Street 300m from Hanoi Night Market
  • Bia Hoi Corner: at the corner of Duong Thanh Street and Bat Dan Street 600m from Hanoi Night Market

6. Nem Nuong – Grilled Pork Sausage

Traditionally from the South of Vietnam, these grilled pork meatballs are also served in Hanoi, with a slightly different twist to them. Nem Nuong is made by grinding pork and pork fat together, and flavoring by chopped shallots, crushed garlic, sugar, fish sauce, and black pepper. Once the mix is complete, sausages or small meatballs are formed by hand, before being baked or grilled. A sweet and spicy dipping sauce comes along with Nem Nuong. This dish is typically served as an appetizer, or as a side dish.

Best Place to Eat Nem Nuong

General Price: 50,000VND – 80,000VND ($2.1 - $3.36)

  • Nha tho and Nha Chung streets, near St. Josephs Cathedral: down the alley beside the French build cathedral by Au Trieu 100m from Hoan Kiem Lake

7. A Pork Noodle Soup featuring Taro Stems

Similarly to the classic Vietnamese dish - Pho, the broth for this hearty noodle soup: Bun Doc Mung is a process that can take multiple hours to prepare. It may look very simple, but this meal comes at great value.

Once ordered, a generous serving of noodles will be placed in a bowl along with some shredded cilantro, crispy shallots, stems from Indian taro and a dribble of chili oil-based sauce. This is only the foundation. Next, an assortment of different parts from a pig along with pork meatballs will be placed on top of all the ingredients, before a large scoop of hot broth, permeated with pork paste is gently poured into the bowl. A final touch up includes more crispy shallots and a scattering of black pepper.

During Anthony Bourdain’s episode of ‘Parts Unknown’ when he visits a Bun Doc Mung restaurant, the group is seen being ushered away from the scene, after being insulted (jokingly, of course) by an unnerved restaurant owner.

Best Place to Eat Bun Doc Mung

General Price: 40,000VND – 60,000VND ($1.68 - $2.52)

  • 18 Bat Dan, Hang Bo Street
  • 41 Ngo Si Lien Street (where Anthony Bourdain visited)
  • 19a Nguyen Thien Thuat Street
  • 46 Tran Nhat Duat Street

Planning to visit Hanoi anytime soon? Consider a food tour where you can taste all the best bites of Vietnam. Besides having an endless multitude of delicious dishes, it is hard to tell why a place such as Hanoi, or Vietnam, in general, might have eluded the documentarian nomad as much as it did. As for Vietnam, perhaps he became enchanted with the increasingly vibrant cityscapes, or the many spectacular micro-climates littered across the nation. One thing is for sure, we, the people of Vietnam, truly miss him.

“The minute you touch down here it grabs you, captivates you, and chances are- it will hold you forever.” Anthony Bourdain, 2016.

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