“The Best Pho in Hanoi, Vietnam” is a bold claim for anyone to make, for I know very well that this dish, a popular Vietnamese street food, can be found on almost every corner in Hanoi. But the headline and its related article made me reflect on my own food and travel experiences in Hanoi, and the time when I found the best bún bò in the city.
The restaurant was unassuming, a hole-in-the-wall in Hanoi’s Old Quarter called Bún Bò Nam Bộ (67 Hang Dieu), and while it didn’t have me at hello, I didn’t let my first impression deter me and it was unquestionably love at first bite.
Bún bò originates from the Vietnamese city of Huế but in my tastes and travels throughout the country, I was left longing for what I had eaten in Hanoi. To start, mixed greens and herbs are placed in the bottom of a deep bowl and topped with rice noodles (bún). Separately, razor-thin strips of garlic-marinated beef are tossed in a wok with bean sprouts and this, together with a spicy beef broth, is poured into the bowl of noodles and sprinkled with roasted peanuts and dried shallots.
What set this bún bò apart from all the others was that it wasn’t overwhelmed by broth. It was there to coat the noodles and wilt the greens and herbs, but it was just enough to allow all individual flavours to shine through.
Once I found a spot to sit, shoulder to shoulder, with locals at one of the long tables, I squeezed some lime juice into my bowl to balance the spiciness, threw an extra handful of fresh herbs on top, picked up a pair of chopsticks, inhaled deeply, and braced myself for the best bowl of bún bò in Hanoi.
And when I’m next in the city, I may just try the best pho as well.