The name, Bún cá, translates literally as noodle (bun) and fish (ca) leading to a potentially wide interpretation and delivery of a simple noodle soup.
In Hanoi, this represents a thin tomato based stock, packed full of dill and slithers of spring onions, bún – a thin rice noodle, comparable to vermicelli – and wilted greens topped with golden, crispy chunks of deep fried river fish, not to be confused with the synonymous Hanoi dish bún chá.
There’s a certain amount of alchemy going on here, because at face value, it’s just noodles, tomatoey broth and fried fish.
The broth! The broth is a delicious nectar – sweet from the tomato, soured with the use of pineapple, purists and haters of fruit in soup this may be the conversion you need. If you’re lucky, you might just get a chunk bobbing around in the bowl.
The fish retains the crunch, it’s still just as pronounced and satisfying five minutes in, when you’re fishing bits out of the bottom and they somehow haven’t been corrupted and softened by the juices. The taste and crunch has that familiar comforting deep fried texture. The oily residue coagulating on the surface would normally be considered a downside, but somehow it adds to the flavour, the huge amounts of dill scattered in the bowl cuts through the grease like a knife. This is absolutely one of my favourite Hanoi meals.
The place I’ve been an unhealthy amount of times in a short space of time is located only a couple of minutes walk from Hoan Kiem Lake, on Trung Yên, a narrow alleyway off Phố Dinh Liet, a microcosm of kitchens, street traders and a truly photogenic walkway (the restaurant is spread either side of the kink in the lane)
I was drawn here by the cá cuốn thịt, a deep fried roll of minced pork, mushrooms and fish – equal parts unhealthy and indulgent. It’s impossible to only order one.
Dill as a herb in Vietnamese cuisine is a popular ingredient used with fish in Hanoi and the north. The further south you go the less you will see it used, it’s also a common ingredient in the classic, sought after Hanoi dish Chả Cá Thăng Long, a skillet of sizzling fish seasoned with turmeric and served with fresh dill. It’s available on Pho Cha Ca – fish street.
Expect to pay around 35’000VND for a bowl.
Some useful phrases
Sin chow – hello
Mot – one
Hai – two
Gam urn – thank you
Tra da – iced tea, a popular and cheap drink to accompany meals and usually available at hole in the wall restaurants (pronounced cha)
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