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Im standing outside the Hotel Metropole in the capital city of Hanoi. Its where writers, spies and the infamous have always stayed, for decades. Im waiting for my always-busy friend, Linh. Hes a man with multiple agendas. And figuring them all out can keep a man busy. I have no idea what Linh has planned for this trip.
Its no surprise were on a motorbike. So is the rest of Hanoi, all at the same time, it seems. Were in a god-awful hurry to get somewhere. We are going to enter the ancient quarter of the city. We go to a place where [Linh] often has Bun Cha. Ah, lunch. Okay, easing into things over Bun Cha sounds sensible and smells delicious. We are the last guests of the day. Were also lucky to be here in one piece. This is the place where [Linh] always comes for lunchtime, after work. Yeah, what is Bun Cha again? Bun = rice noodles, Cha = grilled pork.
Deceptively simple. A makeshift hibachi right on the sidewalk, a dark, soot-encrusted storefront open to the street. The Bun Cha master fans the coals red to just the right temperature for grilling the outside of the pork without drying the inside. Fat drips from the marinated pork, sizzling into smoke which penetrates the meat with its own flavor. With the aid of a trusty fan, the rest of the smoke is free advertising, luring each passersby with its alluring scent. Cha is cooked in sauce. The sauce is papaya with garlic, a little bit sweet, a little bit sour. Into your Bun Cha you add a mixture of crunchy greens, some hot peppers along with condiments like pickled garlic and lime juice. One could say its a suspiciously democratic dish. Its not Bun Cha without all of these elements.
Because its so good. Nearly every lunch after work hours, [Linh] comes here and eats silently. Well, not exactly silently. Above the sounds of the cooking, the city and even the motorbikes can be heard the sounds of two happily slurping Bun Cha fans. To the Vietnamese as with many Asian cultures, loud slurping of noodles is not rude at all. In fact, its a sign youre enjoying your meal, and I can slurp with the best of them. Oh this is delicious.
article published 8/9/2005