Wandering aimlessly all over a brand new city tends to end in one of two ways. One, you get hopelessly lost in a neighborhood that looks a little seedy and wish you’d thought to bring a map. Or, two, you discover a vibrant neighborhood teeming with charming cafes and noodle shops. Fortunately for us, we ended up with scenario two!
We spotted a small open store front, filled with low tables and plastic stools, absolutely packed with locals eating noodles. The sign indicated that the restaurant served only one thing: bun cha. We ordered two bowls (for 18,000 dong each – that’s just over a dollar), and this is what appeared before us:
A pile of cooked noodles, and a large bowl of shiso leaves and butter lettuce. AND…
A bowl of faintly sweet broth filled with little charcoal-grilled ground meat patties.
Basically the theory is you dip the lettuce and noodles into the broth with chopsticks, eating them with little bites of meat.
A little while later, we found ourselves in a different neighborhood, with different noodles.
I thought we were getting traditional pho, but this slightly red broth was more sour/salty, and had noodles, green onions, and a big pile of cooked meat on top. Like the bun cha, it was served with a pile of fresh greens.
Another noodle soup we recently sampled came with a big slab of liver on top; large, thin slices of heart of palm, and some chunks of meat with the skin still on. It looked a little like chicken meat, but tasted gamier, and I have no idea what it was.
I know what the liver’s function in the body is, and I know this makes it a less than ideal choice for consumption, but when I saw the little boy sitting next to us dipping the liver into a small bowl of chilis, garlic, and fish sauce, I wanted to give it a try. It was fantastic! I love the smooth texture of liver a lot more than the flavor, and the sauce made it nice and salty-hot.