Recently, French tiktoker Will Courageux posted three short clips on his channel “Will in Vietnam,” featuring French Ambassador Olivier Brochet exploring Hanoi’s street food.
French Ambassador Olivier Brochet (right) and tiktoker Will Courageux sample Hanoi’s specialty of banh cuon. Photo: Screenshot
Shortly after assuming his post in September, the ambassador wasted no time in delving into Hanoi’s culinary delights. Accompanied by his partner, he tried out bun cha, grilled pork, banh cuon, steamed rice crepes, and ca cuong, dipping sauce made with Lethocerus indicus. The ambassador found these dishes to be incredibly delicious. The adorable videos of Will and the ambassador quickly won the hearts of Vietnamese netizens, particularly among the young audience.
In one of the clips, Will and the ambassador visited a renowned banh cuon eatery on To Hien Thanh Street in Hai Ba Trung District, Hanoi. They ordered two servings of banh cuon and eagerly savored the dish, which was served on a small tray supported by plastic chairs on the sidewalk.
The French ambassador’s adept skills with chopsticks surprised Will. He explained, “In Vietnam, people typically clean their chopsticks with a paper towel before dipping them into the bowl.”
The ambassador wholeheartedly enjoyed the flavors of the dish and commented that it made for an excellent breakfast.
|Banh cuon is served at Mrs. Hoanh’s Banh Cuon Eatery in Hanoi. Photo: Saigoneer|
Mrs. Hoanh’s Banh Cuon, the renowned eatery and a Hanoi icon, has been delighting generations of locals for over 70 years with its unique specialty.
Banh cuon, or steamed rice crepe, while not a luxury dish, has captured the hearts and palates of both Vietnamese and foreign visitors in Hanoi.
Unlike the hot stuffed rice crepe version with pork and mushrooms, Mrs. Hoanh’s banh cuon is served as unfilled sheets sprinkled with green onions.
When eating this delicate dish, each thin ivory-white layer of crepe is peeled off and placed on a plate. It is then paired with herbs and a bowl of sweet and sour sauce. The banh cuon is enjoyed with Vietnamese ham with fat (cha mo), which is another specialty of Hoanh’s family.
In another video, Will took the ambassador to a hidden bun cha restaurant nestled in Hanoi’s Old Quarter. The ambassador marveled at the unique preparation of the dish. The succulent pork was grilled over charcoal before being served alongside fish sauce and fresh rice noodles. After savoring the dish, Olivier licked his index finger to express his delight and exclaimed, “very delicious!”
|Bun cha, a wonderful Hanoi specialty. Photo: Duc Tran|
Similar to banh cuon, bun cha is another beloved Hanoi specialty cherished by locals and travelers alike. This dish gained global recognition after being featured on Parts Unknown, where former US President Barack Obama and host Anthony Bourdain enjoyed it together in 2016.
Bun cha is an exquisite dish consisting of grilled pork served with rice noodles. It showcases the strong link between the dish and Hanoi, its place of origin. The dish comprises three components: a bowl of grilled thinly sliced pork belly and/or minced pork patties in a light dipping sauce with pickled vegetables, a plate of rice noodles, and a basket of fresh herbs like perilla leaves, cilantro, and lettuce.
The sliced pork and pork patties are marinated in a variety of spices, including fish sauce, liquid caramel, and garlic, to infuse intense flavors. The meat is then grilled over hot charcoal until it develops a beautiful golden brown color.
The dipping sauce is another essential element of the dish. It consists of a balance of fish sauce, sugar, water, and vinegar, resulting in a harmonious blend of sweet, sour, and savory flavors.
While different variations of bun cha exist throughout Vietnam, the version found in Hanoi is highly regarded.
|A dish of grilled Lethocerus indicus or Ca cuong. Photo: Ca Cuong Dai Thanh|
For Olivier Brochet, ca cuong might be the most intriguing dish he encountered. When Will handed him a bowl of dipping sauce with a small black insect in it, the ambassador seemed a bit puzzled. He mistook it for a shrimp or some kind of fish. Will clarified, “It’s a type of water bug.”
Ca cuong, or Lethocerus indicus, belongs to the family of giant water bugs, which are freshwater hemipteran insects commonly found in lakes, ponds, swamps, and rice fields. Despite originating from rural areas, ca cuong is a revered ingredient in Hanoi cuisine and has been used in various renowned dishes like bun thang (noodle soup with chicken, egg, and shrimp), cha ca (grilled fish with rice noodles), and banh cuon (steamed rice crepe).
Although its appearance may be unappealing, Lethocerus indicus is a popular edible insect in Southeast Asian cuisines. It is often added to fish sauce to enhance the flavor, and its taste is often likened to sweet scallops or shrimp.
Below is the clip of French Ambassador Olivier Brochet trying bun cha in Hanoi: