Bun Ca – the soul food for chilly days

The Hanoitimes - During the chilly weather of fall, there’s nothing more comforting than a bowl of steamy and hearty fish noodle soup, or Bun Ca in Vietnamese.

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Although fish noodle soup is not as well-known to foreigners as Pho or spring rolls, this dish secures a dear place in the heart of many Vietnamese diners. It is, indeed, one of the epitomes of Hanoi’s dazzling cuisine culture and which features a mouth-watering combination of veggie, spices, fish, and rice.

 The toppings of Bun Ca often include fish cakes and fried fish. Photo: Thuy An.

As its name indicates, the main ingredients of Bun Ca consist of Bun (rice noodle) and Ca (fish). It sounds quite simple, right? Widely consumed in Vietnam, rice noodle is made from rice and has a round, thin shape.

The toppings of Bun Ca are, obviously, made from fish. Usually, they are crispy fried catfish, steamed fish, and fish cakes. But if you don’t like any of the toppings, you can always ask for a swap with others.

Now, let’s talk about the spirit of Bun Ca – the broth. Just take one sip of the broth and your mind will be blown away at how sophisticated the flavor is. The broth is made out of pork bones simmered in a seasoned liquid for a long period of time and therefore, has a rich, naturally sweet taste. In addition, some tomatoes and wine vinegar are added to create an interesting sour note and also a touch of dill to further enhance the fragrance of the dish.

 A regular bowl of dipping fish noodles. Photo: Thuy An. 

And similar to other noodle soups in Hanoi, Bun Ca is served alongside a variety of fresh vegetables such as coriander, basil, lettuce, and so on.

There is another version of the traditional fish noodle soups that is equally scrumptious – fish noodles for dipping. Both dishes have the same components – broth, rice vermicelli, fried fish and fish cakes, and a side of fresh veggies.

However, when it comes to dipping fish noodles, the noodle and fried fish are served separately. So simply dip the noodles into the soup and enjoy! Also, for the fried fish, you should dip it with the chili garlicky fish sauce on the side. Since the fish is not submerged in the broth, it remains crispy and lip-snakingly delicious.

So let’s sum up what Bun Ca can offer you. You will get a rich, slightly sweet and  tangy broth, some crispy fish, the fresh, crunch veggies, and an aromatic flavor from herbs. Has your mouth watered yet? We hope so!

It’s not that hard to find a place serving Bun Ca in Hanoi. It is a perfect meal for breakfast, lunch and dinner. So, whether you’re needing a hearty breakfast, a completely lunch or dinner, Bun Ca is an excellent choice.

Bun Ca Huong Thuy

A Bun Ca bowl at Bun Ca Huong Thuy. Photo: Thuy An.

Nettled in a narrow alley on Hong Phuc Street, Bun Ca Huong Thuy is one of the locals’ favorites whenever they’re craving for Bun Ca’s flavor. The shop has been open for about 20 years and is famous for its rich and mildly sour broth that is absolutely addicting.

Each bowl does not contain a lot of rice noodle, but instead large slices of crusty fish that are fried to perfection and also fish cakes to satisfy those who are given up to Bun Ca. Watch out for the  thin spines while eating the fried fish though! The store uses big fish, so it’s quite difficult to completely remove all the spines. Besides fried fish and fish cakes, there are some other unique toppings that you might not find in any other shops – fish stomach and big chunks of fish roe.

On top of each bowl, you will find some taro stems that add a crunchy, refreshing note to your bowl of Bun Ca.

Do you know what makes this shop even more special? The answer is the opening time! From 7 pm and until 4 am on the next day. So if you are in search of a comforting late night treat, go to 40 Hong Phuc and savor a bowl of Bun Ca.

One down side of this shop, however, is the narrow space. The shop is indeed pretty small, so if you arrive when it is crowded, you will most likely have to sit outside on plastic stools and even share tables with some strangers. But hey, that is the peculiarity of Hanoi’s culture! If you want to mix with the locals at all.

Address: 40 Hong Phuc street, Nguyen Trung Truc ward, Ba Dinh district

Prices: 35,000 – 50,000 VND

Operation hours: 7 pm to 4 am

Bun Ca Cham An Vien

Bun Ca Cham An Vien is specialized in dipping fish noodles. When served, you’ll get a full tray of a bowl of piping hot soup, a plate of fried fish, a chili garlicky fish sauce, and a bowl of fresh veggies. So instead of everything in one bowl, you will actually receive a whole big meal. Sound like a great deal, right?

 A bowl of Bun Ca at Bun Ca Cham An Vien. Photo: Thuy An. 

The special part about this dish is definitely the soup which boasts a well-balanced, tangy and sweet flavor. Looking at the bowl, you will definitely be impressed with the gorgeous colors – red from tomatoes, yellow from pineapples, fish roes, and fish cakes, and green from taro roots, dills, and onions. Also, keep in mind that the broth is quite rich and fatty, so it is best enjoyed hot.

The restaurant’s inside place is pretty spacious and has a clean and  cozy atmosphere. There are always enough seats even when the restaurant is crowded, so definitely give it a shot.

Address: 48 Bat Dan street, Hang Bo ward, Hoan Kiem district

Prices: 35,000 – 50,000 VND

Operation hours: 11 am – 11 pm

Bun Ca Trung Vu

 The renown crispy fried fish and tamarind sauce that get everyone hooked at Bun Ca Trung Vu. Photo: Thuy An. 

This store is located inside a wet market, so the space is quite small with only a few tables and stools. Nevertheless, the flavorful bowl of Bun Ca here is definitely worth trying. One of the highlights is the fried fish that is crunchy on the outside but still tender and moist on the inside. Each serving contains around four huge pieces, so you will definitely feel satisfied. There is also a side dish of pickled bamboo shoots that feature a harmonious combination of tangy, sweet, and sour flavors which pair awfully well with the noodle broth.

Another special point that sets this store apart from other counterparts is the dipping sauce for the fish. There are two kinds – the traditional chili garlicky fish sauce and the tamarind sauce that is slightly sour, slightly sweet.

The rich broth is also delightful on the palate. After first sip, you will definitely know that it is made from bones and fish heads simmering for hours.

Address: P112 A – B1 – Tap the Vinh Ho, Thinh Quang ward, Dong Da district

Prices: 30,000 – 55,000 VND

Operation hours: 7 am – 10 pm.

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