Phan Thi Gai – Hue’s Beloved, 80 Year-Old Bun Bo Chef

With just VND25.000 (US$1.03), the local workers and visitors can have a bowl full of steamy hot, and delicious Hue’s spicy beef noodle soup (Bun Bo Hue) made by the lovely 80 year-old woman, who has been selling Bun Bo for more than 50 years.

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Every late afternoon, when you drive past Chi Lang Street, Hue to the number 107, you will be immediately attracted by the image of an elderly, kind-looking woman with white hair sitting in front of an old house, cooking Bun Bo in a pot.

This place has long been the favorite place of the local people for an afternoon meal after a hard – working day. The owner of the street vendor is 80 – year – old Phan Thi Gai, and she has run her business for more than 50 years now.

The small simple street vendor is located on Chi Lang Street, in front of an old house. Photo: Le Hoai Nhan
The small simple street vendor is located on Chi Lang Street, in front of an old house. Photo: Le Hoai Nhan

This stall is known by many people under the lovely name “Bun Bo me Sang” (Bun Bo of Grandma Sang). There are only three sets of plastic tables and a few low chairs here, but once the owner opens the pot, the deliciously and mouth-watering aroma fills the air, making everyone feel hungry.

If you ask people why Bun Bo here is so famous, they will tell you that is because its taste and characteristics resemble the traditional Hue cuisine.

Customers eating here are mostly local people. Photo: Le Hoai Nhan
Customers eating here are mostly local people. Photo: Le Hoai Nhan

80 – year – old Pham Van Lien, who lives in Gia Hoi Ward, is a familiar guest of the street vendor, said: “Gai has been selling Bun Bo on this street for more than 50 years. Her cooking skill is excellent, and her bowls of spicy beef noodle soup carry a true Hue flavor that no other places have.”

Even though it is called “Bun Bo”, spicy beef noodle soup with pork (Bun Bo Gio Heo) is the traditional and original dish of the Hue people, so the broth of this old woman is always full of different types of meat. Added to it are the greasy crab cakes, and all flavors combined, creating a mouth-watering bowl of noodle soup that is irresistible.

The delicious broth of Grandma Sang. Photo: Le Hoai Nhan
The delicious broth of Grandma Sang. Photo: Le Hoai Nhan

When asked about how she could make a standard bowl of “Bun Bo Hue,” the owner described the dish as lyrics to a beautiful, ancient poem.

“I will cook all the meat, Gio Cha, blood tendons in the same braised pot. The sweetness comes from the stewed meat, combined with the mild aroma of the lemongrass, then will be seasoned, especially with some delicious fish sauce.”

A full bowl of Bun Bo made by Grandma Sang. Photo: Le Hoai Nhan
A full bowl of Bun Bo made by Grandma Sang. Photo: Le Hoai Nhan

Hue’s beef noodles are often smaller than in other places, made with rice flours mixed with filter flours so the noodles are tougher and clearer in color. When water is poured into the vermicelli, it will not be friable. You can also eat Bun Bo with raw vegetables, including thinly sliced bananas, herbs, cilantro, bean sprouts, etc.

Gai said since this is Bun Bo served for Hue people, the flavors must be spicy and less sweet. The broth is clear but rich in the spiciness of lemongrass and chili, served with a little chili sauce and sliced chili fruit.

Phan Thi Gai, the 80 - year - old woman who has been selling Bun Bo for more than 50 years. Photo: Le Hoai Nhan
Phan Thi Gai, the 80 – year – old woman who has been selling Bun Bo for more than 50 years. Photo: Le Hoai Nhan

The price for a bowl of Bun Bo is about VND25.000 (US$1.03), which is affordable for most customers, who are workers that need a late afternoon meal to recharge their energy.

“My customers are mostly local people living here, and have been eating at my stall for a very long time, so I have not changed the price. Sometimes, there are poor laborers and workers who can only afford VND10.000 (US$0.41) for a bowl of Bun Bo. I do not mind the money, and even add more meat into the broth for them, so they will not be hungry,” Gai said.

Photo: Le Hoai Nhan
Photo: Le Hoai Nhan

This small stall selling Bun Bo Hue is loved not only for its deliciousness and mouth-watering that carries the soul of Hue traditional cuisine but also for the kind, friendly and gentle 80 – year – old old owner.

Charlotte Pho