If Pho is compatible to linguine in shape, Bun is more like spaghetti. Bun thang is one of the most popular yet hidden fares in Hanoi and one can hardly find it outside of the Old quarters or a few special restaurants scattering across the city. The chicken broth is artistically done and the dish is beautifully served. Bun thang is a harmonious blend of color- the yellow of sliced egg; the white of bun; the off-white of chicken and the green of onions and herbs.
In some families, there are old women who know how to make a mouth-watering bún thang – what a pity they show their skill only once or twice a year, after the first three days of Tết.
People often have a party serving bún thang on the 4th or 5th day of the Tết holiday. When one feels tired of the square sticky rice cake or greasy food like pork pie, spring roll, trotter stew, meat pie, bún thang is the ideal dish. This delicacy satisfies all the requirements for an interesting soup full of sour, hot, and tasty flavors without being heavy or greasy. Of the persons who have mastered the art of cooking bún thang, Mrs. Sam in Hàng Bạc Street and Mrs. Mai Phương in Lê Văn Hưu Street are the most famous.
Like other kinds of noodle soup, this delicacy uses similar ingredients: round rice noodles blanched briefly in boiling water, broth, some protein, spices, etc. However, to make it perfect requires particularly strict and rigorous cooking techniques. A savory bowl of bún thang depends first and foremost on thang or broth.
The sweetness of the broth should not come from monosodium glutamate and should be free from the strong flavor of boiled ox or buffalo bones. Therefore, the broth has to be prepared form chicken broth cooked with prawns, shelled shrimp or sá sùng (sea leech), and the aforementioned bones. These ingredients together bring about the required sweetness, which is neither fatty nor smelly and result in a clear broth. The broth should be incessantly boiled right up to the time of serving. One has to disperse the heat by blowing at the bowl before tasting the soup.
Bún thang, obviously, must be served in big bowls. Small bowls cannot keep the heat of the broth for a long time, thus reducing the deliciousness of the dish. The bowl of bún thang should also be filled up to the top with the broth, which is as clear and ivory-yellow as honey. The essence of this specialty, the quintessence which bún thang cannot stand without, is belostomatid, an essence squeezed from a particular kind of beetle. Just a little of belostomatid and a spoonful of shrimp paste perfectly highlight the rich flavor of the dish. The hot savour of belostomatid and the strong smell of shrimp paste, though they may be considered as two opposite musical notes, harmonize with each other to form a wonderful chord.
Where to try:
Bun thang Ba Duc on Cau Go street is a great place to try the dish. This street vendor has a limited number of seats on the pavement but you will be surprised how many people can fit in the two storey old house behind the stall. Enjoy bun thang in such a setting gives the meal enormous highlights in your trip to Hanoi.