In Hà Nội, people usually eat snail noodle soup (Bun oc) for breakfast or lunch rather than dinner. And for some reasons, home-cooked snail noodle soup seems less delicious than those served at a street stall, on a familiar pavement, at a street or market corner where a vendor has settled for years.
No one knows why, but women seem more likely to frequent Bun oc stalls than men, stopping for a snack on the way to the market or while doing some other errand. Perhaps women, being thrifty, like bún ốc because it is inexpensive and a serving is not so large that one feel too full when finished.
Before cooking, the snails must be immersed in clear water for a long time, cleaned, parboiled and picked out over a flat basket. All these procedures must be properly handled to insure that the cooked snail will have a crunchy head, soft body, and oily yellowish juice. To accomplish this, a bún ốc vendor first selects a snail and then uses a chisel and hammer to break the snail shell. She then turns it and pokes the animal out of its shell, using her thumb to remove its lower part. After all these processes, the snails are laid over a bowl of while round rice noodles sprinkled with thinly-cut scallions and perilla. The noodles are blanched and re-blanched to make sure they are always hot. Snail noodles must be served hot and heavily spiced with something hot and sour, and perilla.
Nha Chung Street was once famous for its delicate boiled snails and snail noodle dishes. Now every market has familiar stalls offering Bun oc of equal quality. In the neighborhood of Phu Đong Thien Vuong Street and Ham Long-Ngo Thi Nham crossroads, one can find two old sisters, native of Thanh Tri, who served very savoury Bun oc. You will have to arrive early, as both sell out their stock every morning by ten. The West Lake clusters nearly twenty Bun oc stalls serving the pilgrims who flock to the local temple to pay tribute to Lady Chua Lieu, especially during Tet holiday. On the 1st and 15th days of every lunar month, hardly anyone wants to miss a steaming bowl of Bun oc by the lake.
Bun oc is specialty unique to Hà Nội. The snails themselves come from local waterways and when they are served fresh and hot over a simple bowl of noodles, snail are among the most delicious local dishes, loved by visitors and natives alike.