Sunday, March 11, 2007

Travel Dish: Bun Viet (Vietnam)

This is the 12th in a special series of food reports from my recent trip to Saigon/Ho Chi Minh City in Vietnam. Return every Sunday and Monday for the latest postings.
Refreshing Delights In a Bowl
14 Le Quy Don, District 3
PH: (08) 9303.153
Major credit cards, reservations accepted

During my pre-reading for my trip to Saigon/Ho Chi Minh City, a blogger mentioned how Bun Viet had the best noodles in town. The blogger is known as “Noodlepie” so I figured he must have some experience with noodles.

I have to give my props to Noodlepie. He sure knows his noodles.

The noodles at Bun Viet were fine and thin. It was the perfect accent to the traditional Vietnamese dish known as bun — rice vermicelli noodles topped with meat and herbs and dressed with fish sauce. Unlike the soup noodle pho, bun is ideal for hot weather because of the light feel of the thin vermicelli and the cool freshness of the herbs and fish sauce. And my bowl of bun at Bun Viet didn’t disappoint.

Just a couple of blocks from the War Remnant Museum in District 3, Bun Viet is an elegant restaurant with a casual sense. The shaded outdoor seating framed with bamboo trees signals a relaxing setting to enjoying a bowl of bun. (A warning: this block’s addresses are typical of some Vietnamese roads where the numbers don’t go in sequence; so you may feel you passed 14 Le Quy when you actually didn’t. Just look for Bun Viet’s two-story structure.)

The restaurant plays to the tourist with the photo menu/bulletin board at the entrance, but when I visited there seemed to be just as many locals enjoying the restaurant’s cuisine.
The friendly service was far from casual. It reminded me of a French restaurant with the attention to details. For example, I sat and watched a server meticulously wrap a wine bottle in a white napkin before pouring it for guests at a nearby table.

Along with the restaurant’s namesake, Bun Viet also serves seafood dishes, hot pots, spring rolls and salads. I ordered a dish of grilled squid to start and the Saigon Grilled Pork and Vermicelli Noodles.
The calamari came first in a light spicy sauce served with chilies and sweet sauce on the side. They were more tender than the squid I had earlier in my trip at Quan An Ngon, and just as tasty.

Then the star attraction, my bun, the Saigon Grilled Pork. Once I took my first bite of noodles with a bit of pork and herbs, the freshness came over me and I felt a few degrees cooler despite the humidity outside. I realized that the Vietnamese’s trick to beating the heat was to eat all their meals with fresh herbs. Who am I to argue? My bun’s freshness came from the array of shredded carrots, cucumber, bean sprouts, cabbage, fresh basil and peanuts. They all blended nicely with the slight drizzle of fish sauce I poured on top and was fully complemented by the fine, thin vermicelli.

As a nice finish to this delightful meal, the staff brings you a refreshing glass of green iced tea in probably one of the most beautiful glasses I’ve seen at a Saigon restaurant. It was a perfect end to a memorable meal, and all for only D95,000 (or $5.93).

Single guy rating: 4 stars (perfect for travelers who want to treat their whole tour group)

Explanation of the single guy's rating system:
1 star = perfect for college students
2 stars = perfect for new diners
3 stars = perfect for foodies
4 stars = perfect for expense accounts
5 stars = perfect for any guy's dream dinner

Postscript Saigon: No Lotto Winners Here
Exploring the city, I noticed all these places called Lotteria. They were all brightly lit and had the modern-plastic sign of a Walgreens or Rite Aid. Because of its name, I thought it might have been the locations to buy lottery tickets. Turns out, Lotteria is the main fast-food chain in Vietnam, and instead of the change for millions, you just get the chance to order a burger. (But I didn’t, because I didn’t travel to Vietnam to eat burgers.)


Graham said...

Thanks fort he link and great to see you had such a good trip to Saigon. Just one correction, I've never eaten at Bun Viet. I linked to a review from the Vietnam News newspaper,

Sounds like you seem to agree with the reviewer from the paper. Next time I'm in saigon, I'll check it out for myself :)

FWIW - I think the best noodles in Saigon are the simple plain bun when served as part of Bun Cha on Tran Cao Van street in District 1, Saigon. Miss it big time.

Chef Ben said...

Thanks for the clarification, Graham. I thought you had deemed it the best noodles, but I stand corrected. But I have to credit you for turning me on to it, though. :)

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