Celebrity chef Anthony Bourdain treats US President Barack Obama to US$6 noodle meal in Vietnam

US President Barack Obama dines out like a local at Hanoi's famous Bun Cha Huong Lien restaurant and savours their acclaimed grilled pork and noodles.
US President Barack Obama and TV host Anthony Bourdain share a bun cha meal at a packed Vietnamese restaurant in Hanoi.
US President Barack Obama and TV host Anthony Bourdain share a bun cha meal at a packed Vietnamese restaurant in Hanoi. PHOTO: INSTAGRAM/ANTHONY BOURDAIN
US President Obama with restaurant owner Nguyen Thi Lien in Vietnam on May 23, 2016.
US President Obama with restaurant owner Nguyen Thi Lien in Vietnam on May 23, 2016.PHOTO: VIET NAM NEWS / ASIA NEWS NETWORK
Mr Obama flashes a thumbs-up after having dinner with Mr Bourdain at the local restaurant.
Mr Obama flashes a thumbs-up after having dinner with Mr Bourdain at the local restaurant. PHOTO: REUTERS
Mr Obama is mobbed by local residents after leaving the restaurant.
Mr Obama is mobbed by local residents after leaving the restaurant. PHOTO: EPA

HANOI (AFP) - She has ladled out countless bowls of her pork noodle soup, but the owner of a Hanoi streetside restaurant says she was stunned when Mr Barack Obama strolled in, pulled up a plastic stool and slurped down Vietnam's famed "bun cha" delicacy.

The US president slipped away from his hectic Vietnam visit on Monday night to sample the dish with Anthony Bourdain, a chef and food critic who fronts a travel show about hidden culinary gems around the world, following his announcement that the US would be lifting a decades-old ban on weapon sales to their one-time enemy.

While 54-year-old restaurant owner Nguyen Thi Lien knew a foreign television crew was on the way, she had no idea they would be bringing a very special guest.

"His presence in our restaurant was a great surprise for my whole family, who could never have imagined it, even in our dreams," she told AFP on Tuesday.

US Secret Service and local police closed down the streets surrounding Bun Cha Huong Lien eatery on Monday evening.  A large crowd gathered outside the restaurant, letting out a cheer as Mr Obama exited. Surrounded by a coterie of bodyguards, he stopped to greet excited locals, many capturing the moment on their phones, before being whisked away in his limousine.  

"Obama was nice, smiling, cheerful and popular with everyone," the shop's owner told AFP, adding that she regretted not posing for a picture with the president.

Bourdain posted a picture of the dinner on his Instagram feed with the caption "The President's chopstick skills are on point".

The President's chopstick skills are on point . #buncha #hanoi

The President's chopstick skills are on point . #buncha #hanoi

A photo posted by anthonybourdain (@anthonybourdain) on

It showed the two sitting on tiny plastic stools that are a common feature of Vietnamese street restaurants, Obama clasping a bottle of Hanoi Beer in his right hand.

"Total cost of bun cha dinner with the President: $6.00. I picked up the check," Bourdain, who is renowned for his love of cheap streetside food, later tweeted.

Local diners could be seen sitting at stainless steel tables behind the pair tucking in to their own steaming bowls of broth, one wearing an American-style black baseball cap. 

Vietnam is known for its fresh ingredients and healthy cuisine but Mr Obama's choice of bun cha, which with its fatty pork and sweet broth is at the more gluttonous end of the country's culinary spectrum, might have raised the eyebrows of his wife Michelle who has long campaigned for healthy eating. 

According to CNN, the meal and conversation at the restaurant will be featured in an episode of Anthony Bourdain Parts Unknown. The episode will air in September.

Having arrived in Vietnamese capital on Sunday, next on the agenda for Mr Obama will be to lay out more of his plan for a stronger alliance between the two countries.

He will travel to Ho Chi Minh City on Tuesday before heading to Japan, where he will conclude his Asia trip with a historic visit by a sitting US president to Hiroshima.