Obama eats out in Hanoi: 6 must-try Vietnamese street food and where to get them in Singapore

US President Barack Obama and Anthony Bourdain eat at a small local eatery called Bun cha Huong Lien on May 23, 2016.
US President Barack Obama and Anthony Bourdain eat at a small local eatery called Bun cha Huong Lien on May 23, 2016.PHOTO: ANTHONY BOURDAIN

It was a rare sight - US President Barack Obama sitting on a flimsy plastic stool, having a simple Vietnamese meal in a Hanoi restaurant with celebrity chef Anthony Bourdain.

The US$6 (S$8.25) bun cha meal they shared on Monday (May 23) caused a huge buzz on the Internet, with many taking the opportunity to sing the praises of delicious yet affordable Vietnamese street food.

Since then, the restaurant Bun Cha Huong Lien has experienced a surge in customers, with many flocking to try the dish that has been dubbed "bun cha Obama", according to Tuoitrenews.

 

The culinary offerings in humble eateries in Vietnamese cities make use of fresh ingredients, spices, herbs and French cooking techniques thanks to their colonial past. The results are delicious meals that are inexpensive and irresistible.

Vietnamese restaurants have now sprung up around the world, and in Singapore, many restaurants and eateries now offer typical dishes like pho and banh mi.

Here are six of the best Vietnamese streets eats and where to go for them in Singapore.

1. Bun cha


Bun cha, a popular Hanoi dish, is pronounced "boon cha", and consists of white rice noodles, herbs and grilled pork. PHOTO: THE NEW PAPER

You can smell this dish even before you see it.

Every city has its own distinctive smell and for the streets of Hanoi, it is the delicious aroma of pork grilling early in the morning.

This quintessential Hanoi dish features marinated pork patties and pork belly grilled over a charcoal fire, perfectly complemented with rice noodles, herbs and a fish sauce broth.

President Obama and Bourdain picked a good spot to have the meal in Hanoi, as the restaurant Bun Cha Huong Lien is a family-style eatery known for having one of the best bun cha in the city.

Where to go: Vietnamese chain Wrap & Roll now has an Obama set meal ($12.90) made up of bun cha Hanoi and Vietnamese beer. This promotion is available from May 28 to June 19 at Wrap & Roll ION Orchard, Changi City Point and The Star Vista.

Another place for bun cha is Uncle Ho Tuckshop (100 Pasir Panjang Road 01-04), which serves this scrumptious dish, a house special, at $12.90.

2. Pho


Vietnamese pho from Pho Hung in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam. PHOTO: ST FILE

When someone mentions Vietnamese food, pho would probably be the first dish that springs to mind.

The word pho actually refers to the rice noodles used in this dish, and the Vietnamese term for rice noodles is banh pho.

A bowl of pho usually consists of a hearty broth, made from boiling beef bones for hours, served with rice noodles, basil leaves, bean sprouts and a meat topping of usually beef slices or beef balls.

Where to go: Pho can be found in many Vietnamese restaurants in Singapore, and is the speciality dish of popular Vietnamese chain NamNam ($9-$19.90), Pho Stop ($8.10-$9.50, 72 Tanjong Pagar Road) and Mrs Pho ($7.90-$8.90, 349 Beach Road).

3. Com tam


Sauteed lemongrass pork slices from COMNAM Broken Rice restaurant at Raffles City Shopping Centre at 252 North Bridge Road, #B1-46/47. PHOTO: LES AMIS GROUP

If you want to spice up your meal with something more than just the plain white rice, com tam must be your pick.

The flavourful dish is made with broken rice, which are rice grains that have been fractured during the milling process, making the grains smaller.

A typical bowl of com tam comes with sliced vegetables, fried egg and pork chop, accompanied by Vietnam's renowned fish sauce.

Other variations of this dish include the rice served with lemongrass wagyu beef or prawns.

Where to go: Grab a wholesome com tam at Comnam (B1-46/47 Raffles City Shopping Centre), popular for its affordable rice bowls, with prices ranging from $10.90 to $15.

4. Banh mi


Banh mi made with freshly baked baguettes, from Vietnamese restaurant Moc Quan. PHOTO: ST FILE

Often fondly described as a Subway sandwich with a Vietnamese twist, the banh mi consists of a baguette - crispy on the outside, soft on the inside - stuffed full with a variety of meat, usually pork, and pickled vegetables such as carrots and cucumbers.

Sauces like mayonnaise, fresh cilantro or chilli are also added as finishing touches to the sandwich.

In Vietnam, banh mi is typically sold at roadside stalls or push carts, making it the perfect choice for those who want something tasty and easy to eat on the go.

Where to go: Baguette - The Viet Inspired Deli, located at Marina Bay Link Mall and Hitachi Tower, is famous for its variety of baguettes such as its signature Saigon and Lemongrass Beef Sausage. Prices range from $3.30 to $3.70 for a mini and $6 to $7 for a regular baguette. Sandwich Saigon Cafe (93 East Coast Road) also serves unique banh mi with ingredients such as chicken cheese sausage and fish otah. Prices range from $6.90 to $8.50.

5. Goi cuon


Goi cuon, Vietnamese rolls, from Pho Pho Vietnamese Cuisine at Telok Ayer Street. PHOTO: PHO PHO VIETNAMESE CUISINE

For those who have a soft spot for spring rolls or popiah, goi cuon is the dish of choice for you.

This Vietnamese version is made up of fresh greens, rice noodles, pork slices and/or prawns all rolled in a translucent layer of rice paper.

Together with a special dipping sauce, this dish is flavourful and probably healthier for you as the roll is not deep fried.

Where to go: Vietnamese chain Wrap & Roll, famous for their Roll-It-Yourself dishes, features this appetizer at the price of $5.90 for two pieces and $11.90 for four pieces.

6. Ca Phe Sua Da


Legendee, an in-house blend made from coffee beans excreted by wild weasels, 
using a drip filter, is available at Trung Nguyen Cafe. PHOTO: TRUNG NGUYEN COFFEE

For avid coffee-drinkers, getting a caffeine fix the Vietnamese way is more than just having your brew black or white.

Ca phe sua da literally translates into the three ingredients used to make this exquisite coffee drink - coffee, milk and ice.

The traditional process of making a cup of ca phe sua da involves dripping the rich and aromatic brew through a filter and into a cup containing 2 to 3 tablespoons of sweetened condensed milk.

The filtered coffee is then poured into a cup of ice for a refreshing cold brew that's sweet but with a great caffeine kick.

Where to go: For a caffeine buzz the Vietnamese way, head to Trung Nguyen Cafe - Vietnam's equivalent of Starbucks (L1-71, Bay Level, The Shoppes at Marina Bay Sands). Prices range from $5 to $16.50 for a hot cup of traditional Vietnamese drip coffee and $5.50 to $17 for the iced version.