CHEAP & GOOD

Smoky memories of Hanoi

Uncle Ho Tuckshop (left) serves a delicious bun char (above) featuring charred pork, pungent Vietnamese mint, smooth noodles and piquant green papaya.
Uncle Ho Tuckshop serves a delicious bun char featuring charred pork, pungent Vietnamese mint, smooth noodles and piquant green papaya.ST PHOTOS: FOONG WOEI WN
Uncle Ho Tuckshop (left) serves a delicious bun char (above) featuring charred pork, pungent Vietnamese mint, smooth noodles and piquant green papaya.
Uncle Ho Tuckshop.ST PHOTOS: FOONG WOEI WN

Bun cha, the classic northern Vietnamese meal of grilled pork and fresh rice noodles, is a dish that may sear straight into the heart.

I first had it at a smoky lunch joint in the Old Quarter in Hanoi about a decade ago and it has stayed with me afterwards.

The aroma of charcoal-grilled pork patties and slices, the sharp scents of a whole variety of uncooked, unfamiliar herbs and the softness of fresh thin rice noodles.

The leaves and noodles are served on communal plates. The pork, herbs and noodles are eaten with a dipping sauce of fish gravy, rice vinegar and green papaya slices, a sweet-and-sour blend that holds the many elements of the dish together as a vivid melody would a song.

Bun cha is a tune that haunts me and which I miss after every trip to Hanoi. It has been hard to find in Singapore, where southern Vietnamese food (beef pho and such) has a bigger following.

  • UNCLE HO TUCKSHOP

  • 01-04 100 Pasir Panjang, 100 Pasir Panjang Road

    Open: 10am to 9pm (Monday to Friday), 10am to 3pm (Saturday), closed on Sunday

    Rating: 3.5/5

Hanoian chef Le Van Tuan, 36, may now change things, however.

He set up Uncle Ho Tuckshop with his Singaporean wife and a family friend in office building 100 Pasir Panjang more than a month ago and has started serving bun cha ($9.90).

His version is a pretty good introduction to the dish, too, hitting all the notes: the charred pork, the pungent Vietnamese mint, the smooth noodles and the crunch of the green papaya.

Mr Tuan says the mint is one of the most important ingredients and has to be imported from Vietnam, because "the mint in Singapore has no flavour".

For fans of beef pho, there is a Hanoi version, which he says features a less sugary soup than the Ho Chi Minh City one.

I liked the robust beef combo pho ($8.90) when I had it at the eatery the other day.

As for the bun cha, I basically inhaled it.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on July 12, 2015, with the headline 'Smoky memories of Hanoi Cheap & Good'. Print Edition | Subscribe