It started with waves of longing while watching the Vietnam episodes on Anthony Bourdain’s Parts Unknown. Then it turned into an incessant gnawing from within, creating a vast emptiness that demanded to be filled.
At this point, it could either be homesickness or just my stomach crying out for something more substantive than a diet of instant ramen and donuts for the fourth day in a row. Either way, some hearty Vietnamese food would do the trick — it always does.
With many Vietnamese restaurants peppered across Vancouver, there is no shortage of places to go — the two places below, though, have been thoroughly tested and approved by myself and my family.
Cafe Xứ Huế’s bún bò Huế
Cafe Xứ Huế offers a no-nonsense, steamy bowl of bún bò (beef noodle) that might just be the best one in town. With a deep broth, complementary herbs and filled to the brim with beef slices, pork and pig blood cubes that looks like tofu, it tastes like a firework explosion on the tastebuds and feels like a warm hug on a rainy day. More simply, bún bò is the spicier, more flavourful, and undoubtedly better version of phở.
The only downside is that the place is located near Kingsway and Gladstone, or deep in the far-off place that some UBC students might know as East Van.
Mr. Red Café’s bún chå Hà Nội
Mr. Red Café also serves bún bò, but it’s their bún chå — a dry noodle dish served with grilled meat and herbs — that keeps me coming back for more. Here, the glistening grilled pork slices and meatballs are kept tender in a bowl of diluted fish sauce that is a bit spicy from the chilli, a bit sweet and sour from the pickled daikon and carrot pieces, and a bit bitter from some pork slices that are more generously flamed. Combined with the fresh side of herbs, the dish is in perfect balance.
Bonus point: Some of the figurines and decorations that they have totally look like something my family had when we lived in Vietnam. Plus, lucky for you, there is a location on Broadway and MacDonald, so you don’t have to go far.
My final tip: always, always order a Vietnamese coffee with condensed milk, because it’s pretty hard to mess up the authenticity of straight caffeine and sugar.