About 9 o’clock last night, I met Hai in front of Saigon’s California Wow health club. My usual first question as we get on the motobike, “How was your workout?”
His usual first question, “Where do you want to eat?”
More often than not, we him-n-haw and debate and suggest and reject where we should go to eat.
Tonight, that was not the case. I WANTED bún bò huế, And I knew where I wanted it – that small place in the alley near Big C Supermarket. No response from Hai – we just lunged forward and joined the traffic torrent heading north on Cach Mang Thang 8 Street. I knew he agreed where we would be eating
Eating dinner in a Vietnam family’s living room somehow makes the food more delicious and the meal very special. And that’s the case even when that living room has been filled with a half-dozen small metal tables and stools to support the family’s small restaurant business.
And it’s still the case when there’s a television screen capturing the gaze of all the customers as they eat. And it’s still the case when the walls feature judgemental-emitting Christian photos, calendars, and related paraphanalia, rather than the more calming Buddhist alters with their food and fruit offerings to restaurant owners’ ancestors.
When we arrived at Bún Bò Huế 189 about 9:30 pm, just a short distance down a dimly lit alley across the street from Big C Supermarket, only two of the 7 tables were occupied. The customers, the elderly couple whose living room we just entered, and the two servers (presumably their children) were all fixed on the television’s singing “talent” show. I still haven’t adjusted to this watching-television-in-the-restaurant Vietnamese tradition – but I recall the popularity of TV dinners in the US. So “when in Rome”, Enjoy!
And enjoy we did! The bún bò huế at Bún Bò Huế149 is simply excellent.
This Huế-style soup is a treasure-trove of ingredients. The chả bò (ground beef loaf), the chả hêo (ground pork loaf), the nêm cua (ground crabmeat loaf) are each among the best I’ve ever tasted.
And no doubt why. The owner explained to Hai that she has been cooking Bún Bò Huế here for over 22 years. Clearly, she’s a master of this classic Vietnamese dish.
And still more, a chunk of tender and tastey gìo heo (pig knuckle) and slices of thịt bò (beef ) were other treasures to be found among the noodles.
Some fresh herbs, a dash of very hot chili pepper, and, well, it was a heavenly meal. The broth was superb. After all the ingredients were gone, I continued to savor every spoonful of the broth to the bottom of the bowl. And then washed it all down with a cool and refreshing glass of nứơc mia (sugar cane drink).
Without any reservation, a YUM YUM YUM rating for this little hidden Saigon restaurant.
OPEN 8 AM – 1:30 PM
4:30 PM -11:00 PM EVERYDAY
Bún Bò Huế 149
273/1B Tô Hiến Thành
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