Three short clips of French Ambassador Olivier Brochet exploring Hanoi's street food have recently been posted by French tiktoker Will Courageux on his own channel entitled "Will in Vietnam".
French Ambassador Olivier Brochet (right) and tiktoker Will Courageux sample Hanoi's specialty of banh cuon. Photo: Screenshot
Shortly after officially taking up his post in September this year, the newly appointed ambassador experienced some of Hanoi's delicacies. Together with his partner, the ambassador tried bun cha or grilled pork, banh cuon or steamed rice crêpe, and ca cuong or dipping sauce with Lethocerus indicus, and found the dishes to be so delicious. Will's adorable snaps quickly captured the hearts of the country's online community, especially its young members.
In a clip released to the public, Will ordered two servings of banh cuon with the ambassador at a famous banh cuon restaurant on To Hien Thanh Street in Hai Ba Trung District, Hanoi. The two diners then enjoyed the food, which was served on a small tray supported by plastic chairs right on the sidewalk.
The French ambassador surprised Will with his skillful maneuvering of the chopsticks. He explained: "I've learned that in Vietnam, people clean their chopsticks with a paper towel and then dip them into the bowl."
The delicious taste of the dish immediately captured the Ambassador's taste buds, and he commented that it was a great breakfast dish.
|Banh cuon is served at Mrs. Hoanh's Banh Cuon Eatary in Hanoi. Photo: Saigoneer|
Mrs. Hoanh's Banh Cuon, one of the oldest eateries in Hanoi, has been winning the hearts of generations of Hanoians for over 70 years with its only kind of food.
The banh cuon, or steamed rice crepe, is not a luxury food but has become a favorite of not only Vietnamese but also foreign visitors to Hanoi.
Unlike banh cuon nong, or hot stuffed rice crepe with pork and mushrooms (another version of steamed rice crepe), Mrs. Hoanh's specialty is not rolled but kept in sheets without filling and sprinkled with green onions.
When eating, each of these thin ivory-white layers of crepe is peeled off and placed on a plate, then placed on a small bamboo mantle with herbs and a bowl of sweet and sour sauce. The banh cuon is eaten with Vietnamese ham with fat (cha mo) - another specialty prepared by Hoanh's family members.
In another video, Will showed the Ambassador around the famous bun cha restaurant, tucked away in an alleyway in Hanoi's Old Quarter. The Ambassador was amazed at the funky way the Hanoians prepared the dish. The delicious pork was grilled over a charcoal fire, and then served hot with fish sauce and fresh rice noodles. After tasting the dish, Olivier licked his index finger to show how much he enjoyed it and exclaimed, "very delicious".
|Bun cha, a wonderful Hanoi specialty. Photo: Duc Tran|
Similar to banh cuon, bun cha is one of Hanoi's specialties that is loved by locals and travelers at home and abroad. After being featured on Parts Unknown, the dish gained global recognition, where former US President Barack Obama and host Anthony Bourdain enjoyed the dish together in 2016.
Grilled pork with rice noodles is an exquisite dish with strong ties to Hanoi, where it originated. There are three components to this dish: a bowl of grilled thinly sliced pork belly and/or minced pork patties served in a light dipping sauce with pickled vegetables, a plate of rice noodles, and a basket of fresh herbs such as perilla leaves, cilantro, and lettuce.
The sliced pork and pork patties are well marinated with a variety of spices such as fish sauce, liquid caramel and garlic. The longer the marinating period, the more pronounced the flavor. The meat is then grilled over hot charcoal until it turns a beautiful golden brown.
Meanwhile, another element that defines the dish is the dipping sauce. It is a golden ratio of fish sauce, sugar, water and vinegar. A balance of sweet, sour, and savory flavors should be achieved in the overall taste.
There are many varieties of bun cha throughout Vietnam, but the Hanoi version is the most highly regarded.
|A dish of grilled Lethocerus indicus or Ca cuong. Photo: Ca Cuong Dai Thanh|
For Olivier Brochet, ca cuong may be the dish that most impresses him. As soon as Will handed over the bowl of dipping sauce with a small black insect in it, the ambassador's expression was a bit confused. He guessed the stuff looked like a shrimp or some kinds of fish. "It's some kind of water bug," Will explained.
Ca cuong, or Lethocerus indicus, is a family of freshwater hemipteran insects known as giant water bugs that usually live in lakes, ponds, swamps, and rice fields. Although originally from rural areas, ca cuong has long been a famous side dish in Hanoi cuisine. These little bugs were once widely used as an ingredient in famous Hanoi dishes such as bun thang (noodle soup with chicken, egg, and shrimp), cha ca (grilled fish with rice noodles), or banh cuon (steamed rice crepe).
Despite its ugly appearance, Lethocerus indicus is well known as an edible species in Southeast Asian cuisines. The insect is usually added to fish sauce to enhance flavor, and its taste is often compared to sweet scallops or shrimp.
Below is the clip of French Ambassador Olivier Brochet trying bun cha in Hanoi: