To me, the best bun dish to eat in the Hanoi heat is bun moc. The article was published on Word Hanoi magazine – issue July 2013. Photos by Francis Roux
With four seasons, Hanoi’s cuisine varies with the weather. Some dishes suit a specific season, other dishes suit another. So, what fare is best eaten in the summer?
Among the large range of traditonal bun dishes, many Hanoians call bun moc the bun of summer. Yet as with so much of Vietnamese cuisine, its origins are disputed.
Some believe it is named after the dish’s place of origin — Moc Village in the Thanh Xuan District of Hanoi. Others say its nomenclature is because of its typical ingredient, moc, a small pork ball made of pork meat paste blended with wood ear and shiitake mushroom. The pork ball creates the typical smell and taste of the soup. Others say the dish’s name is due to a combination of the above.
The common ingredients of bun moc are noodles, pork ribs, moc, mushrooms as well as a selection of young bamboo, gio lua or cha lua, a type of pork sausage. All are served with broth made from stewed pork bones or ribs, with herbs and vegetables. Best eaten when piping hot, bun moc is famous for its simple, light noodle soup and pure broth. This may explain why it is widely known as the bun of summer.
According to renowned contemporary author, Nguyen Tuan, a native of Moc Village, to really feel the essence of bun moc you need to eat the dish on the street. It’s not just about the taste, but about where and how you enjoy the dish. The ideal is to sit on a small street corner on a breezy early summer morning. Feeling the slow pace of city life when Hanoi seems like it’s still sleeping, says Tuan, this is the best time to enjoy bun moc’s delicate simplicity.
Down the Alley
The perfect location for such an experience is Bun Moc Hang Luoc, close to the corner of Hang Luoc, Hang Ruoi and Hang Khoai. An easily missed small table is hung on the entrance of a tiny alleyway — this is the eatery.
Reminiscent of Hanoi’s bao cap or subsidy era, when food was rationed and in short supply, wooden stools are placed against the wall on one side of the alley, while the tiny thoroughfare itself is shaded by a hundred-year-old banyan tree, a throwback from the past. It’s difficult to work out who the owner is, too. The neighbours here have been living in this alley for generations and run the eatery together, a bit like a co-operative.
“Our small bun moc shop has been going for more than 30 years,” says one of the neighbours. “It was first opened by my mom. But she is too old now and can no longer cook. So we decided to run this shop together. It makes us feel like big family.”
Serving up a clear but sweet broth, something the neighbour says is a “standard requirement” of the dish, she adds that “while stewing the pork ribs, we open the pot and keep a small fire going.”
Besides the clear broth, the moc is firm and has a taste and aroma that blends well with the sliced wood ear and shiitake. “To make delicous moc,” she says, “the first step is to choose high-quality pork meat and to grind it into a paste. Then you select fresh mushrooms and slice them into tiny pieces. We don’t use any formula — if our family members taste it and say it good, then others can eat it. For many years, our moc has become a favourite of many people.”
Added to this version of the soup is manually prepared dried young bamboo and depending on your preference, you can also add some gio lua or pork cake. The gio here is particularly good — it’s both firm and crispy.
If you head to the eatery at around 7.30am when it is not so crowded, you can choose yourself a seat under the banyan tree or on the pavement outside the alley — and give yourself a perfect opportunity to enjoy the rare quietness of Hanoi’s Old Quarter before the shops open.
Bun Moc Hang Luoc is on Hang Luoc, 20m from the junction of Hang Luoc, Hang Khoai and Hang Ruoi. It opens from early morning to around 10am. A bowl of bun moc costs VND20,000