Saturday, August 11, 2012

Bun Bo Hue In Jersey City

BEFORE I DISCOVERED bun bo Hue, I thought pho was the best thing that happened to noodle soup. How wrong I was. One day, as my family sat down inside our favorite Vietnamese restaurant ready for something new, I spotted a piping hot bowl of noodles in a fragrant brick-red soup being enjoyed by a customer at the table next to ours. I asked the waiter what the dish was, and his response opened a whole new horizon of noodle soup experience for us. Because bun bo hue is anything but pho, no, sir, bun bo hue takes it a to a much higher level, with beef shank, pork knuckles, congealed pork blood (which has a tofu-like texture) and Vietnamese pork loaf swimming in reddish-brown broth that is seasoned with spicy annatto and chili oil, lemongrass, sugar and fermented fish and shrimp sauce, for a depth of flavors and aromas better than that of mami, La Paz batchoy, saimin, ramyun, udon, laksa and pho combined.  The noodles are also thicker, smoother and more cylindrical than the regular rice noodles used for pho. Not used to smooth noodles, I request the waiter to use the traditional rice noodles for my bun bo Hue when I order.  After a ten-hour workday that begins at four o'clock in the morning processing passengers at Newark Liberty International Airport, I consider it a piece of heaven in a bowl. Served with a salad side dish consisting of  mungbean sprouts, shredded lettuce or purple cabbage (in place of banana blossoms which are hard to find in New York City Asian food markets), fresh basil, culantro or mint and lime wedges, the dish is a complete meal that costs less than $10. Despite its street food ingredients, bun bo Hue might have been regal fare, originating from the former imperial city of Hue in central Vietnam which is associated with the cooking style of the royal court. For the recipe, follow Wandering Chopsticks' detailed step-by-step from scratch procedure.

There are two places in Jersey City where I can get my fix of bun bo Hue after work; both have free parking, but Pho Thanh Hoai's version has the more authentic home-cooked taste.

Thanh Huong Restaurant, 533 West Side Avenue,  Jersey City, New Jersey 07304, phone (201) 333-3030

Pho Thanh Hoai (formerly Nha Trang) Restaurant, 249 Newark Avenue, Jersey City, New Jersey 07302, phone (201) 239-1988

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