The dish of grilled meat and noodles that Barack Obama and Anthony Bourdain slurped in Hanoi nearly two years ago is now deftly rustled up in the back alley of the Embassy of Vietnam in Chanakyapuri. The bowl of grilled buff, and rice noodles with an assortment of vegetables and herbs at the Embassy’s canteen presents a complexity that is baffling. Said to have originated in Hanoi, the Bun Cha is popular across Vietnam, and will probably gather traction in Delhi courtesy the unmistakable mojo of the broth that accompanies it — a mix of vinegar, sugar, fish sauce and pepper. It’s the sort of thing that’ll wake the dead.
At the canteen, run by the Embassy in a bid to popularise their cuisine in the Capital, a few of Vietnam’s better known culinary sirens make the carte du jour, including the Vietnamese Spring Rolls, or as they are commonly peddled — rice paper rolls or summer rolls. The canteen offers only vegetarian rolls. The freshest ingredients — carrots, cucumber, coriander and squiggles of noodles — wrapped in featherlight rice paper come together to form powerhouses of nutrition. While the vivacious dipping sauce, possibly a composite of fish sauce, lime juice, vinegar, sugar diluted with water with bird’s eye chillies left afloat, elevated the experience, I missed meat in the rolls. Poached prawns or just lightly seared chicken could only add further interest to the dish.
The menu also includes the country’s much loved and oft-mispronounced national dish — pho. The intense broth, made of chicken here, is scented with lemon and roughly torn coriander. The slices of meat bathing in this complex broth are all that should be paired with the hoisin sauce so as to not disturb the exquisitely calibrated balance of flavours.
The best way to wrap up a meal at the Embassy’s canteen is with their coffee. Though they rely on the instant G7 coffee, it really does possess a kick that cuts through the sugar and milk. Doesn’t an utterly affordable canteen that puts out the best of Vietnamese cuisine, even makes instant coffee taste good, and sends you waltzing into the sunset, conjure a picture too perfect? Here’s the catch: It opens to the public from 11 am to 2 pm on Fridays only.
Must Try: Bun Cha; Meal for two: Rs 700; Address: 17, Kautilya Marg, Chanakyapuri, Delhi; 2687 9852