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Ngõ Nooks: Three Generations of Noodles on the Pavement at Bún Riêu Hồng Phúc

Connecting Hòe Nhai and Hàng Đậu, Hồng Phúc is one of the shortest alleys in Hanoi. However, this small alley is a paradise for people who love bún, especially if one is craving a meticulously prepared bowl of bún riêu.

The humble shopfront of Bún Riêu Bà Thiệp.

There are many bún riêu restaurants that critics rave about, and on all those lists, Bún Riêu Bà Thiệp in Hồng Phúc Alley always deserves a place. “Our shop had been opened before the family was evacuated for the war,” Thủy, Thiệp’s granddaughter, tells me in Vietnamese, “and the shop has been passed down for three generations now.”

Thủy (right) preparing ingredients for bún.

Good wine needs no bush, as the saying goes, and Bún Riêu Bà Thiệp does its promotion very directly and simply. In front of the restaurant is a wide range of ingredients for a tasty bowl of bún riêu. On the right is a big pot of riêu broth, on the left is the bún. In the middle is a glass cabinet with an array of toppings to satisfy all customers' desires in a bowl of bún riêu: snails, scallions, beef, etc.

Prepping for a lunch rush.

All these ingredients and flavors harmonize with each other on one’s tongue thanks to the meticulousness of the cook. Behind the cabinet, Thuỷ adroitly prepares each bowl. First, she blanches the noodles and bean sprouts in the broth, then puts them in a bowl. Then she adds scallions, MSG, shacha sauce, and whatever else a diner may want. Filling the broth is the final step, and now, the bowl of bún riêu is ready to be served.

Fluffy broth-soaked tofu pieces.

The steaming bowl of bún riêu pleases the eyes with shiny rice noodles, sparkling crab roe in a red tomato broth and notes of green scallions. But the soul of each bowl lies in the broth. Thuỷ says that it is made purely with crabs from rice field, combining a touch of vinegar, some tomatoes, and — for those who can take it — shrimp paste.

The main bún riêu toppings can be beef slices or chewy ốc bươu.

It is perhaps this delicate sweetness, which is very different from other broths made from stewed bones, that turns people to bún riêu fanatics. Guests can also add more ingredients such as snails, scallions, and beef to customize their own bowls.

Bún riêu as an after-school snack.

Once, bún riêu was mainly a treat for shoppers visiting the market. Now, people can eat bún riêu for breakfast or lunch, by themself or in a group. The eatery opens from 5:30am to 3:30pm (it serves hot pot in the evening) and is most crowded at noon. The price of a bowl is also very affordable at only VND35,000– 50,000.

Customers can order quẩy to soak up the bún riêu broth.

Bún riêu now attracts all types of people, workers, students, retirees, etc. Although the restaurant is crowded, there are not many seats, only on the first floors of two houses and a sidewalk opposite of the shop. However, the cramped space does not affect the satisfaction of enjoying a bowl of bún riêu — something to look forward to in the coming hot summer days. 

To sum up:

Taste: 5/5
Price: 5/5
Atmosphere: 4/5
Friendliness: 5/5
Location: 4/5

Bún Riêu Bà Thiệp

22 Hồng Phúc, Nguyễn Trung Trực Ward, Ba Đình District, Hanoi

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