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Hẻm Gems: Piquant Broth and Tangy Snails at Bun Oc Co Hue

There’s nothing fancy about Bun Oc Co Hue. You’ll find makeshift awnings and a leaning mahogany tree outside, and tattered walls and faded floral tiles within. The shop itself is 28 years old, the same age as Co Hue’s daughter, who now runs it.

I visited Bun Oc Co Hue on a scorching summer day, one of those afternoons when motorbike seats feel like sizzling pans and long-sleeves are a must. In those sweltering hours, Co Hue’s shop is a precious little oasis, with wide shade from the old mahogany tree, a cup of trà đá and, most importantly, a refreshing bowl of bún ốc (snail noodles).

There’s always something daunting about snails, even though I know they’ve been drenched in rice water, chili and lime for at least an hour, before being thoroughly boiled and removed one-by-one from their shells. The creature is unsightly for many, even if soaked in a delightful mixture of ginger, lemongrass and chili. Yet bún ốc has a secret, something Anthony Bourdain claimed is done better here than anywhere else in the world: the broth.

Bun oc’s broth is tangy thanks to rice wine vinegar, slightly sour from slices of starfruit and refreshing with tomatoes and mint. Shrimp paste and chili are optional, although purists like Vietnamese foodie Vu Bang insist on adding those for a more piquant flavor. To the pioneering food writer, bún ốc is “the kind of soup that causes tears in the eyes more valid than the tears of love.” Indeed, food is more important than a runaway lover, but to me a hot sip of the broth is simply a splash of ice water, a swift sun shower in the summer, a pleasant relief when all burdens in life are suddenly sneezed away or leaked out through the corners of one’s eyes.

Many bún ốc shops offer added beef, fried tofu, pork cartilage or giò chả (minced pork sausage) to keep snail phobics distracted from the gastropods, but Bun Oc Co Hue tolerates none of those piffles. There are only two ways to order noodles: in the soup, or eaten separately. Appreciate the broth, eat the snails, the bowl says. It takes great curiosity to eat bún ốc, but with great challenges come great rewards. Once you’ve wiped away your first bún sweat and tears, as Bourdain did in his show, “you’re officially in Hanoi.”

Bun Oc Co Hue is open from 7am to 2pm. You can find the spot at 43 Nguyen Sieu.

To sum up:

Taste: 5/5

Price: 5/5

Atmosphere: 4/5

Friendliness: 4/5

Location: 3/5

 

Trang Bui is addicted to shrimp paste and gets kicked out of 50% of street food restaurants.

Bun Oc Co Hue

43 Nguyen Sieu

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