As I write this, Vancouver is experiencing June-uary weather - still cold enough to warrant a bowl of Pho for lunch. However, I have long switched into my summer cheap lunch - Bun ("boon"). For the unitiated, bun is essentially a rice noodle salad topped with (usually) grilled meat and other items such as spring rolls. My favorite type of bun is topped with spring roll and grilled pork - or Bun Thit Nuong Cha Gio. Most menus will offer grilled beef, chicken, shredded pork, tofu, etc.
Following the footsteps of Vancouver gastronaut and Pho afficianado Knightafter (Knightafter, if you are reading this, you are an inspiration!), I have set out to do a mini-survey of Bun in this town. There is just NO WAY I can provide the same coverage as Knightafter who - at the last count - has cataloged over 43 Pho restuarants in this city (I think he is actually close to 50 at this point). He is a man on a mission. http://www.eatvancouver.net/2008/06/0...
My paltry little survey attempt is currently at seven shops...I will update as I eat more Bun.
There doesn't seem to be a canonical bun...every shop does it differently. After sampling the bun from about four or five shops, I believe I have come up with my own personal criteria...
What do I look for in a Bun (specifically Bun Thit Nuong Cha Gio)?
1 Fresh Noodles reconstituted in fresh water - some places do not change their water often enough which detracts from the ricey-ness of the noodles. It actually tastes " off or dishwatery" if the water is not changed often. The noodles should be the "thin" kind and not the wider "pho" kind. The noodles, IMO, should be at room temperature or slightly below. I don't care for tepid vermicelli.
2 Great grilled meat - good char, good flavour (most often with lemongrass), tender and sweet
3 Great spring roll - some places use Chinese style wrappers, Vietnamese rice paper, or rarely Banh Xeo crepe tinted yellow with turmeric
4 Good ratio of fresh crispy greens to vermicelli - shredded cucumber, iceberg lettuce and bean sprouts seem to be the most common. The addition of quick pickled carrots and daikon is also common. Bun should taste and crunch more like a salad, IMO.
5 Good herbs - Mint/Basil, Cilantro and/or Scallion - The mint/basil is often spearmint, Vietnamese mint/basil, rarely Perilla and almost never sawtooth herb (a common addition in Vietnam). I would love to have some others that are commonly available in Vietnam (many of which, BTW, is available at nearly all the Vietnamese grocers along Kingsway)
6 Freshly made dipping sauce (Nuoc Mam) - with Nuoc Nam (fish sauce), Vinegar, Sugar and Water. Often with slivers of carrot and daikon.
7 Freshly toasted and crushed peanuts - this makes a huge difference, IMO
8 Presentation - Bun should look colourful and beautiful.