Bún bò Huế’s key ingredients are rice noodles, pork and beef. While it’s said to originate from Vietnam’s former capital Huế, Bao believes there may be some Chinese influence
These travels have also given him a deeper cultural understanding of Vietnam and the surrounding areas. ‘We're always told about “traditional” food, but traditional food comes from somewhere, it just doesn't appear out of thin air. It’s influenced on so many other levels. So travelling was something really cool, to see how much borders play a part in cuisine,’ he says. As a chef who’s committed to creating a new lexicon for Vietnamese cuisine, tasting the food of these borders has given him new perspective.
‘When I was travelling through Vietnam, especially up in the north towards like Phổng Lăng and Ninh Bình, you can really tell how much the Thai border influenced the cuisine. There’s a lot of bushland and rainforest, and back in the day, this is where, if people wanted to make a living, they’d cross the border, go into the woods and do tree logging, and by going into the woods, you meet the minorities, and just that border crossing the changes the food a little bit. You see the exchange. One thing I saw the most was roast chicken. They catch wild chickens and roast them with spices — a lot of native leaves, native peppercorn, native chillies, that flavour really permeates. It's very different to food down south. You can see some of the dipping sauces, it tastes a little bit Thai, but then there are Vietnamese elements to it at the same time. So you see this crossover.’
Bao also observed some crossover between northern Vietnam and southern China. ‘There was also Hà Giang and Kunming — and I don’t want to say a huge crossover, but there was a little bit of Vietnamese influence. So a dish called bánh cuốn, which is I guess, a Cantonese cheung fun or steamed rice paper roll equivalent — it’s a dish that, in the north of Vietnam, is traditionally made with fillings like pork mince and black fungi. When I was in Kunming they had people doing pickled cabbage, tofu — just normal Chinese ingredients, but inside bánh cuốn.’
Looking down at his lunch, he muses, ‘I reckon at some point in time, bún bò Huế might have come from China somewhere.’