Posted by: sharemore1 | November 3, 2011

The Bún Backstory

Breakfast Bún

Bún are thin rice noodles used in many Vietnamese dishes.  Our local restaurant serves them in a steaming broth with slices of pork, tiny black and white meatballs, tomatoes, green onions, cilantro and giant upright elephant ears.  (Sorry, that’s the best translation I could find for the green vegetable, alocasia odora) Add a squeeze of lemon and a sprinkling of hot chilies at the table and it’s ready to eat, usually for breakfast.

 Eager to try some Vietnamese cooking myself, I found a soup recipe that called for  rice vermicelli.  I was sure our restaurant didn’t dump a package of dry noodles into their broth, but never thought about the craft of making noodles until I visited Phú Đo.

Noodle Village

Tucked within the city limits of Hanoi, Phú Đo is a village where many families create bún noodles for Hanoi restaurants.  We parked our car off the main road and walked under a red and yellow banner marking the village gate.  Wandering through the narrow streets we searched for a family who would let us watch them work.


Peering into one courtyard, we spotted the telltale wicker baskets used to transport noodles to the restaurant.  Tu, our Vietnamese friend, talked to the father, who looked suspiciously at our cameras.  After being assured we were not journalists, he welcomed us into the little compound where he and his family make rice noodles, seven hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year.  They don’t rest even on Tet, the annual New Year’s celebration, because restaurants still want their noodles.

The ingredients are simple, rice and water.  It’s transforming those ingredients into finished noodles that takes two days and many separate steps.  The father, mother and one daughter make two batches a day, totaling more than 440 pounds.

Rice Delivery

While we were there, a deliveryman brought three large green bags of rice into the red brick courtyard on his motorbike.  The rice is poured into large plastic tubs, covered with water and a lid and set aside.  The next day, after the water is pressed out of the rice, the father pours it into a large electric mixer in the shed where they work.  His brother, a mechanical engineer, designed their equipment.

Mixing Machine

Clad in long white shorts and plastic sandals, the father supervises the mixing carefully, adding more pressed rice and scraping it off the sides of the drum with his hands.  To get the texture just right, he throws in a small amount of cooked noodles.  When he deems it ready, he squeezes the mixture though a cloth into a large metal pot.

Squeezing Noodle Dough

As the dough is mixed and squeezed and mixed again, it becomes smooth and shiny like thick boiled frosting.  While her husband is mixing, the wife is busy preparing a charcoal fire at the bottom of a large round stove.  She sets a shiny metal pot of water over the fire to cook the noodles.

When the temperature is right, she and her daughter begin their carefully choreographed routine.  The mother, in a bright pink blouse and black pants, scoops up the shiny dough and feeds it into a receptacle connected to a pipe.  The dough travels through the pipe and is extruded through a nozzle into the pot of boiling water.

Cooking Noodles

The two work side by side without speaking, their roles honed by years of practice.  The mother cooks the noodles just long enough, drains them in a long-handled strainer, passes them to her daughter, who drains them again and plops a round pile on a rattan mat on the floor.  They perform these operations again and again until they have cooked all the noodles.

Piles of Noodles

With that batch done, the mother scrubs everything to get ready for the next shift, which begins at 1:00 am.  Twice a day, at 4:00 am and 4:00 pm she balances baskets of noodles on her motorbike and makes the rounds of their customers.

Since our visit to Phú Đo, I have looked at my morning bowl of bún with new respect.  I’m afraid, however, that the noodles in my homemade soup will have to come out of a box.


  1. I know that Bun is supposed to be a breakfast food, but it’s lunchtime here in Pittsburgh, and boy does it look delicious! I too have a new respect for the work that goes into making those delicate strings of yum! Please pass the bun.

  2. Are bloggers journalists? It’s something to think about. Great post.

  3. No more taking those noodles for granted! Here’s a toast to go with with your next bowl of soup, and thanks for your delicious post!

  4. Sharon – take me with you next time, ehm

    • Visit me. Seriously. I’d love to show you around. We’ll be here until mid-February.

      Sharon L. Morris Read my blog:

  5. Sharon: Such an interesting story and love the pictures to go with it. Will you be an expert rice noodle maker when you get home?

    Thanks for sharing!!


  6. I even don’t know about the process of making Bun, ‘ve never been to Phu Do :(. Shame on me!
    Thank you Sharon for sharing!!!!

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