The Short Story Behind Hanoi’s Obama Bun Cha Shrine

Obama Bun Cha Shrine

Obama Bun Cha Shrine © HOT TABLE. Photography by Mi Nguyen.

We’ve all seen it this week, the picture circulating online of the boxed off table and chairs in the now world-famous Bun Cha Obama (Bun Cha Huong Lien – 24 Ly Van Huu, Hai Ba Trung). Laid out as a shrine to the evening in May 2016 that Barack Obama and Anthony Bourdain dined on the blue plastic stools of this small family restaurant, we found ourselves asking, why now? Why, two years after the event were these pictures circulating? We suspected, a little cynically, that the initial buzz from Obama’s visit was dying down, and the owners decided it was time for a PR boost. Curiosity got the better of us and we went down to find out.

President Obama & Anthony Bourdain

President Obama & Anthony Bourdain – © The Straits Times

Nguyen Thi Hang Nga, one of the two owners of the restaurant told us that there were no PR stunts going on. She said: “Look, we have so many customers coming here already, why would we need PR?”

That was us put in our place, then.

We were told that this was never the plan, and that it was actually customer demand for the area to be kept separate in memory of the event that drove them to make the change. Naturally, customers who come in always want to know where it was that Obama had sat, and often suggestions were made that the area be closed off as an exhibition. And that’s just what happened in the always packed eatery.

Obama Bun Cha Shrine 2

Obama Bun Cha Shrine © HOT TABLE. Photography by Mi Nguyen.

The pictures went viral last weekend in Vietnam, and went worldwide when Anthony Bourdain posted a picture of the shrine on Instagram on Monday. Looking at the picture, we wondered if this was actually the table, chairs and cutlery used by the ex-President and celebrity chef. This was confirmed by the family, who told us they had kept the plates, bowls and cutlery separate as a memory of the visit, only to re-emerge encased in glass.

What we are looking at, then, seems to be a genuine replication of the historic moment where the ex-world’s most powerful man onced dined on a blue plastic stool in Hanoi. Deliberate PR stunt or not, don’t expect the buzz around Bun Cha Obama to die down any time soon.

Obama Bun Cha Shrine 3

Obama Bun Cha Shrine © HOT TABLE. Photography by Mi Nguyen.

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