Unless you’ve been living under a rock (or outside of Vietnam) you’ll know that then US President Barack Obama caused a huge stir by eating at a bun cha restaurant during his visit to Hanoi in May 2016.
The image of the president clutching what was probably a warm Hanoi beer as he tucked into the delicious pork dish spread like wildfire across the Vietnamese internet.
So if a $6 dinner was good enough for a sitting US President, what do the rest of the world’s good and great eat when visiting Vietnam?
America’s Food Porn Poet
Of course President Obama didn’t eat alone, as he was accompanied by the unofficial ambassador for Vietnamese cuisine Anthony Bourdain. The celebrity chef first visited the country in 2000 and has been in love with Vietnamese food ever since, telling Conde Nast Traveler: “Going to Vietnam the first time was life-changing for sure; maybe because it was all so new and different to my life before and the world I grew up in. The food, culture, landscape and smell; they’re all inseparable. It just seemed like another planet; a delicious one that sort of sucked me in and never let go.”
Apart from professing his love for staples like bun cha and pho, Bourdain isn’t afraid to get adventurous, with the opening episode of the eighth season of ‘Anthony Bourdain: Parts Unknown’ featuring a visit to Hanoi’s infamous ‘Cursing Noodles’ for a bowl of noodle broth with various pig pieces: “You put up with the abuse for this glorious steaming bowl of rice noodles with spicy chillis, a rich hearty, porky broth with pig knuckle and snout. It’s the only item on the menu and it’s good.”
Fit for a King & Prime Minister
As well as hosting gastronomical royalty, Hanoi has welcomed actual royalty, with the UK’s Prince William paying Vietnam’s capital a two-day visit in late 2016 to attend a conference on illegal wildlife trafficking.
When he wasn’t busy shaking hands with politicians, the future king passed some time with a meal at Cau Go Restaurant, an upscale eatery that overlooks Hoan Kiem Lake. According to Viet Nam News, the prince ordered a selection of local specialities, including salt and garlic shrimp, fried tofu with lemongrass and fried seafood spring rolls. Though not actually a prince, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau certainly looks the part, with his boyish good looks and easy smile a hit the world over.
Vietnam is no exception, and when Canada’s premier visited the Southeast Asian country for an economic summit in November 2017, a video of his Vietnamese counterpart Nguyen Xuan Phuc holding the hunk’s hand went viral and turned most of us green with envy. Trudeau is infamous for staged photo-ops that look off the cuff, and Tuoi Tre News was ‘lucky’ enough to capture one in Ho Chi Minh City as Trudeau visited a street-side café to enjoy some Vietnamese coffee, a concoction sure to have given him the requisite energy for one of the jogs the ‘candid’ photos often come from.
When Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie were together, the A-list actors regularly visited Vietnam, having adopted a child from a Ho Chi Minh City orphanage. One of these visits to their son’s motherland featured a meal at Cuc Gach Quan in Ho Chi Minh City. While Brad and Angelina may have travelled often for leisure, some Hollywood stars have put in work while in Vietnam. ‘Kong: Skull Island’ was partly filmed in Vietnam, brining actors Samuel L Jackson, Tom Hiddleston and Brie Larson to the country, alongside director Jordan Vogt-Roberts.
Larson was active on Instagram during filming, with the American uploading one photo in February 2016 professing her love for the humble banh mi and another in March the same year extolling the snack selection at a truck stop. Englishman Hiddleston may have played a daring SAS man in ‘Skull Island’, but he’s clearly less brave when it comes to food, telling Vulture he turned down the chance to eat goat in Vietnam: “I didn’t partake. I should have, but I was just thinking I needed to be in one piece for the shoot.”
In contrast to Hiddleston, director Vogt-Roberts has dived face first into Vietnamese culture, moving to Ho Chi Minh City after filming ended and becoming the country’s tourism ambassador. The Detroit-native told VTV4’s ‘Talk Vietnam’ that pho xao (stir-fried rice noodles with beef) is his favourite Vietnamese dish, and that it’s best enjoyed on the street while perched on a tiny plastic stool.
And how should pho xao be washed down? According to a source close to the director, Vogt-Roberts’ favourite Vietnamese drink is goat penis wine, which probably isn’t on the menu in many Hollywood clubs.