Obama tries bun cha on first night in Hanoi

US President Barack Obama had one of Hanoi’s must-try delicacies for dinner on his first night in the Vietnamese capital on May 23, after revealing in the morning that he also wants to sip the flagship Vietnamese coffee.

The US leader and members of his delegate arrived at Huong Lien, one of the most well-established place to eat bun cha, or rice noodles with grilled pork and meatballs, in Hanoi at 8:00 pm.

He was greeted by the eatery owner at the door, and was immediately recognized by other diners shortly after stepping into the establishment on Le Van Huu Street. President Obama friendly shook hands with the owner, and waved at the diners, some of whom did not miss such a precious photo-op.

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US President Barack Obama has dinner at a bun cha store in Hanoi with chef Anthony Bourdain on May 23, 2016.

After the greeting, Obama and the delegate walked upstair to a special section reserved for them to try the delicacy. VnExpress said the US leader had two dishes and two bottles of beer.

Obama left the eatery at 9:00pm, having shaken hands with some locals before departure. People standing waiting along Ngo Thi Nham, Pho Hue and Le Van Huu greeted him with great applauds.

Lien, the owner, told Tuoi Tre (Youth) newspaper someone came to her establishment to “examine” and made a reservation for dinner with 50 dishes for “an American film crew.”

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Lien and her family only knew that no filmmakers, but the US head of state, would dine at her eatery.

Ngoc Anh, Lien’s daughter-in-law, said Obama was very friendly.

“As the dish was too small, the meatball dropped of Obama’s dish but he just looked at me smiling and took the food back,” Anh said.

Huong Lien first opened in 1993 and has since been run by generation after generation of the family. The eatery is popular among locals for more than two decades.

A photo showing the US president at the bun cha store, posted, by American chef Anthony Bourdain, broke the Internet in Vietnam.

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On his Facebook, Bourdain said "The President's chopstick skills are on point," adding he "picked up the bill" for the US$6 dinner.

The chef also described the dinner with the US leader as "[sitting on ] low plastic stool, [enjoying] cheap but delicious noodles, cold Hanoi beer."

President Obama arrived in Hanoi on May 22 for a three-day official visit to Vietnam. On his first day, the US leader met with Vietnam’s top officials, including President Tran Dai Quang and chariwoman of the lawmaking National Assembly Nguyen Thi Kim Ngan in the morning, and Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc and Party General Secretary Nguyen Phu Trong in the afternoon.

Speaking at a conference after the talks with his Vietnamese counterpart, Obama said he would like to try the Vietnamese iced milk coffee.

“I look forward to the opportunity to meet with the Vietnamese people… Maybe I will try some ca phe sua da,” he said with the accurate name of the drink in Vietnamese.

While bun cha is a typical dish of Hanoi and northern cuisine, ca phe sua da is a flagship coffee of southern Vietnam, especially Ho Chi Minh City.

Obama also told reporters in the Q&A section held after the conference that he hopes to be able to return to Vietnam with a more relaxing schedule.

“[Vietnam] is a remarkable and beautiful country,” Obama said.

“I told [President Quang] that unfortunately, when I visit, I usually have meetings all day long. So hopefully when I am no longer president I can come here with my family and I can spend a little more time to travel the country a little bit more and get to know the people and eat the food and have a more relaxing schedule.”


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