A lot of good Bun and Pho dishes could be found in Saigon in hole-in-the-wall places. The oft mentioned Pho-24, for example, is a chain restaurant serving the ubiquitous Vietnamese noodle dish. It was therefore a surprise that when a friend recommended Bun Ta, we arrived at a place beyond our expectation. It certainly was not a hole-in-the-wall eatery; instead, it looked like a house that had been converted to a restaurant. At the dark of the night, the place looked light because of its white interior paint. My partner and I were seated at the front patio, directly facing the busy traffic. At first I objected to it, thinking that the fume from the cars and bikes would be horrible a companion for dinner, but surprisingly, despite its proximity to the busy road, I could not smell anything except for the food served in the restaurant.
I asked what the specialty was, and a wait staff recommended a dish with the restaurant’s namesake “Bun Ta,” which was explained to be a tri-colored cool
vermicelli, mixed with meat and vegetables. I ordered that, along with steamed escargots with lemongrass and fish sauce. My partner ordered bun with Tiger Prawn and vegetables. I thanked the wait staff for an excellent recommendation as I enjoyed the Bun Ta very much. (At night, it was difficult to distinguish the difference in color, but during a subsequent lunch-time visit, I could see that there were white, very light green, and another color in between those two!)
The three colored bun were divided into three clusters, bordered by three chunks of tofu cakes, topped with shredded meat and what looked and tasted like slightly sweet tomato-based sauce. The portion looked big but was actually light. I liked it so much that I had to order a second one.
The steamed lemongrass escargots took a bit time to get used to: not your usual French escargots baked in butter and basil. These ones were steamed along with lemongrass and came with a bowl of fish sauce. The fish sauce was a great aid in spicing the otherwise-bland escargots. My partner’s main dish came with two big prawns, which no doubt were Tiger Prawns (and those prawns reminded us how big they were when the bill came later).
The manager, Nguyen Vy Le (in Vietnamese name, just like in Chinese and Japanese, the last name is said first, and the given name is the last one; in this case, he introduced himself as “Le”), came and greeted us, after having chatted with other clients. From him we learned that the restaurant had just opened; and because bun can be eaten at any time during the day, the restaurant opened for breakfast in the early morning all the way to past midnight. From their most informative website, one can learn how the restaurant came to be and glance through the menu. I told him that I had heard of Bun Cha (a kind of bun available almost in any bun places) but I have never heard of Bun Ta, the three-colored bun. He explained that the dish was created by the restaurant and was, therefore, unique.
The patio dining surrounded the indoor dining that was in the main building of the compound; the only adjoining building was the kitchen in the back. The place was very inviting: at daylight, lush greens juxtaposed nicely against the white exterior. At nighttime, the place felt very uncluttered and light. Each table was accompanied by a vertical fan, just in case any client felt choked by the heat (which was not a problem during our visit because the weather at the end of November was fine).
136 Nam Ky Khoi Nghia St.
Ben Nghe W., District 01
Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon), Vietnam
Tel: +84-8-822-9913 / 822-9914
M-Su: 07:00-26:00 (02:00)