The "Combo Obama" Bun Cha in Hanoi, Vietnam (Bún Chả Hương Liên)

Obama Bun Cha (Bún chả Hương Liên)

in Hanoi, Vietnam

In 2016 celebrity chef, adventurer, and food writer Anthony Bourdain hosted then-US President Barack Obama for a local lunch at a tiny and unassuming shophouse restaurant just south of Hanoi's French Quarter.

The "Combo Obama", the combo dish famously ordered by the president, is one of the all-time greatest dishes in Hanoi, and is one of my favorite meals in the Vietnamese capital.

bun cha, a traditional northern Vietnamese specialty
bun cha, a traditional northern Vietnamese specialty

President Obama's historic visit to Vietnam made headlines, and his reversal of the decades-long ban on US sale of weapons to Vietnam was praised by the Vietnamese people as a progressive move in US-Vietnamese relations in building a strong regional alliance against Chinese influence (China and Vietnam are historic rivals in the Southeast Asia region).

One night during his time in Hanoi, President Obama was treated to dinner at a local restaurant by Anthony Bourdain. The two men sat on tiny plastic chairs and shared a meal and a few beers whilst discussing US-Vietnamese relations and the future of diplomacy and development in the region.

US President Barack Obama and Anthony Bourdain in Hanoi, Vietnam (Bún Chả Hương Liên)
US President Barack Obama and Anthony Bourdain in Hanoi, Vietnam (Bún Chả Hương Liên)

Anthony Bourdain, picking up the approximately $6 USD tab, took the president to a meal of northern Vietnamese bun cha, a seafood roll, and a Bia Hanoi (Hanoi Beer). Today, Bún chả Hương Liên is very proud of their presidential visitor, and excitedly promote the "Combo Obama" on their menu, the exact meal that the president enjoyed when he visited Hanoi. 

Combo Obama Bun Cha at Bún Chả Hương Liên in Hanoi, Vietnam
Combo Obama Bun Cha at Bún Chả Hương Liên in Hanoi, Vietnam

Northern Vietnamese Hanoi-style bun cha, born in the bustling streets of Hanoi, is a culinary gem that captures the hearts of food lovers far and wide. It's no wonder that it was the favorite Vietnamese dish of both Barack Obama and Anthony Bourdain during their time in the country!

At its core, bun cha revolves around three key elements: grilled pork, rice noodles, and a special dipping sauce that brings the whole dish to life. It all begins with meticulously marinated pork, typically a blend of pork belly and shoulder. Bathed in a marinade of fish sauce, sugar, garlic, and an array of aromatic spices, the pork is then grilled over charcoal or an open flame. The result? An enticing medley of smoky nuances and a tantalizing hint of smoky char.

The pork is served with a bed of rice noodles (the eponymous "bun"). These translucent noodles are dipped in the broth and eaten alongside the smoky grilled pork.

It is, however, the dipping sauce, known in Vietnamese as nuoc cham (a broth made from fish sauce, vinegar, lime juice, and garlic) that elevates bun cha to its place in the pantheon of incredible Vietnamese dishes. The broth is usually served with a side of minced garlic and sliced red-hot chili peppers which you can add to the dish for an extra kick. I always add all of the garlic and a good deal of the chilies.

To truly savor bun cha in all its glory, one must partake in a ritual of assembly. Begin by nestling a modest portion of rice noodles in a bowl, then carefully top it with a bite of grilled pork. The dish is always served with a heaping plate of fresh and crunchy herbs, and one must add piles of aromatic mint, cilantro, and perilla to his or her bowl along with a generous helping of bean sprouts and pickled vegetables. The dish, simple yet elegant, combines all the essential flavors of a delicious Vietnamese meal.

Northern Vietnamese bun cha, or grilled pork with noodles in Hanoi
Northern Vietnamese bun cha, or grilled pork with noodles in Hanoi

The combo also comes with a seafood roll, a giant deep-fried Vietnamese pastry stuffed full of prawns, crab, pork, and lots of vegetables.

I love bun cha. It is my absolute favorite Vietnamese dish, and I would eat it every day if I could! However, I have to say that my favorite part of the Combo Obama might not be the iconic bun cha, but the seafood roll!

Vietnamese fried seafood roll at Bún Chả Hương Liên, Hanoi, Vietnam
Vietnamese fried seafood roll at Bún Chả Hương Liên, Hanoi, Vietnam

Bun cha is a meal best shared, whether among family or friends. As the lunch or dinner hour arrives, seekers of culinary adventures, both locals and travelers alike, flock to the vibrant streets of Hanoi. There, they embrace the allure of bun cha and the intoxicating aromas of smoky grilled pork, delicate rice noodles, and the lively dance of the zesty dipping sauce. 

A feast for the senses, a journey of flavors, bun cha is a testament to the culinary riches of Vietnam and an experience not to be missed. And the best place of all, of course, is where President Obama himself dined.

Bún chả Hương Liên ("Obama Bun Cha") menu and prices
Bún chả Hương Liên ("Obama Bun Cha") menu and prices

More Vietnamese Street Food in Hanoi


Bún chả Hương Liên is located in the center of Hanoi at 24 P. Lê Văn Hưu, Phan Chu Trinh, Hai Bà Trưng, Hà Nội, Vietnam. The restaurant is easily reached on foot from the Hoan Kiem Lake neighborhood, or by Grab, taxi, or motorbike.

Bún chả Hương Liên restaurant in Hanoi, Vietnam
Bún chả Hương Liên restaurant in Hanoi, Vietnam

See the map below for the exact location and directions to Bún chả Hương Liên in Hanoi: