bun thit heo nuong cha gio (grilled pork & vermicelli noodle);

One: I went to Cafe East.

Two: I did not order pho.

Now get over the shock so we can move along with this post.

I have been searching for the best bun thit heo nuong cha gio forever. It’s ok, I didn’t know that off by heart either, I had to ask my Vietnamese friend, copy and paste it into the photo description and then hover my mouse over the photo while I copied it into the post. Why I didn’t just paste it into the post I don’t know. My brain is fried, it’s one day before I go to Fat Duck and I am sick. Sick. I’m not sure what I can taste at this point in time, but goddamn my taste buds better wrench themselves out of this misery and be in top condition tomorrow. Or else.

But anyway, I’ve been searching for the best of that long winded dish forever. Forever.

And we know how I don’t ever exagge-ma-rate.

Bun thit heo nuong cha gio literally means grilled pork with vermicelli noodles [and spring rolls, as I have been corrected in the comments below]. The freshly grilled pork is served with vermicelli, a side of fresh and pickled salad, topped with a spicy fish sauce. It sounds like an easy enough dish, and most Vietnamese restaurants will serve this, but I’m yet to find one that tops my favourites: Viet Hoa in Perth, and Naughty Chef in the slum that is the underpass of Sydney’s Wynyard Station.

I’d heard mucho goodness about Cafe East and although I am a self proclaimed Zone 1 snob, I travelled out to SE16 (16! What is that, like zone 10? Oh it’s only zone 2. shite that took a long time) in search of some good vermicelli. But it still doesn’t top Viet Hoa or Naughty Chef. Cafe East’s bun thit heo nuong cha gio was pretty good, but there was something – and I still don’t know what that thing is – missing.

I’m not quite sure what it is that didn’t swizzle the light fantastic in my mouth. The flavours were great, the pork was tasty, the pickle mmm I love pickle… I think maybe it’s in the noodles. Cafe East uses a very fine vermicelli, and this could by all means be the absolutely correct vermicelli to use (because lord knows I am not the authority on anything, let alone Vietnamese food), but Naughty Chef for example uses a slightly thicker (we’re talking millimeters), spongier squidgier noodle. Which I love.

Spongier. Squidgier.

You can tell I’m sick, can’t you? Or maybe I am that bad at describing food.

Aside from the bun thit heo nuong cha gio, we also tried the banh cuon (rice flour rolls, not unlike the Chinese cheong fun) and com bi suon cha (pork chop rice), which were both good, but not great. Sigh. The sum bo luong (healthy drink with seaweed, lotus seeds, barley and dates) was pretty good though, so we had one winner.

Given that super foodie Charmaine and my Vietnamese friend recommended Cafe East, I think I’m missing something. Maybe the pho is out-of-this-world, who knows, I’m not a pho lover and have only ever really enjoyed it at Pho An in Sydney, because dude, there is literally nothing else on the menu.  But hey, while we’re on the topic of pho, San Fran is coming up in a four weeks, should I take on the Pho Garden Challenge just for shits and giggles??

photo courtesy of Pho Garden San Francisco

photo courtesy of Pho Garden San Francisco

PS: Yes I’ve also tried Song Que… meh.

Cafe East
100 Redriff Road
Surrey Quays, SE16 7LH
0207 252 1212

Cafe East on Urbanspoon

11 Thoughts on ““spongy squidgy noodles”: Cafe East and my exemplary gastronomic vocabulary

  1. Assuming that i’m the ‘Vietnamese friend’ in question… i feel that I should comment. The pho is what MAKES Cafe East and the reason i’d make the trek. The other stuff is just ‘bonus’.

    Uhmm, in the interests of accuracy, ‘bun thit heo nuong cha gio’ literally means vermicelli noodles, grilled pork, spring roll. You left out the spring roll bit, but I think I spotted them at the back of your pic?

    I agree that the squidgier noodles are better. Viet Hoa makes ’em with the squidgier stuff 🙂

  2. Yes Linh you are indeed the said Vietnamese friend… and d’oh I knew I missed something. The pho! P’raps one day I’ll trek out there with you for the pho. And yes, I totally forgot the spring rolls. Blaming the copious amounts of cold & flu tabs I’ve been shoving down my throat today.

    Viet Hoa rocks. I miss it 🙁

  3. oh…! Fat Duck! flu or not, enjoy it!
    don;t see how uk can top oz for vietnamese food! i love the vermicelli, pork and spring roll dish too!

  4. First time reader. The picture of the bowl of pho totally made my day. I really did laugh out loud to myself. BTW, a hot bowl of pho actually will help with your cold.

  5. Hi,
    Super post, Need to mark it on Digg

  6. Jenny H on September 6, 2009 at 2:18 pm said:

    The Vietnamese at Westfield food court uses the squidgier noodle but the taste is so-so.

  7. mc: apparently there is good Viet food in London. I’m still looking for it, but maybe my taste in Viet is just whack??

    Penn: welcome! 🙂 I know, that bowl of pho is ridiculous, right? By the way, alcohol has fixed my cold *woot*

    Jenny H: I’m just glad people seem to know what I meant when I said “squidgier” noodles! Shame the taste is so-so. I might go try it anyway 🙂 Thanks for the tip!

  8. That last photo’s incredible, what gigantic bowls! I do like pho, but I haven’t been to Vietnam or enough decent restaurants in London to say that I’ve had good pho…

  9. i know your friend Linh already said but cha gio means spring roll and dude… you’re not a Pho lover. what? WHAT?!

    you need to jump across the pond over to the DC area, but i guess you are going to San Fran soon… i’m not familiar with the viet food in that area but srsly, it sounds like London is lacking…

  10. Helen: Yeh I know! HUGE bowls! I’m thinking of giving it a go, why not and hey if I lose, it’s only $10 a bowl 🙂

    Lan: I know my brain was not working that day 🙂 I’ve amended it now. Pho – maybe I haven’t had fantastic stuff? I need to be edu-ma-cated.

  11. Thanks very much for this wonderful post.

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