The Mein Man: Hoang Lan, Bun Bo Hue, and Pork Blood Cake

hoang_bbh_600Dish: Bun Bo Hue
Place: Hoang Lan, Rainier Valley, Seattle
Price: $7.00 (tax included)

In the bowl: From the menu: “Vermicelli with pork hock, pork blood cake, beef tendon in hot and spicy soup.” There are also slices of onion in the soup, along with some herbs. And a couple of pork meatballs.

Supporting cast: The side plate seems to vary visit-to-visit, but generally includes shredded cabbage, lettuce, banana blossoms, jalapeno, cilantro, bean sprouts, and lime–though last time there was lemon instead of lime.

What to do: Add in what you like from the plate, and certainly go for a citrus squeeze. If life, at this moment, gives you lemons, ask for lime. (You may also want to add chili sauce from the table.)

Noodling around: I frequented this restaurant long before light rail made its way down Martin Luther King Jr. Way. Now, whenever I go to the airport, I think about jumping out at the Othello Station stop for a bowl of bun bo hue. Until recently, due to the signage, I thought Bue Bo Hue was the name of the restaurant. There are other noodle dishes here, but bun bo hue has me coming back.

So does the atmosphere, actually. Hoang Lan is true hole-in-the-wall. Eight tables, a mirrored wall which is clean only as high as the cleaning person can reach, a television in the corner generally broadcasting Vietnamese variety shows. The owner often whistles or sings to the shows’ music, even while playing a game on the computer.

The soup has hits of lemongrass, chili (though only mildly spicy to me) and shrimp paste, along with an underlying depth that comes from many hours of beef bones simmering. The noodles are the thicker, round, rice vermicelli type, easy to grab with chopsticks. I especially like the minerally taste of the pork blood cakes. But while I want to attack the pork hock, or knuckle, to find the fatty and gelatinous parts, that element generally feels like more trouble than it’s worth.

If still hungry: Scroll down the menu to item number 42: banh bot loc tran (20 for $5.00). These boiled tapioca dumplings are filled with pork and shrimp, and are best dipped in a fish sauce concoction. They’re sweet (in a non-dessert way) and satisfying. I feel like I can eat all 20.

Be aware/beware: This is cash only, with prices already inclusive of tax. If you’re not Vietnamese, you will likely feel like you’ve landed in other country upon arrival. That’s a good thing. Ask questions about anything you don’t know. The owner will take a break from his whistling to help as much as possible. If you fear a food coma after your meal, take note of the row of partially-made Vietnamese coffees by the register.

First published in Seattle Weekly’s Voracious on March 8, 2011.

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