Healthy Travel Find- Bun Cha in Hanoi, Vietnam
This was an awesome healthy travel find that happened entirely by accident- we were wandering down the street in Hanoi looking for some lunch. We stopped when we saw a teeny tiny restaurant with a grill out front and every seat inside packed. We thought, if it is this packed, it must be good!
We went in and sat down, but to our dismay (but not our surprise) the menu was only in Vietnamese. However, that turned out to not be a problem as the restaurant only served one thing, bun cha! We sat down and within seconds there was a plate of grilled pork in front of us, tons of fresh herbs, rice noodles and a bowl of broth in front of us.
It was also wildly inexpensive, coming it at just under $3 for both of us to eat lunch. Now, there are a lot of things about this that are incredibly healthy, but a few that are decidedly not healthy which can easily be adapted at home to make the meal both healthy and unbelievably good and simple.
Pork– high in protein. Try grilled chicken or tofu instead (hint: sprinkle it with 5 spice, chopped lemongrass, oyster sauce and minced garlic and let it marinate about an hour before grilling it for a yummy, sweet and spicy flavor)
Rice Noodles– Definitely high in carbs and not much else. However, switch these up for a (less authentic) healthier version and add brown rice or soba noodles instead. Or try it with baked spaghetti squash or thinly sliced zucchini or carrot “noodles”.
Vietnamese Basil– High in antioxidants and essential oils, basil may help slow the aging process, prevent cancer and fight inflammation (all reasons why herbs are better than salt!)
Perilla– Also known as Japanese basil or shiso leaf, this herb is part of the mint family. There is some evidence that it may help increase lung function for asthmatics and decrease the impact of the dreaded seasonal allergies. Its seeds are high in omega-3’s as well.
Cilantro– This highly polarizing herb (do you love it or hate it?) has a host of minerals including magnesium, manganese, and iron. It also contains many phytochemicals like limonene, camphor, and quercetin which help to fight aging and disease. It even has antibacterial properties which help kill salmonella.
Mint– Ate a little too much bun cha? (Umm.. yep, guilty.) Fortunately all the mint you just ingested will help soothe the stomach. It also helps keep your gut healthy, thanks to its antimicrobial effects.
Lettuce– Lettuce is a great source, year, round of important vitamins and minerals including vitamins A & C. It’s also a source of bet-carotene and other phytonutrients, calcium, and fiber. Not to mention it helps add tons of volume to your plate but without adding a lot of extra calories!
Garlic– Chopping it small and keeping it raw (like we do in bun cha) means you get more of the powerful antioxidant allicin. Garlic is a superstar food that can help lower blood pressure, reduce the risk of cancer (especially stomach, colon and colorectal cancers) and oils in it can even help kill fungi.
Chili– The smaller they are, the more they kick! That kick is due to capsaicin, which improves digestion, fights bacteria (and helps prevent diarrhea associated with bacteria) and helps to mop up damaging free radicals. It really does burn so good!
Onions/Shallots– Part of the lily family (who knew!), the tear inducing volatile oils from their organosulfur compounds are also the reason behind the health benefits associated with onions and shallots, including protection against heart disease and cancers. They may even help keep blood sugars stable. Read more about this powerful family HERE.
Carrots– The USDA recommends that we up our red/orange veggie intake- like eating more carrots! High in many antioxidants and fiber while low in salt and calories these super healthy veggies may even help lower the risk of cardiovascular disease! Unlike some veggies, carrots are actually healthier cooked (Learn more about that HERE.
Daikon Radish– These crunchy radishes are high in vitamin C and get their hint of spice from isothiocyanates, antioxidants that may help destroy carcinogens. Learn more HERE.
Fish Sauce– This is pretty high in sodium but does add serious flavor and umami. Use it sparingly and avoid adding other high sodium sauces in conjunction. Try adding sea vegetables to get the salty flavor or finish with a squeeze of lemon if you crave more salt.
Bean Sprouts– Bean sprouts are a moderate source of protein and a good source of iron and the trace mineral copper. Because they are sprouting, the nutrients in bean sprouts are more bioavailable. Bean sprouts are known to carry disease causing bacteria, so be sure to wash them thoroughly or grow your own!
Vinegar– So much exciting research is coming out regarding vinegar’s anti-glycemic properties. Adding it to foods helps prevent a large blood sugar spike after eating… for example, dipping white rice noodles into a sauce with vinegar helps prevent the blood sugar spike that the rice noodles would have on their own (hey! just like in bun cha!). Vinegar may also help reduce blood pressure and kill cancer cells. Here is a review of the science behind vinegar.
Sugar– just go easy on the sugar, huh?
Ready to try your hand at the amazing Bun Cha? Here are some great recipes to help get you started!