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Bún Chả Giò Quê – The story (and the controversy) over a name

When Quê was first open for business in 2017, everything was very authentic. In the spirit of being a startup (lol!), the idea was to bring authentic Vietnamese food in higher quality, i.e. better meat, nicer fish sauce, homemade fried spring rolls, good beef etc to test as an MVP. The name of the dish was printed clearly in the menu, Bun Thit Nuong Cha Gio. There was no IPA symbols because the founder was obviously in overwhelming mode over the truck load of work starting the business, so no time to figure out how to type that properly in Vietnamese. Maybe her pc did not have Unifont. That or she totally forgot she should write it in proper Vietnamese which was more likely to be the case (lol). We didn’t pay too much attention about the lengthy name of the dish and how difficult it was for the local customers not too well-conversed with Viet dishes. The founder named it Grilled Pork/Grilled Beef Noodle/Rice in the English menu and most (not all) customers were happy to call them that way. 

When the first top blogger came, during the cooking, in the attempt to impress the famous blogger (lol!), the lady owner accidently found out the use of the glazing sauce on meat. That was the turning point. After that, she got more creative and more bold to experiment and make more changes to the (then) existing ways of cooking the dishes. As a matter of fact, we don’t have to follow anything. This is a private-owned business, if the founder or customers don’t like something, it’s time to change or make improvement. If it’s not there, create it if there is a need for it. That’s Que’s philosophy and how we operate. It doesn’t have to be precisely “authentic” in some ways. It just had to be good food, Vietnamese style and taste while still sticking to the ABC of Vietnamese cuisine. After all, it’s hard to define Authenticity because at some points in the past, some people created these sets of rules and over time people just follow. Besides, food is an interesting business. If you are willing to listen, customers are more than willing to tell you what and how they like to eat. Eighty to eighty five percent of customers here are regulars, of course you bet, we take it seriously when it comes to listening to customers :). 

This was also when we realized customers had problem pronouncing the whole name Bun Thit Nuong Cha Gio. Customers here, especially those come often are really the sweetest. They always tried really hard to pronounce the whole Vietnamese name.  So we told them they could call it Bun Cha as short name. We ladies have solutions for everything! Bún refers to the fact that it is a noodle dish, Chả refers to the fried spring roll, which are the 2 original main items inside the dish. The menu started to have an category item called Bún Chả Quê so not to confuse with Bún Chả Hà Nội. It also helped to fit the name nicely into the category in the menu.

For a long time, we used both long and short names for practical reason, shorter for category menu, longer for where else with enough space. Now, with the introduction of Salmon, the part Thịt Nướng (grilled meat, most of the time refer to Pork in traditional Bun Thit Nuong Cha Gio) in the name doesn’t make sense anymore because Salmon is Cá (fish), not Thịt (meat). It makes more sense and neat to call it xxx Bún Chả where xxx refers to the main protein used. Quê now has Pork, Beef, Salmon, and a so-called Vegan option. Chả giò (Fried Spring Roll) is a recommended option in this dish, and always there. More options might be coming soon too!

How I miss writing email including this type of graph in my previous life =)).

So that’s the story of the name Bún Chả (Giò) Quê. You are still very welcome to call it Bún Thịt Nướng Chả Giò if you could when order the pork version, which is the closet among the 4 to being original and/or authentic in this category. But, it’s still not “authentic”/original/exact like what you can find at a typical Vietnamese restaurant. There is a good chance if we call these dishes Bún Thịt Nướng Chả Giò xxx, more and more of the traditionalists would start to question us why they are not the same as how they sell it in Hanoi/HCMC like this-and-that customers reviewed on Google etc. In short, Bún Chả (Giò) Quê is Bún Thịt Nướng Chả Giò – improved or inspired, it is not Bún Chả Ha Noi. We had some regulars who made the trip to Vietnam to verify our version and came back pretty, err, not as expected. Call good food good food, not authentic. Being authentic does not exactly mean good either.

Therefore, come to Quê with the expectation of trying something new, slightly different, but fun and very yummy 😉 .

Pronunciation:

Bún  – /Boon/

Chả  – /jia/

Quê – / kwe/

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How-to series: How to enjoy a Bún (Thịt Nướng) Chả (Giò) Quê

Some times back when Que was still at the old location in Toa Payoh, we had one regular who only ordered chicken Pho and fresh spring roll set. He ate it day in day out despite us asking him if he wanna try something else reassured him they are pretty good as well. One day, he came and we were determined he should/had to try other dish (LOL!), and if he wanted we could give him the soup version (some customers prefer soup!!). He finally sheepishly replied to our horrid, “Your famous noodle has no taste. I tried before on the first time I came here”. We made him order the grilled pork noodle, then asked to show us how he ate. It turned out our dear regular didn’t use the fish sauce provided! New customers who never had Vietnamese food before would think the small bowl of fish sauce is only for dipping. Yep, despite all the photos we posted.

Once in a while we would encounter similar incident, therefore, at Que, staffs are informed to remind the customers who we don’t recognize to pour the fish sauce into the noodle and mix it up. 

Fast forward, at almost 3 years, (no) thanks to Covid, we finally have time to sit down and do a proper video guide how to eat the famous Bún (Thịt Nướng) Chả (Giò) Quê. Now, let’s see the recommended way to enjoy a Bún Chả Quê as demonstrated by our very charming Kyri.

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Herbs in Viet cuisine

Herbs add soul and complexity to dishes. While most cuisines use herbs, they are extremely essential in Viet cuisine. Like the French’s, Viet cuisine is all about celebrating herbs and the elegant use of them in our food.

What is Phở without all those herbal garnishes? There is nothing magical, nothing unforgettable in a Bún Chả without that exact combination of basil, perilla on a base of crunchy freshly cut lettuce and the essence from that chilled slice of cucumber put together by fish sauce to go with smoky fatty grilled meat. Bánh Mì would be so ordinary without those sprigs of nutty citrus cilantro, floral fire dusky red cut chilli bits, and refreshing cucumber laced on the tender juicy meat slices on that French loaf.

When I was growing up, I was told our ancestors only made use of the readily available herbs that grew freely around the garden, the same way a brilliant chef makes good use of all things available in his/her kitchen and creates real magic with just those very ordinary. Whenever I have a Pho, the first thing I look for is if the restaurant uses culantro. It’s a deal breaker for me. No Pho is complete without culantro. One of my very early childhood memories was crawling around the red brick backyard at grandfather’s house picking culantro grew out of the cracks and crushed it to smell (yea my mom used to call me Smell queen cos I wanted to smell everything!). Every bowl of Pho evokes that very dear piece of memory, and the simple bowl of homely Phở Gà my grandma used to make with just culantro.

Despite the many herbs we have in a Viet garden, certain dishes only use a certain set of herbs which have become the standard chosen over time. That’s how Pho and all other dishes were built as we know today. Let’s celebrate cultural diversity starting with appreciating the little herbs used in Viet cuisine more than as a way to brighten the dishes. They come with a long history of over 2000 years.

Fun fact: A majority of westerner customers at Que are French. We almost could tell!

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