Home Food Dish Elements Serves Up Vietnamese Dish Made Popular by Obama and Anthony Bourdain

Elements Serves Up Vietnamese Dish Made Popular by Obama and Anthony Bourdain

Chef Michael Chuong prepares bún chả with pork loin marinated in brown sugar, sesame oil and lemongrass placed atop rice noodles and a pile of colorful vegetables

Photo by Briana Brough

Chef Michael Chuong barely looks at his marinade as he puts it together. Instead, he tells me about the regional differences of bún chả as he throws a handful of chili flakes into the bowl and continues to add more. The dish originated in his native Vietnam and was ushered into the global spotlight in 2016 when President Barack Obama sat down with Anthony Bourdain among locals in Hanoi for a meal. Michael rhythmically cuts up the pork loin, which spends three hours in the mix that also includes brown sugar, sesame oil and lemongrass. “Just like marinade makes barbecue better, this makes [the meat] more tender,” he says. Later, that pork loin is placed atop rice noodles and loaded with vegetables. “You’ve got a lot of things going on in this dish,” Michael says. And in this case, it’s not a bad thing. Pickled veggies add some sour while mint and cilantro brighten and fried onions are a fun crunch. Hot is balanced with cold quite nicely, and the dish is served with chã giò tôm cua – egg rolls stuffed with ground pork, crab, shrimp and more. He says bún chả pairs well with a lager but at elements, you really can’t go wrong with wine. The by-the-glass list differs from the offerings in the wine bar where you can sample 1-ounce, 3-ounce or 6-ounce pours before dinner. You might find a favorite, or try Michael’s picks: a nice light oak Chardonnay like the Sterling Chardonnay or a beautiful Pinot Noir such as the Benton Lane from Willamette Valley, Oregon.


Jessica is the Executive Editor for Chapel Hill Magazine. As a 2010 grad of UNC, she's happy to be back in town writing, editing and eating around the Triangle.