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Anyone who has traveled to Vietnam knows the sound. It fills the airwaves right before lunch, during lunchtime, in the early afternoon alleys, just before, during and after dinner… even in the dark streets during the earliest morning hours…
“Bop Die, Bunchin Die, Cha Die”
…. At least that’s what it sounds like.
The phantom motorbike man (or woman occasionally) cruising through the streets with a yellow, polystyrene box strapped to the rear and an old, worn-out speaker shouting the foreign line from the front of the sputtering bike... what does it mean? What are they doing/selling??
Allows us to demystify the famous sound.
First things first, they’re selling Vietnam’s version of “fast food”. They are three specific foods that can be eaten at any time, in any temperature and won’t spoil while they ride around in 15-40 degree temperatures.
Number one: Bop Die = Bắp đây
Bắp means “corn” in Vietnamese. Riding around in the back of that yellow box is pre-steamed (or sometimes steaming while they drive) un-husked corn. By the time you order it up from the motorbike vendor, the kernels are reduced to near mush, making it a food that everyone from little babies to the oldest ba’s (elderly women) can enjoy.
Đây, very simply means “here”- So when the motorbike man is cruising around, he’s just shouting “Corn Here!”
Number Two: Bunchin = Bánh chưng
This one is a bit more complex than steamed corn. Bánh chưng is a traditional Vietnamese food that is usually comprised of rice cake, mung bean and pork, steamed (or fried) and wrapped together in a banana leaf. Variations come in vegetarian form, sweet or savory styles, mostly depending on the consumer and the time of year. Bánh chưng is the most important traditional food in Vietnam during the Lunar New Year period (when the banana leaf-wrapped treat can be found literally everywhere) though it can be found daily on every street and side alley by a motorbike vendor near you.
Number Three: Cha die = Chả đây (sounds pretty spot on)
The final of the motorbike vendor trifecta is Chả (Vietnamese pork roll). This bundle of pounded lean pork meat, pepper, garlic, potato starch and fish sauce is packed tightly in a banana leaf, boiled and sold in tiny circular packages. These meaty logs are sliced into thin circles (or squares depending on the preparation) and are eaten as a quick snack or cooked into any number of other meals.
[The Extra Motorbike Special]
If you hear “Bắp đây, Bánh chưng, Chả đây”… the other that will soon follow is “Bánh bao đây!”
The Bánh bao is a quick snack that’s great at any time of the day. Originating in China, these Vietnamese moto-treats are comprised of a steamed bun filled with minced pork, mushrooms and basic shredded veggies with the optional quail egg in the center (look for the red dot which signifies a quail egg inside). Bánh Bao’s are sold in glass cases on the back of a bike or cooked on the way with makeshift fires and steamer contraptions. They are delicious when dipped in a side of chili sauce!
So for those who though “Bop Die, Bunchin Die, Cha Die” was some sort of funerary announcement or propaganda call, sorry to burst your bubble. It’s just Vietnam’s version of quick, easy, accessible “fast food”: corn, rice, pork and the occasional steamed bun.
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