Obama, Bourdain dine-out stuns Vietnam shop owner

  • Vietnam
  • Tuesday, 24 May 2016

PETALING JAYA: Heads must have turned at a Vietnamese restaurant and why shouldn’t it be when you have an American president and a top celebrity chef dining together.

President Barack Obama took time off from his visit to Vietnam to share a meal of bun cha with celebrity chef Anthony Bourdain, with a picture of them going viral.

Bourdain, world-renowned chef and TV personality, tweeted on Monday that their meal of bun cha, which is grilled pork and noodles, cost a mere US$6 (RM24).

Bourdain added that he picked up the tab.

“Low plastic stool, cheap but delicious noodles, cold Hanoi beer,” said Bourdain in a later tweet.

He also complimented Obama on his chopstick skills in an Instagram post, describing them as “on point.”

Their discussion over the meal will be included in an upcoming episode of Bourdain’s CNN programme Anthony Bourdain Parts Unknown, which the network said would air in September.

Obama arrived in Vietnam on Sunday as part of his tenth trip to Asia as the US president.

The meal offered the American president a brief respite from his daunting schedule, which included the announcement that the US would lift its decades-long arms embargo on Vietnam.

AFP reports that the 54-year-old restaurant owner Nguyen Thi Lien said she was stunned when Barack strolled in, pulled up a plastic stool and slurped down Vietnam’s famed delicacy.

US President Barack Obama (centre) departs after eating dinner at Bun cha Huong Lien with CNN's Anthony Bourdain in Hanoi late on May 23, 2016. - AFP

Nguyen knew a foreign television crew was on the way, she had no idea they would be bringing a very special guest.

“His presence in our restaurant was a great surprise for my whole family, who could never have imagined it, even in our dreams,” she told AFP on Tuesday.

US Secret Service and local police closed down the streets surrounding Bun Cha Huong Lien eatery on Monday evening.

A large crowd gathered outside the restaurant, letting out a cheer as Obama exited.

Surrounded by a coterie of bodyguards, he stopped to greet excited locals, many capturing the moment on their phones, before being whisked away in his limousine.

“Obama was nice, smiling, cheerful and popular with everyone,” the shop’s owner told AFP, adding that she regretted not posing for a picture with the president.

It showed the two sitting on tiny plastic stools that are a common feature of Vietnamese street restaurants, Obama clasping a bottle of Hanoi Beer in his right hand.

Local diners could be seen sitting at stainless steel tables behind the pair tucking in to their own steaming bowls of broth, one wearing an American-style black baseball cap.

Vietnam is known for its fresh ingredients and healthy cuisine but Obama’s choice of bun cha, which with its fatty pork and sweet broth is at the more gluttonous end of the country’s culinary spectrum, might have raised the eyebrows of his wife Michelle who has long campaigned for healthy eating.

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