In May 2016, Anthony Bourdain and then-President of the United States, Barack Obama, sat on plastic stools in a hole-in-the-wall restaurant in Hanoi, Vietnam, eating bowls of a still-steaming local specialty, drinking beer from the bottle, and talking about hot dogs, of all things. Fast forward almost two years, and Bourdain is still a curmudgeonly continent hopper, but President Obama is out of the Oval Office and in the National Portrait Gallery, and the table where the two of them sat is also under glass, preserved so others can take solemn selfies while they wait for their own noodle bowls.
The table, on the second floor of the Bun Cha Huong Lien restaurant, is now behind a protective sheet of glass, as are their empty beer bottles, plates, spoons and chopsticks. According to Viet Nam News, one of the restaurant’s co-owners personally washed all of the dishes that Bourdain and Obama used that night, and “stored them in a safe place,” before ultimately opting to put them on display foreverrrr. (And exactly no one will be surprised to learn that she was swiftly contacted to see if she’d be interested in selling any of those items).
The restaurant’s co-owners acknowledged that their customers have been taking photos beside the table, but denied that it was any kind of PR gimmick (although the BBC reports that it might be the first time that a foreign dignitary’s plate and chopsticks had been displayed like this). Obama has yet to comment on the honor, and Bourdain seems… confused. “Not sure how I feel about this,” he wrote on Instagram after posting a photo of the glassed-off table.
Bourdain explained that he selected that particular restaurant because it was as far from being an official state dinner with an officially sanctioned food as he could imagine. “It's always seemed pointless to me to go all the way to someplace as extraordinary as Vietnam and spend time in an air-conditioned, Western-style restaurant with tourist-friendly food,” Bourdain wrote at the time. “The President, I guessed, had spent more than his share of time in the banquet rooms of major chain hotels, slogging through long state dinners, eating representative menus of ‘national dishes.’ Bun cha is NOT a national dish.”
The two spent a grand total of $6 for their bun cha, a working class Hanoi speciality that Bourdain described as grilled and marinated pork served with rice noodles, herb garnishes, and a “room-temperature dipping sauce.” Ever since the President’s visit, the restaurant has been known by the adorable nickname “Bun cha Obama” (which is better than “Bun cha Plexiglas”).
Although Bourdain described the former President’s chopstick skills as being “on point,” he’s less charitable with his thoughts about the current one. “I don’t know why it’s so important to me, but I’d REALLY like to see the president working chopsticks with those tiny, vestigial nubbins,” he tweeted last week. We’re gonna guess that “Bun Cha Obama” doesn’t need to set aside a table—or a sheet of protective glass—for those two.