Bún chả is one of the most delicious and fresh Vietnamese meals you can eat. Grilled pork, rice noodles, loads of greens and a bowl of dipping sauce with pickled carrots and green papaya. As with most Vietnamese street food, its pretty easy to put together, but there are lots of ingredients and it takes a bit of time in preparation. But it’s worth it, so don’t skimp on anything!
On my first trip to Vietnam, I knew there were two things I had to try: one was a Saigon roll (Bahn Mi) in Saigon (Ho Chi Minh) obviously (!) and the other was bún chả. I spent a number of years at university in Melbourne and my student-stipend diet was stretched to beer and 2-minute noodles and quite a lot of Vietnamese food. Apart from being cheap and delicious, Vietnamese food pretty well kept my body together and my brain from atrophying.
So on arrival in Hanoi, the first thing I did was track down the ‘eat here or don’t bother coming to Hanoi’ restaurant recommended in the Lonely Planet guide for bún chả. It took a while to track down the place on a stinking hot humid day. But when my travelling companion and I were ushered upstairs, past the ladies skilfully grilling pork balls by the entrance, and seated on plastic chairs at a creaky plastic table under the dripping air conditioner, I gushed excitedly: ‘This is just like being at Victoria Street in Richmond’. Then I had to stop and slap myself in the face.
Best lunch ever.
Modified from ‘Vietnamese Street Food’ by Tracey Lister and Andreas Pohl
BBQ Pork (2 ways)
- 2 tablespoons fish sauce
- 2 garlic cloves
- 2 small shallots, finely chopped
- 1 tablespoon granulated sugar
BBQ Pork 1 (belly rashers)
- 2 pork belly rashers, cut into 3 cm chunks
BBQ Pork 2 (balls)
- 200 g pork mince
- 1 egg
- 5 garlic chives, finely chopped (spring onion or shallot can substitute)
- Make a marinade for the meat by combining the fish sauce, garlic, shallots and sugar in a bowl.
- Add half the marinade to the pork rasher pieces in a ziplock bag, squish it around a bit and refrigerate at least 2 hours. Shake off excess marinade before BBQing.
- Mix minced pork, egg, garlic chives and remainder of the marinade and refrigerate at least 2 hours.
- Form into golf ball-sized balls (using slightly wet hands to avoid stickiness).
- Heat a grill-top frying pan on med-high and cook the pork balls and pork rasher pieces for a few minutes each side until grill lines appear.
Dipping sauce (nước chấm)
- 100 g (½ cup) granulated sugar
- 2 tablespoons (Tbs) fish sauce
- 2 Tbs rice vinegar
- 2 Tbs lime juice
- 1 small red chilli, seeded and finely chopped
- 1 clove garlic, cut into slivers
- ½ medium carrot, cut into thin slices (about 2 cm x 2 cm and <0.5 cm thick)
- 50 g green papaya, cut same as the carrot
- Heat sugar, fish sauce and vinegar in a non-reactive saucepan over a low heat until the sugar has dissolved. Allow to cool.
- Add 1/3 cup water and remaining ingredients.
- Dispense equally into 4 serving bowls.
- Rice vermicelli noodles (100 g per person)
- Bean sprouts (a handful per person)
- Butter lettuce (or iceburg); 4-5 leaves per person
- Fresh coriander and mint (as much as you like – don’t be stingy!)
- Cook rice vermicelli noodles according to packet instructions (usually cover with boiling water in a heat proof bowl for 4 – 5 minutes until soft). Drain and place on a serving plate.
- On a separate large serving plate, combine the greens and bean sprouts.
- Place 2 or 3 BBQ pork balls and pieces of BBQ into each bowl of marinade.
- Let people serve themselves with rich noodles and greens, into their bowls of dipping sauce and slurped down with bits of BBQ meat.