Bun Cha

I’ll always remember the first time I tried Bun Cha (which is actually spelt with a little apostrophe over the U and a single quote over the A) in Hanoi. We were sitting outside in the Old Quarter on little plastic chairs that would be better suited to kindergarten kids than full-sized Western adult bums. Me, being vertically challenged, had fewer problems with that than the men in our party though! My husband is 6’1” and my friend’s hubby is about 6’4” and their knees were very high indeed. We breathed a sigh of relief when the chairs were still intact at the end of the evening.

Anyways we’d had a bit of a progressive dinner – cocktails at one bar, beer and spring rolls at another – and had wound up here for the main event.

We’d ordered more spring rolls and a green papaya salad to share, but my choice was this Bun Cha Hanoi.

In a way I suppose it’s a little like a deconstructed pork hamburger – with noodles (bun) instead of bun. Get it? Barbecued or grilled pork patties and pork pieces are served with cold vermicelli noodles, a plate of greens and a bowl of broth that’s based on vinegar, sugar and fish sauce. Everything is eaten together, and everything is dipped into the broth. It cost 75,000 dong – the equivalent of less than $5 AUD.

In Hoi An I had another version where the grilled pork was served in the broth. The broth here was sweeter too. Same same but different.

I loved it so much I featured it in Careful What You Wish For.

My recipe isn’t entirely authentic, but it is fresh, light, and recreates the taste of this fragrant and accidentally healthy dish. That’s the thing about Vietnamese street food – much of it is accidentally healthy. I love that. We like this for lunch on a weekend or a light dinner when we’ve over-indulged a tad. It makes you feel as though you’ve been oh so virtuous without denying yourself. 

Rather than serving a broth with it, we have it as a salad. If you want to go down the broth line, a little chicken stock with some of the dressing would work well. It’s great cooked outside on the barbecue grill, but a non-stick frypan will do the job too. 

If you want to be organised, you can make the pork patties in advance and just set them aside in the fridge until you’re ready to cook. You can also use shredded poached or barbecued chicken – it’s a great use of leftovers – or lemongrass-marinated beef. If you’re making the latter, slice about 400g beef into strips and marinade for 30mins in a paste made of 1 lemongrass stalk, 3 cloves garlic smashed or chopped finely, a teaspoon each of fish sauce and caster sugar.

Vietnamese Salad Dressing

What you need

  • 1/4 cup caster sugar
  • 1/4 cup fish sauce
  • 1/4 cup water
  • juice of one lime
  • 2 tbsp white vinegar, I use rice wine vinegar
  • 2 garlic cloves, finely chopped or grated
  • 1 long red chilli, de-seeded and finely chopped*

What you do with it

  • Put the water, fish sauce, sugar and vinegar into a small saucepan and bring to a boil. Turn it down and let it simmer for a couple of minutes to dissolve the sugar.
  • Stir through the lime juice, garlic and chilli.

*A note on the chilli – we like things spicy so tend to leave some seeds in or include all or half of a small Thai style chilli as well. Your call.

The Pork Patties

What you need

  • 500g pork mince
  • 1 garlic clove – crushed, finely diced
  • 1 egg, lightly whisked
  • 1/4 cup green shallots, finely chopped
  • 1/4 cup fresh mint leaves, finely chopped
  • 1 tablespoon fish sauce
  • 1/2 tsp ground black pepper

What you do with it

Mix it all together…preferably with your hands. I like to also pick up small amounts and slam it back into the side of the bowl. It helps the mix become quite pliable and sticky and gets rid of any air bubbles that might cause the patties to crumble when they’re being grilled.

With wet hands roll into 16 small balls and gently pat to flatten.

Cook in a pan or on a barbecue. They should take about 3 minutes each side.

The Herb Noodle Salad

What you need

  • 200g rice vermicelli noodles
  • 1 bunch fresh mint, leaves picked
  • 1 bunch fresh coriander, leaves picked
  • 1/2 cup fresh bean sprouts

We also use basil or Thai basil or Vietnamese mint – depending on what’s available – and assorted salad leaves. I don’t like bean sprouts but apparently, everyone else does so while they won’t appear in my salad, they might show up in yours.

What you do with it

Place the vermicelli in a heatproof bowl. Cover with boiling water and stand for 2 minutes or until tender. Drain well.

Arrange all your leaves onto a platter with the noodles, top with the patties and pass around the dressing for drizzling or dipping.

Linking this post with Donna from Retirement Reflections and her co-host Deb The Widow Badass Blog in their #whatsonyourplateblogchallenge

Author: Jo

Author, baker, sunrise chaser

8 thoughts

  1. You bring to my attention exotic dishes new to me, Jo. I forgot how much fun it was to have progressive dinners. They seem to have stopped for various reasons. I love your phrase “fragrant and accidentally healthy…” Everything about this looks pleasing to the eyes and the palate. Thank you for sharing.


    1. I love the idea of progressive dinners. We do it a bit when we travel so we don’t need to make a decision between one place and the next – we can do both!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Oh I am going to give this one a try on a night when we need a light supper. I find that sauce (at restaurants) is always a little too sweet so might add a bit less to mine. I am like Erica – I remember doing progressive dinners from house to house. I have done this traveling as well because as you said you can eat at more than one place.

    Liked by 1 person

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