Vietnamese Bun Cha

Inspired by the Parts Unknown episode where Anthony Bourdain shares a meal with former President Barack Obama in Hanoi, Vietnam, I decided to make my own version of Vietnamese Bun Cha.

Vietnamese Bun Cha is a grilled pork and rice noodle salad, and one of Hanoi’s most famous dishes.

Pork patties and slices of pork belly are grilled over hot coals and served with fish sauce, tangy vinegar, sugar and lime, which creates a kind of barbecue broth that is eaten with rice vermicelli and fresh herbs.

I did a quick search for a good Vietnamese Bun Cha recipe and found one from Saveur that the family and I used for reference. We didn’t mince the pork, but instead thinly sliced a 2-pound pork tenderloin, applied some of the sauce and some extra virgin olive oil to the pork slices, and grilled until crispy.

Vietnamese Bun Cha (serves four)

For the Pork:
2 tbsp. sugar
5 tbsp. water
2 lb. pork tenderloin, thinly sliced
1 large shallot, minced fine
3 tbsp. fish sauce
2 tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
1⁄4 tsp. freshly ground black pepper

In a small saucepan, combine the sugar with 3 tablespoons water and cook over high heat until a dark brown caramel forms, about 8 minutes. Remove from the heat and add 2 tablespoons cold water, swirling the pot.
In a large mixing bowl, combine the pork, shallot, fish sauce, caramel sauce, olive oil and pepper, and marinate in the refrigerator for 1 1⁄2 hours.

For the Sauce:
2 tbsp. fish sauce
2 tbsp. rice vinegar
1 tsp. brown sugar
1 1⁄2 cups water
1⁄2 tsp. minced or grated garlic
1 red thai chile, minced
2 tbsp. green papaya, cut into 1⁄4″-thick slices (optional)
1 lb. thin rice noodles
1⁄2 head red leaf lettuce, torn into small pieces
2 cups loosely packed selection of Asian herbs, such as cilantro, perilla, mint, sawtooth coriander, ngo herb, shiso, or Thai basil (I used cilantro, mint, coriander and Thai basil)

Combine fish sauce, vinegar, brown sugar, water, garlic, chile and green papaya in a large mixing bowl. Set aside to marry the flavors.

1. Bring a pot of water to a boil and cook the noodles according to the directions on their package. Drain, then rinse under cold water to halt the cooking process.
2. Shape marinated pork into small patties, about 15 to 20 in all. Heat a charcoal grill or a broiler to high. Grill or broil the pork patties until fully cooked and slightly charred, about 4 minutes per side.
3. Spoon the sauce into four bowls, then place the grilled pork over the sauce. Place the herbs and lettuce in one large communal bowl and the noodles into another large communal bowl.
4. To eat, dip some of the noodles into the sauce and eat with the grilled pork and herbs.

This dish has a lil’ more carbs and sugar than I normally eat, so it fell into my 20 percent category for the week. It was absolutely worth it though, as it lived up to its reputation of being one of the most delicious Hanoi street foods. It was absolutely amazing and—as always—totally gluten free.