Vietnamese

Bún Chả (Vietnamese Grilled Pork, Salad & Noodles)

Bún Chả (Vietnamese Grilled Pork, Salad & Noodles)As I have mentioned previously, I found eating in Vietnam a very frustrating affair, with the best Vietnamese food largely inaccessible to the average tourist. Sadly most tourists (who find themselves on the almost inescapable tourist trail that runs from Hồ Chí Minh City to Hạ Long Bay) leave the country with a scant appreciation of the full potential of Vietnamese cuisine, having being fed on an uninspired diet of spring rolls and, if you were lucky, some mediocre phở. These lacklustre experiences are especially tragic to those tourists who seek out new food experiences. Considering authentic Vietnamese food has such a wealth of flavour, it is a shame that there isn’t more of it on offer to the willing tourist! Coming from a South East Asian food culture where authentic street-food is accessible and transparent, I found the Vietnamese surprisingly guarded about their food – often openly discouraging you from joining them for a simple bowl of noodles on the side of the road, preferring to usher you back to the tourist cafés with their English menus and homogenised Vietnamese food.

Which is why I love Bún Chả! Tasty, cheap and satisfying, Bún Chả makes for a great meal, but above all, Bún Chả is relatively accessible to foreigners on the prowl for some authentic street-food. It has been said that on the streets of Hanoi, “where there is smoke, there is Bún Chả!” and even if you only end up ordering it in a tourist café, it is still tasty and fun to eat!

Second only to the almighty and omnipresent Phở Bò, Bún Chả is perhaps one of Vietnam’s most popular dishes, especially in the North of the country where it is thought to have originated from. Made up of a plate of grilled pork, salad, a dipping sauce and bún noodles (rice vermicelli), Bún Chả is a complete meal in itself. Traditionally the meat takes the form of patties made up of pork mince, but I like to add some sliced pork to the dish as it adds an extra dimension to the overall meal.

Whilst I am unsure of the exact etiquette for eating Bún Chả, I have taken to soaking the meat in the dipping sauce, adding a bit of the noodles, followed by some of the salad. Then, using chopsticks, everything gets shoved into my mouth. It certainly isn’t elegant, but it is damn tasty!

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Nước Chấm (Vietnamese Dipping Sauce)

Nước Chấm (Vietnamese Dipping Sauce): Makes 2 cups

  • 1 cup (250ml) water
  • 4 tbsp. white sugar
  • 6 tbsp. fish sauce
  • 6 tbsp. white rice vinegar
  • 4 garlic cloves, chopped
  • 1 red bird’s eye chilli, sliced
  • 4 tbsp. lime juice
  • 1 small carrot, peeled (optional)

Method: Vietnamese Dipping Sauce

  1. If using, finely grate the carrot and mix with a little salt. Leave to stand for 10 minutes, then rinse and the squeeze to remove any excess liquid
  2. In a sauce pan, bring the water to a boil. Add the fish sauce, vinegar, and sugar. Stir until sugar dissolves. Take off the heat and garlic, chillies, carrots and lime juice

Vietnamese Daikon and Carrot Pickle (Đồ Chua)

Vietnamese Daikon and Carrot Pickle (Đồ Chua)A classic Vietnamese pickle that goes with just about everything and can be found throughout Vietnam. Đồ Chua, however, goes especially well with sweet dishes like Braised Pork in Coconut Water (Thịt Kho Tàu), as the sharp pickle helps cut through the pervasive sweetness and creates an element of balance in the meal.

Quick and simple, this pickle can be made and eaten on the same day or it will last for a couple of weeks if kept in the fridge.

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Vietnamese Braised Pork in Coconut Water (Thịt Kho Tàu)

Thịt Kho Tàu (Braised Pork in Coconut Water)This venerable Vietnamese classic is traditionally made to celebrate Tết, the Vietnamese Lunar New Year, but is popular all year round. Packed full of flavour, this sweet and tender braise of pork is simmered in coconut water and is a firm favourite throughout Việt Nam, especially in the South.

The first time I encountered this dish was in a restaurant in Hồ Chí Minh City. My uncle, who was working in Việt Nam at the time, took us out for a lavish Vietnamese dinner and this dish was the undisputed star of the meal. After simmering away for hours in its delicious coconut broth, the pork was achingly tender and sweet, but the real revelation was the generous layer of fat. Soft and rich, yet surprisingly light on the tongue – the fat had been transformed into the true master-stroke of the entire dish. This was pork fat in all its gelatinous glory!

Whilst I’ve always made this dish with pork belly, in truth you can actually use any number of cuts of pork, as long as the meat isn’t too lean. Personally, though, I prefer sticking with pork belly for this dish as it doesn’t dry out from the extended cooking time and the fat imparts a wonderful flavour into the broth.

Traditionally eaten with rice and often accompanied with a simple daikon & carrot pickle (Đồ Chua), I also love to pair this dish with some water spinach stir-fried with garlic.

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Nước Màu (Vietnamese Caramel Sauce)

Considered an essential component in many classic Vietnamese dishes (such as Bún Chả and Thịt Kho Tàu), caramel sauce (Nước Màu) is perhaps one of the single most important ingredients in Vietnamese cooking. Used to add depth of flavour to a wide range of dishes, caramel sauce also adds colour and imparts a sweet, smoky undertone.

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Beef Phở Noodles (Phở Bò)

When it comes to noodles in Vietnam, Phở is the undisputed king. From Hanoi in the North to the Delta in the South, phở is ubiquitous and with good reason; it is utterly delicious. At first glance phở may seem like a simple dish of beef broth, rice noodles and herbs, but don’t be fooled. Complex, alluring and fragrant, when it comes to aromatics, phở’s beef broth is legion. The ingredient list for phở is intimidatingly long, but with the exception of a couple of items, most of the aromatics are quite common. Some phở recipes require over 25 ingredients just for the broth alone, so in comparison my recipe is quite accessible.

Beef PhoThere are a couple of things to keep in mind when making beef phở:

  1. This isn’t a dish for the impatient; the broth takes time, a lot of time.
  2. The correct type of noodle is vital, this being a wide, flat rice noodle. Use fresh if possible, if not use the best dried noodles you can find.
  3. A good selection of herbs is essential
  4. Phở must be served piping hot, there is no waiting on ceremony with phở – dig in the moment it is ready!

If you are interested in reading more about phở and my travels in Vietnam, please follow this link http://wp.me/P4JqRl-7e

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