I love this photograph of President Obama enjoying bun cha for supper with Anthony Bourdain, world-renowned chef, author, and host of delicious food and travel television programs, on his first night in Vietnam. Their supper will be featured in Anthony Bourdain’s Parts Unknown down the road. Can’t wait to tune in for the details. I missed this cafe known as bun cha huong lien on my first trip to Vietnam back in 2007. I hope to return to Vietnam someday soon, and I will definitely seek this place out because it is now triple recommended:
- Known and beloved in Hanoi by bun cha aficionados
- A favorite of Anthony Bourdain, who knows his way around the food world and finds local specialties with great expertise
- A place where President Obama took time to sit, feast, visit, and enjoy local life in Vietnam. That’s my Triple Crown of reasons for me to go to Bun Cha Huong Lien!
For a feast of photographs and details on the President’s Dining Adventure in Hanoi on his first night in Vietnam, click this link to “The Obama Diary”, where I found out about this delightful and dear and delicious moment in which POTUS and Bourdain chow down in a great everyday place.
I highly, highly recommend you follow Pete Souza‘s Instagram: CLICK HERE to see why. Check out his website too (CLICK HERE), to see Pete Souza’s body of work including both his genius coverage of President Obama and his family in their daily life, and his extraordinary body of work documenting the world through his lens.
Now back to the food: This gorgeous photo of my bun cha recipe was taken by photographer Caren Alpert, for one of my books which is now out of print. To see her recent food photos, CLICK HERE. In this photo, you can see the two types of pork traditionally used in bun cha, a Northern Vietnamese street food classic: pork belly, and ground pork patties, both deliciously marinated and seasoned, and cooked on a hot-hot charcoal grill. It’s enjoyed with rice noodles, herbs, peanuts, pickled carrots, and nuoc cham, the extraordinary dipping sauce used daily in Vietnam. And chopsticks are the way to enjoy this dish; Anthony Bourdain noted that POTUS handled his chopsticks well; and he hosted, picking up the check ($6).
But enough about a meal we can’t actually enjoy right now. You and I are not there in Hanoi today. However: You can make a very tasty version of bun cha in your kitchen. Here’s my recipe for bun cha ha noi, which is featured in my new cookbook, Simply Vietnamese Cooking: 135 Delicious Recipes. Here’s the recipe:
Grilled Pork Patties with Lettuce, Noodles and Fresh Herbs, Hanoi-Style
Incredibly delicious and easy, this brilliant dish is a street-food classic originating in northern Vietnam. The real thing can be had from sidewalk vendors and open-air shops specializing in bun cha ha noi, where customers flock as soon as the day’s first batch fills the air with its signature grill-fired aroma, an irresistible olfactory invitation. While this home version can’t deliver the atmosphere, it makes for a memorable feast and takes only a few minutes to prepare.
Serves 6 to 8
For the Pork
2 tbsp fish sauce 30 mL
2 tbsp Caramel Sauce or brown sugar 30 mL
2 tsp vegetable oil 10 mL
1 tsp salt 5 mL
1 tsp freshly ground black pepper 5 mL
8 oz fresh bacon or any boneless pork, sliced 1/4 inch (0.5 cm) thick and cut into 3-inch (7.5 cm) pieces 250 g
8 oz ground pork 250 g
1/4 cup finely chopped green onion 60 mL
For the Accompaniments
4 oz thin dried rice noodles, soaked in warm water to cover for 20 minutes or more 125 g Recipe follows
Double recipe Everyday Dipping Sauce, about 1 cup (250 mL) Recipe follows
Everyday Pickled Carrots
3 cups shredded lettuce leaves 750 mL
1/2 cup fresh mint leaves 125 mL
1/2 cup fresh cilantro leaves 125 mL
1/2 cup chopped roasted salted peanuts 125 mL
Pork: In a small bowl or cup, combine fish sauce, Caramel Sauce, oil, salt and pepper and stir to mix everything well. Place sliced pork in one medium bowl and ground pork in another and divide marinade evenly between the two. Turn sliced pork to coat evenly and set aside. Add green onion to ground pork and mix well. Set both bowls aside for 20 to 30 minutes while you prepare the accompaniments, or cover and refrigerate for up to 1 day
For the Accompaniments:
Bring a medium saucepan of water to a rolling boil over high heat. Drain noodles and drop into boiling water. Remove pan from heat at once and set aside for 10 minutes. Drain, rinse with cool water, drain well again and set aside. Prepare remaining accompaniments and arrange on serving platters.
When you are ready to serve bun cha ha noi, preheat gas or charcoal barbecue grill to medium heat. Shape ground pork into small patties, using about 2 tbsp (30 mL) for each one. Set aside on a platter and drain marinated sliced pork and place alongside them. Cook sliced pork and patties on the hot grill, turning once or twice, until pleasingly browned and no longer pink. (You could also cook the pork in 2 tbsp (30 mL) of vegetable oil in a very hot skillet, or roast in a hot oven until the meat is nicely browned and cooked through.)
Transfer meat to a serving platter and serve hot or warm. Give each guest a small bowl of Everyday Dipping Sauce and a bowl in which to mix up the bun cha and accompaniments. They may want to soak pork slices and patties in the sauce for a few minutes before eating them or dip along as they please.
Everyday Dipping Sauce
This traditional sauce appears on the table at most Vietnamese meals. Add a small handful of shredded carrots and you have a vegetable relish. For the ultimate nuoc cham, grind the garlic, chile and sugar with a mortar and pestle. Or smash the garlic through a garlic press or mince it finely and mash it with the sugar and chiles on the side of the bowl with the back of your spoon. Or simply stir it all together. As long as you dissolve the sugar, you will have a delicious sauce.
Makes about 1/2 cup (125 mL)
Mortar and pestle (optional)
1 tbsp chopped garlic 15 mL
2 tbsp granulated sugar 30 mL
1/2 tsp chile-garlic sauce, finely chopped fresh hot red chiles or 1 tsp (5 mL) hot pepper flakes 2 mL
3 tbsp fish sauce 45 mL
3 tbsp water 45 mL
2 tbsp freshly squeezed lime juice 30 mL
In the bowl of a mortar, combine garlic, sugar and chile-garlic sauce and mash with a pestle to a paste. (Or combine them on your cutting board and mash to a coarse paste with a fork and the back of a spoon.) Scrape paste into a small bowl and stir in fish sauce, water and lime juice. Stir well to dissolve sugar. Transfer to small serving bowls for dipping. Or transfer to a jar, cover and refrigerate for up to 1 week.
Everyday Pickled Carrots
This tasty carrot relish should live in your refrigerator, along with two bunches of fresh cilantro and a handful of fresh jalapeño chiles, so that you are never more than a baguette’s length away from enjoying Vietnam’s signature sub sandwich, Banh Mi (page xx). The carrots are wonderful in Everyday Dipping Sauce (page xx) as an edible garnish and they make a tasty addition to noodle soups and Big, Cool Noodle Bowls (page xx).
Makes about 3 cups (750 mL)
1-1/2 cups water 375 mL
3/4 cup white vinegar 175 mL
3/4 cup granulated sugar 175 mL
1 tsp salt 5 mL
3 cups shredded carrots (about 12 oz/375 g) 750 mL
In a small saucepan over medium heat, combine water, vinegar, sugar and salt. Cook, swirling once or twice, until sugar and salt dissolve and sauce is clear and smooth, 3 to 4 minutes. Transfer to a bowl and let cool to room temperature. (Pour the brine into a cake pan, pie pan or a metal bowl and place it in the freezer briefly if you’re in a hurry.)
Add shredded carrots to cooled brine, toss well and set aside for 20 to 30 minutes. Serve at room temperature or transfer to a jar, cover and refrigerate until serving time. Scoop out carrots from the brine as you need them and store the remainder in the refrigerator for up to 5 days.
Tip: I shred carrots on a box grater or in the food processor if I have time and I use already shredded carrots from the produce section if I’m in a rush.
Variation: Substitute 1-1/2 cups (375 mL) shredded white daikon radish for half the carrots if you like, for a beautiful contrast in color and texture.
Tips:For a classic presentation, immerse the grilled patties and pork strips in a bowl of Everyday Dipping Sauce (page xx) for a few minutes. Then provide each guest with chopsticks or a fork and a small bowl in which to combine the pork with the accompaniments, or serve the meat hot off the grill with hot sauce or barbecue sauce or with bowls of Everyday Dipping Sauce, a plate of cucumber slices and Sticky Rice. Look for fresh bacon or belly pork at the butcher counter in large Asian markets or in other specialty supermarkets.