After traveling for nearly 24 hours we descended into a lush green horizon amidst the haze of modern industrialization. Smiling up at us from an expansive building just before the airfield were the letters HONDA written in bold, technical font. Rice paddies were a short distance away. With our visa paperwork and entrance fee in US (required) dollars we waited patiently in immigration, surrounded by other travelers from Russia, Canada, Israel, India. We stepped beyond security, exited the airport and gulped in our first views of Vietnam.
Hanoi is electric, and crowded, and loud, and bustling. The city is a stage where the tug-of-war between tradition and progress is playing out before your eyes. Vietnam was occupied for 1000 years by the Chinese, and then for 100 years by the French. Chinese characters, traditional Vietnamese architecture, and French food are lasting gifts of a mixed lineage that must now adapt to the relentless influence of globalization. Through all of it comes a distinctly Vietnamese culture – humble, determined, and ancient. The food, art, and hospitality is beautiful and exciting and frenetic and something big is happening there.
We were able to enjoy it for a time and one of the best meals we had in Hanoi was at one of its thousands of small, family owned restaurants. The dish is called Bun Cha and it’s a delicious blend of spiced ground pork; fried spring rolls (Nem Ran); a dipping sauce with fish sauce, carrots and chili; and a blend of local greens – mint, basil, and lettuce. The dish is served alongside rice noodles. This recipe is full of big flavor and will offer your tastebuds some of the excitement we experienced in Hanoi.
- 1 tablespoon sugar
- 5 tabespoons water
- 3 tablespoons fish sauce
- 1 tablespoon flour
- 1 clove garlic, minced
- 2 shallots, minced
- 1 tablespoon lemongrass, finely chopped
- 1/4 teaspoon pepper
- 1 pound (454 grams) ground pork
- 1 lime, juiced
- 1/3 cup (79 milliliters) water
- 1/4 cup (59 milliliters) fish sauce
- 1/3 cup (59 milliliters) sugar
- 1 Thai chili, finely chopped
- Shredded carrots and/or daikon (optional)
Rice Noodles and Greens
- 1 package 14 ounces (400 grams) rice noodles (round rice vermicelli or JiangXi rice vermicelli)
- Assorted vegetables and herbs (red leaves lettuce, bean sprouts, cilantro, culantro, mint, perilla, or Thai basil), cleaned and torn in to small bite-able sizes
- Combine all ingredients for the patties in large bowl, Stir well with a fork or chopsticks, 3 mins.
- Form the pork into golf ball sized patties and flatten slightly. Set aside and let the flavor develop, 30 mins.
- When ready to grill (after making the dipping sauce and noodles), prepare the grill and cook the patties 4 mins on each side. Alternatively, you can cook the patties on the stovetop, about 6 mins on each side.
- Combine all ingredients for the sauce in small bowl. Stir well until sugar is dissolved, 2 mins.
- Taste the sauce and add additional lime, fish cause or sugar to desired flavor. The sourness, sweetness and saltiness should balance each other well. Set aside before serving.
- Cook the noodles according to the instructions on the package, and keep them in a plate or bowl in room temperature.
- Pour the sauce over the grilled meat in a medium bowl, and serve it with the noodles and greens.