I think Vietnam should hire me to be their #1 fan. I often find myself in conversation (like, all the time) saying "Vietnam this!" and "Vietnam that!" and "YAY YAY VIETNAM #1!" ... It's probably a bit annoying. I've had multiple friends and acquaintances recently approach me for travel advice, most of them coming to SE Asia, and have to be careful not to just say "scrap your plans and go to Vietnam." IT IS SO DARN AWESOME. I would go back in a heartbeat! There's actually nothing stopping me, so I can't really say that... maybe I should go back! Whoa. We just worked through that together. Thanks guys.
Anyways. Vietnam is wonderful for so many reasons, which I probably gushed about during my posts on Vietnam last summer, but the food stands out above everything for me. Duh. I think my brain is actually in my stomach, at least when it comes to travel assessments. Vietnamese food = everything. It's surpassed everything (maybe even tacos? and quesadillas? Don't tell refried beans I said that!) else.
Bún thịt nướng is, by far, my favorite Vietnamese dish. It has so many fresh flavors I actually can't believe how amazing it tastes. I know that sounds ridiculous, but every bite I'm like "OMG IS THIS REAL LIFE IN MY MOUTH RIGHT NOW!?" because it is so. darn. awesome. I kid you not. In Saigon I googled "best bún thịt nướng saigon" and trekked way across the district (doing my best not to get sketched out and keeping my eye on the prize) to the hole-in-the-wall with 'the best' ... it was seriously amazing. They're ALWAYS amazing.
Often it'll come with a cut up spring roll on top, but I didn't have any so I skipped that. The main components here are the meat (which I called "sticky pork" but that is debatable. It's really freaking flavorful charred pork that is traditionally grilled. I made it in the oven, and broiled it for some blackened bits!), the cold rice noodles, cucumber, the herbs (THE HERBS!!), the pickled carrots and daikon, and the sauce. I'm gonna warn you: you might be weirded out by the sauce, but it is essential. Please do not skip it! Otherwise this dish is nothing! I promise it works! Trust me.
This dish does take a little bit of planning — the carrot/daikon needs to be made at least a day ahead to get some pickling going. Ideally, you'd also make the sauce a day or more ahead of time, too. More flavor! This stuff gets better with time! The meat can be sliced thinly if you want (more surface area for flavor of the marinade!) or in bit-sized chunks, and ideally marinades overnight. If you have a charcoal grill, USE IT! If not, follow my instructions for some charred deliciousness. I serve this dish cold, with the exception of the meat. Hot meat! Believe me: you want this meal. I could eat this 3x per day and not get sick of it! At least, not for a very long time!
It should be noted, I guess, that recipes for this dish will vary greatly depending on family, region, preference, etc. There is no "right" way! The same goes for the sauce! It's all about taste — some like it fishier, some like it sweeter, some like it spicier — feel free to go with your own preferences here, too! Enjoy!Print
for the sauce
- 2 crushed or minced garlic cloves
- 1 crushed or minced hot chili (red, ideally)
- 2 Tbsp fresh-squeezed lime juice
- 1 Tbsp sugar
- 1 tsp Rice Vinegar
- ¼ cup fish sauce
- ½ cup Water
- ¼ cup shallots, minced
- 2 Tbsp garlic, minced
- ½ tsp crushed red pepper flakes
- 2 Tbsp minced fresh lemongrass
- ¼ cup sugar
- 1 Tbsp fish sauce
- 2 Tbsp thick soy sauce
- ½ Tbsp fresh ground black pepper
- 3 Tbsp toasted sesame oil (or a neutral oil)
- 1.5 pounds pork (shoulder or tenderloin), cut into small chunks or sliced
- 8 oz. rice vermicelli
- 1 cup fresh mint leaves
- 1 cup fresh basil leaves
- ½ cup fresh cilantro leaves
- ¼ cup sliced green onions (light green part)
- 1 cucumber, thinly sliced
- Pickled Carrot and Daikon
- Prepare the picked carrot and daikon one day ahead.
- Prepare the sauce, by combining all ingredients, the day before if possible. Add more fish sauce, or sugar, to your taste.
- To prepare the marinade, combine the shallots, garlic, crushed red pepper, lemongrass, sugar, fish sauce, thick soy, pepper, and oil. Mix very well.
- Cut the pork into bite-sized pieces, or smaller, and mix with the marinade. Let sit at least 2 hours, and preferably overnight.
- When you're ready to cook, preheat the oven to 375F. Line a baking sheet with foil and spread the marinaded pork evenly. Bake for 10 minutes (this will vary depending on how thick you slice your pork!) or until just underdone. Turn the oven to broil, move the pan up to the highest rack, and broil for 2-3 minutes (until there are significant black/charred parts on the pork). Remove from the oven.
- While the pork is cooking, boil water. Lay the rice noodles in a shallow dish and pour the boiling water over the noodles. Cook for 10-12 minutes, checking for doneness. Drain and rinse with cold water.
- To assemble, layer the cold noodles, meat, herbs (be generous!), cucumber, pickled carrot and daikon, and about 3 tablespoon of sauce per bowl.