We are slowly exploring our new neighbourhood in Ho Chi Minh City and our exploration, naturally, focuses on food.
I was thrilled to discover our local market has a stall selling Vietnamese Grilled Pork & Rice Noodles (Bún Thịt Nướng), a noodle salad dish topped with sweet barbecued pork and crushed peanuts.
It’s one of my favourite Vietnamese street foods. Although every time I eat it with Darling Man we disagree about whether it’s a salad or not. Darling Man says it’s just noodles, not a salad. But I say the noodles are cold and it’s served with a dressing, so it’s a salad.
This disagreement never progresses very much further because once the food is delivered we both focus on eating. And in Vietnam, food usually arrives very quickly.
As in the case with a lot of Vietnamese dishes, the first thing you do when your bún thịt nướng arrives is give it a good stir.
It looks pretty when it is delivered to your table, with all the ingredients arranged on top of the noodles. But it tastes so much better when everything is churned up and the dressing is distributed properly so every mouthful is a mixture of textures and tastes – soft noodles and crunchy peanuts, sweet pork and sour pickled vegetables, all complemented by the shredded cucumber, lettuce and herbs that are hiding under the bún noodles.
The dish is liberally doused in the all-purpose Vietnamese dipping sauce called nước chấm, which is made from fish sauce, sugar, garlic, lime juice and diced chillies. (Are you drooling yet? I am!)
When we had our first house guest in our new house in Ho Chi Minh City, bún thịt nướng was near the top of a long list of must-eat dishes. We only had four days to feed Sally the best of the best of Vietnamese cuisine. It was a high-pressure task. Thankfully, the girl can eat.
For Sally’s last meal in Vietnam, I threw her on the back of my motorbike and went looking for bún thịt nướng for breakfast. We hit the jackpot just a few hundred metres from our house – a little mother-and-daughter shop that served bún thịt nướng with the works. As well as barbecued pork, this version had chopped-up sausage and spring rolls.
I am sure I impressed the hell out of Sally by ordering two bowls of bún thịt nướng and two iced coffees in Vietnamese. Although being asked some specifics about how we’d like our coffee took some of the gloss off. When hit by a wall of Vietnamese all I could do was stare blankly until the question was repeated three or four times.
“Oh,” I finally exclaimed. “She’s asking whether you’d like a lot of milk or a little milk.”
In Vietnam, coffee is not really a drink for girls. You need to be strong to drink Vietnamese coffee, the local thinking goes, so coffee is usually a man’s drink.
We decided we needed coffee with only a little milk. We must have looked so butch, two foreign girls out and about unsupervised and drinking coffee.
After we’d manfully put away our noodles and iced coffee, I noticed the mother-and-daughter team also serve bánh cuốn, another of my favourite Vietnamese dishes.
Oh, this place is such a find. I’ll definitely be back to try everything that these two ladies can make from their tiny stainless steel cooking station.
Would anyone like me to ask Darling Man to translate a Vietnamese recipe for Vietnamese Grilled Pork & Rice Noodles (Bún Thịt Nướng)? It is pretty easy to make at home.