There were three dishes that stuck with me more than most from my month in Hanoi: banh cuon (rice paper pancake with minced pork and wood ear mushroom), pho bo (Beef noodle soup) and bun cha (grilled pork patties with thin rice noodles). Of the three dishes the bun cha was the one that titillated the senses the most. It would start with the smoke that would emanate from the small charcoal fires on each street corner in Hanoi. The smoke would be enhanced with the delectable fragrance of barbecued minced pork as the heat broke down the proteins and the meat caramelised in to deep rich sweet and salty patties. Then you have the beautiful dipping broth that the patties are served in – it’s that perfect Vietnamese combination of salt, sweet and sour, with a super hint of chilli and garlic.
The icing on the metaphoric cake, however, was the selection of herbs. Most notably in Hanoi these were coriander, Asian basil, Vietnamese mint, mint, and the discovery of the trip, perilla leaves. Perilla leaves have a very unique flavour and really stand out, in a good way. The herb is from the mint family, has broad red or purplish green leaves, and is very similar to Japanese shiso.
In my quest to replicate this majestic Hanoian dish back in Melbourne, it was necessary to take back some recipe weaponry, and there was nobody better than our landlord hosts from Vietnam. The first thing was to replicate the beautiful dipping broth and I was supplied with an empirical recipe for it – whilst trying to take note of quantities I was told ‘See what goes in, but I won’t tell you the quantity because that can only be determined by your taste.” I took note of those wise words.
For the patties, the key thing was to use minced blade (shoulder) that has a good ratio of fat to flesh. After eating bun cha a few times in Hanoi it was clear that there were variations in the way the patties were made, but what seemed common was the presence of fish sauce, soy sauce (perhaps), garlic, spring onions (scallions) and garlic chives (which are also very popular in Vietnam).
Thankfully here in Melbourne there is a great Vietnamese community, and thus the presence of a ‘Little Vietnam’ where virtually any Vietnamese ingredient can be sourced. The only problem I had was to replicate the barbecuing of the pork, as I have a gas powered barbecue which just does not cut the mustard for this dish.
I came up with a solution: a disposable roasting dish with easy lighting charcoal briquettes. I bought a couple of clam-shell grills, identical to the ones used on the street corner of Hanoi. All set, it was time to see if I could virtually transport the family back in time to the smouldering fragrant experience of Hanoi street food.
Bun Cha - Chargrilled Pork Patties and VermicelliPrint
- For the Pork Patties:
- ■ 500g pork blade/ shoulder | Minced.
- ■ 2 tbsp. fish sauce | The essence of South-East Asia.
- ■ 1 tbsp. soy sauce | Use a dark soy sauce. If you have only light then use 2 tbsp.
- ■ 6 spring onions (scallions) | Finely sliced – white part only.
- ■ 4 medium Asian shallots | Finely diced. Asian shallots are purplish in colour and are used extensively in Vietnamese cooking.
- ■ 1 bunch garlic chives | Finely chopped – more robust than regular chives with a great garlic flavour.
- ■ 2 cloves garlic | Minced.
- ■ 1 free range egg | Beaten. Used to help bind the patties.
- For the Broth:
- ■ 5 parts – 500ml water | Warmed to 30-40 deg C.
- ■ 1 part – 100ml fish Sauce | The salt of the dip.
- ■ 1 part – 100ml white sugar | The sweet of the dip.
- ■ ½ part – 50ml rice wine vinegar | The sour of the dip.
- ■ ½ part – 50ml lime juice | Approximately 2 limes. The sour of the dip.
- ■ 1 clove garlic | Bashed in a mortar and pestle.
- ■ 1 bird's-eye chilli | Deseeded and bashed with the garlic in a mortar and pestle.
- For the Salad:
- ■ 500g dried Vermicelli (Bun) |
- ■ 1 bunch coriander | Washed.
- ■ 1 bunch mint | Washed.
- ■ 1 bunch Vietnamese mint | Washed.
- ■ 1 bunch Asian basil | Washed.
- ■ 1 bunch perilla leaves | Washed.
To make the pork patties combine, in a large bowl, the minced pork, fish sauce, soy sauce, spring onions, shallots, chives, garlic and egg. I always add freshly cracked black pepper to season, but I do with most things. Mix the mixture very well until homogenous (consistent), cover the bowl with cling film and then refrigerate overnight.
Fast forward overnight…Prepare your barbecue grill until the coals are nice and hot and there is no flame. From the Pork mince mix mould small circular flat patties – about the size of your palm (although if you are about 8ft 3in then maybe half that size) – and place between the clam-shell grill.
Place the patties over your barbecue until they are a sticky brown and cooked. As a guide mine took about 6-7 minutes each side although I did flip them every 2 minutes or so.
Meanwhile, prepare your noodles by adding to boiling water. When the water has come back to the boil cook for another 5 minutes and then turn off the heat and leave for a further 5 minutes. Drain the noodles and rinse with cold water, and then set aside. I have had many failures with the textures of these noodles and I have found this to be a consistent method.
For the dipping sauce, the water needs to be at 30-40 deg C (86-104 deg F) to help dissolve the sugar. Add the fish sauce, sugar, rice wine vinegar, lime juice and bashed garlic and chilli to the water and stir well until the sugar has dissolved. I have provided measurements here, but it’s all about your taste so play around with the broth if you think it needs it.
Prepare the herbs by washing well, picking the leaves from the stalks and then adding to iced water for a minute or so and then draining well.
To serve give each person a dish containing warmed dipping sauce, a few pork patties and a selection of herbs. Serve the vermicelli to each person in a separate dish. To eat, take some noodles and add to the broth and patties and eat with chopsticks and a spoon, the Vietnam way.
■ Add bean shoots as an option. My preference is without but they do still work well. ■ From a cooking class in Sapa I was taught by the chef that the ratio for a Vietnamese dipping sauce should be 5 water: 1 salt: 1 sweet: 1 sour and then some bashed chilli and garlic. ■ The broth is usually served with pickled vegetables. I have a recipe from our hosts in Hanoi so will try and add them next time.