Such good memories eating this. A key reason why I have many warm feelings towards Vietnam, on top of the organised chaos that speaks so well to me (you should see my room), abundance of street food and the generous hospitality found in the unlikeliest of places. Also, perhaps, it being the first stop on a trip most rebelliously taken, to the horror and surprise of my parents. Oh well! Good times chancing upon this dish, first in an attempt to buy only the pork coins that were so invitingly grilled on the outskirts of a bustling market, then on a street corner where locals were furiously dipping and slurping their springy bun, as though a South-east Asian soba. The explosion of flavours can’t be beat – curious tinge of mint and Vietnamese basil cutting through an incredibly umami broth of fish sauce and sugar infused with juices of freshly grilled minced pork coins.
4 years on and I still can’t find a decent rendition in Singapore; the closest I came to was an extremely authentic bowl in a very pretty LA restaurant (Phonemenal, near Rodeo Drive), owned by a French-Vietnamese chap quite surprised at our overt excitement upon seeing “vermicelli with dipping sauce and grilled pork” on the menu. Needless to say, recreating it was only a matter of time…here’s a recipe for Bun Cha Ha Noi in the comfort of your own home.
Bun Cha Ha Noi
Recipe adapted from Twin Fish’s Little Corner
You will need:
Minced Pork Coins
300g minced pork, 30% fat is best
1 tbsp spring onions, finely chopped
3 cloves garlic, finely minced
1 tsp fish sauce
1 tsp dark soya sauce
0.5 tsp sugar
1 tsp salt
1 tsp honey
0.5 tsp ground black pepper or white pepper
40ml fish sauce
1 small carrot, julienned
green papaya, thinly sliced
300g dried vietnamese rice vermicelli (see note below)
1 Large or 2 small limes, cut into wedges / halves
1 cup beansprouts, well washed but uncooked
1 bunch mint
1 bunch basil (not the sweet Italian basil)
8-10 butterhead lettuce leaves
8 fried spring rolls (optional)
1. Soak vermicelli in a bowl of warm water for ~ 10 minutes or until softened.
2. Add all the ingredients for the pork coins into a bowl. Mix until well incorporated, set aside.
3. Prepare ingredients for serving (wash / chop). Make dipping sauce: add all sauce ingredients, except for the carrot and papaya, into a pot over low heat. Stir to allow sugar to dissolve. Do not let sauce start to boil.
4. While sauce is warming, shape minced meat into coins about 2-3cm in diameter. Set aside. By now, the vermicelli should have softened, and you can blanch it in boiling water for 4-5 minutes. Drain immediately and run under cold water. Set aside.
5. Sear the pork coins. In a small sauce pan over medium-high heat, add 1 tbsp of canola oil. When oil bubbles, add pork coins one by one (oil will splatter, be careful). Sear on each side for ~3 minutes; don’t worry if the surface becomes charred, check if coins are done by testing for bounce. Coins should feel firm yet bouncy, like a trampoline. While coins are searing, turn the heat for the sauce off. After coins are cooked, put them into the pot of sauce immediately.
6. Arrange vermicelli and items for garnishing on serving plates. Divide sauce and coins evenly among 4 bowls, add carrots and green papaya. To eat, add as much of the garnishes to your bowl as you like, and dip the noodles in the sauce before eating with the garnishes. Repeat until food has fully disappeared.
Note on buying vietnamese rice vermicelli: I went through a lot of grief attempting to find the right sort of noodle – these aren’t available at the usual NTUC or Cold Storage suspects and I nearly bought the regular kind! Vietnamese rice vermicelli is thicker and springier than regular bee hoon. They’re sometimes called ‘rice sticks’. Make your way to Golden Mile Shopping Centre, and look for the vietnamese section of any thai supermarket. I bought these (see below) from the thai supermarket visible from the entrance of the overhead bridge.