This is love in a bowl. If you’ve had bún thịt nướng you know what I’m talking about.
You have your sweet bits, sour bits, caramelization, some crunch, and aromatic herbs in a single, colorful arrangement. Depending in which restaurant you order your bún thịt nướng, you’ll find that it’s presented in different ways. For the most part, ingredients are the same, and they’re both eaten with nước chấm. Thịt nướng litererally means baked or barbecued meat and in this case it’s traditionally barbecued, and the meat is always pork. Bún means noodles, and for this dish it’s a rice vermicelli noodle which is sold in small packages as dried rice sticks.
The presentation style of bún thịt nướng in the pictorial above follows the Southern Vietnamese. It’s usually eaten by mixing everything including the nước chấm. I like to keep the dipping sauce separate though, so there isn’t a slick of the sauce on everything. It helps to control the amount of sauce per bite too. The bowl is finally garnished with onions in oil (mở hành) and chopped peanuts I like mine with egg rolls (chả giò) on top. I also use cucumbers, which is a Southern ingredient.
In the North, the presentation is slightly different. The rice noodles and vegetables each arrive on their own plate. The meat is put in a small bowl, and swimming in nước chấm which is added to almost fill the bowl. The meat is not just thịt nướng though–it always comes paired with cha (and the dish is called bun cha instead). Đồ chua is added on top of the bowl of meat. Northerners eat this by building each bite in their personal bowl.
Thịt nướng in Huế is a whole other beast.
However you decide to serve your bún thịt nướng though, you’re in for a treat!
Some differences in the marinade also really affect the flavor of the meat. Only Northerners use lemon grass in the marinade. Some recipes for this dish also call for sesame oil, or sesame seeds, but those are not traditional and do not follow Northern or Southern tradition (it’s quite possibly borrowed from the central region).
Chop and prep all of the ingredients and combine in a bowl before adding the meat. This makes sure they all combine and dissolve more evenly.
Add the pork shoulder to the mixture and mix evenly. Pork shoulder has a nice balance of fat for this–pork butt is a bit too lean. Marinate for at least 1 hour, but for better results–marinate overnight. To get this meat more seasoned, use your hands (with a glove if you must) and really rub the marinade into the pork.
Thịt nướng is usually barbecued, with a wire grilling basket like this one. If you want to make it traditionally you need to grill this over charcoals. I made this in the oven because it’s a lot easier and it is still delicious (instructions below). If you have time though, barbecuing it is worth the extra effort.
Boil the dried rice vermicelli (bún) according to the package instructions. This usually comes in small, medium, and large noodle thickness for about $1.50 per pack. I prefer small and medium thickness for this dish–thinner ones also cook much faster.
Now that you’ve had an earful of information on this, time to eat!
- 1.5 lbs pork, sliced
- 1 package rice vermicelli (small or medium thickness)
- 4-6 egg rolls if you wish (chả giò)
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 1.5 shallots, minced
- ¼ cup sugar
- 1 tbsp fish sauce
- ½ tbs thick soy sauce
- ½ tbsp pepper
- 3 tbsp neutral cooking oil
- mint – (rau thơm)
- Vietnamese perilla – tiá tô
- Vietnamese balm – kinh giới
- cucumbers, sliced – (dua leo)
- Freeze the pork slightly so you can slice it thinly. About ⅛” or slightly thicker works well.
- Mince garlic and shallots. Mix in a bowl with sugar, fish sauce, thick soy sauce, pepper, and oil until sugar dissolves.
- Marinate the meat for at least 1 hour, or overnight for better results.
- Bake the pork for 10-15 minutes or until almost done. Finish cooking by broiling in the oven until a nice golden brown develops.