Rice vermicelli (“bún”) is a food staple across the entire country of Vietnam. Bún cha is a Vietnamese dish of grilled pork and noodles, thought to have originated from Hanoi, Vietnam. It would be foolish indeed to Hanoi without trying authentic bún cha. The combination comes with grilled pork sausage patties, a basket of herbs, bean sprouts, pickled veggies, and the ubiquitous all-important nuoc cham sauce which you can either dip into or pour over everything.
About bún: vermicelli is found in many noodle soups such as bún rieu, a tomato broth soup with crab and bún bò Hua (pronounced “boon ba hway”) with beef (bò). There are a great many bún dishes countrywide that are both popular and delicious.
Bun cha is served with grilled fatty pork (cha) over a plate of white rice noodle (bún) and herbs with a side dish of dipping sauce. The dish was described in 1959 by Vietnamese food writer Vu Bang (1913–1984) who described Hanoi as a town “transfixed by bún cha.” Hanoi’s first bún cha restaurant was on Gia Nga, Hoàn Kiam District, in Hanoi’s Old Quarter.
Bún cha is made up of many ingredients, which include:
- Meat: minced pork shoulder to make meatball, pork belly.
- Rice vermicelli
- Dipping sauce: diluted fish sauce with sugar, lemon juice, vinegar, stock, crushed garlic, chilli, etc.
- Pickled vegetables: green papaya (or carrots, onion, kohlrabi).
- Fresh herbs: cabbage, Láng basil, rice paddy herb (ng?), beansprout, Vietnamese balm (kinh gi?i).
- Side dishes: crushed garlic, crushed chilli, vinegar, ground pepper, sliced limes.
Outside of Hanoi, across all regions of Vietnam, similar dishes of rice vermicelli and grilled meats are served.
Recipe for Vietnamese Pork Meatballs & Noodle Salad (Bun Cha)
Vietnamese Pork Meatballs
- 2 tbsp. sugar
- 5 tbsp. water
- 1 lb. ground pork
- 1 large shallot, minced as small as possible
- 3 tbsp. fish sauce
- 1/4 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
For the Sauce and Serving
- 2 tbsp. fish sauce
- 2 tbsp. rice vinegar
- 1 tsp. brown sugar
- 1 1/2 cups water
- 1/2 tsp. minced or grated garlic
- 1 red Thai chili, minced
- 2 tbsp. green papaya, cut into 1?4″-thick slices (optional)
- 1 lb. thin rice noodles
- 1/2 head red leaf lettuce, torn into small pieces
- 2 cups loosely packed selection of Asian herbs, such as cilantro, perilla, mint, sawtooth coriander, ngo herb, shiso, or Thai basil
The Cooking Instructions
For the meatballs:
- In a small saucepan, combine the sugar with 3 tablespoons water and cook over high heat until a dark brown caramel forms, about 8 minutes.
- Remove from the heat and add 2 tablespoons cold water, swirling the pot.
- In a large mixing bowl, combine the pork, shallot, fish sauce, caramel sauce, and pepper, and marinate in the refrigerator for 1 1?2 hours.
For the sauce:
- Combine fish sauce, vinegar, brown sugar, water, garlic, chile and green papaya in a large mixing bowl.
- Set aside to marry the flavors
- Bring a pot of water to a boil and cook the noodles according to the directions on their package.
- Drain, then rinse under cold water to halt the cooking process.
- Shape marinated pork into small patties, about 15 to 20 in all.
- Heat a charcoal grill or a broiler to high. Grill or broil the pork patties until fully cooked and slightly charred, about 4 minutes per side.
- Spoon the sauce into four bowls, then place the pork patties over the sauce.
- Place the herbs and lettuce in one large communal bowl and the noodles into another large communal bowl.
To eat, dip some of the noodles into the sauce and eat with the patties and herbs.