Published: March 22, 2020 • Modified: December 3, 2020 • by Author: Analida • Word count:2270 words. • About 12 minutes to read this article. • As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases: Read my affiliate disclosure.
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Bún Thịt Nướng is one of those Vietnamese noodle dishes that will have you wondering why you favored phở for so long. Yes, my daughter felt like she had been missing out on the amazing flavors in this dish when she finally found it.
This dish hails from the South, but has several variations throughout the country. In the North, people say it mimics Bún Chả. Travel to the middle of the country in Da Nang, and the typical fish sauce is swapped for a creamy peanut variation.
Some people call this a “dry noodle dish.” Why? Bún Thịt Nướng comes out with everything in the bowl but the sauce (most of the time). The portion of sauce isn’t huge, the little side dish holds less than a ¼ cup. Don’t be fooled by the size, though. It is a symphony of salty, sweet, fishy, and spicy with little garnishes that make it beautiful on its own. The amount of sauce they give you at restaurants really is enough, despite how small it is. People also don’t slurp up the excess liquid as they often do with phở.
The side sauce is what the Vietnamese call nuoc cham. Its base is fish sauce, which lends it an obvious fishy taste, but also some salt. Mix it up with some sugar, lime juice, and more, and it is the perfect blend of flavors.
What is Bún Thịt Nướng?
The name Bún Thịt Nướng translates literally to rice vermicelli with grilled meat. This colorful dish is always topped with pieces of fresh lettuce, cilantro, mint, pickled carrots and daikon, and peanuts beautifully arranged on the top. Grilled marinated pork is laid in the center or off to the side in the bowl. Once at your table, pour the sauce over the top and use your chopsticks to mix it up. Think salad tongs.
I noticed it and my daughter will attest. The Vietnamese have achieved perfection in marinated pork. During my family’s visit, dishes would arrive to my table and I wondered what magic had occurred to make it taste so delicious. Then it struck me, it’s the flavors in harmony. Not one flavor eclipses the other. It really is the best blend of salt, fat, and acid. From the brightness of the herbs and raw veggies to the sweet and sour from the nuoc cham, Vietnamese cuisine is beautifully balanced.
This dish is available as street food any time of year, but my daughter said this dish was her summertime go-to. If you can imagine the feeling when lunchtime rolled around, tropical sun beating a steady 90° and 100% humidity, the last thing she wanted to eat was a boiling bowl of soup. Bún Thịt Nướng with its refreshing herbs, crunchy lettuce, sweet noodles, and savory pork was the perfect afternoon meal.
Let”s talk lemongrass
If you live close to an Asian supermarket, locating lemongrass will be easy. Lemongrass is a very common ingredient in many kinds of Asian cooking, not just Vietnamese. But if an Asian supermarket is out of reach, you can definitely substitute lemon zest for it.
If you don’t have a microplane, lemon juice is also an okay substitute. You should note though that it will have much more zing to it than lemon zest or lemongrass. Lemon zest is much milder in taste and not as sour as lemon juice. Lemongrass is citrusy but mild, and has some mint notes to it as well. While using lemon zest or lemon juice is not “traditional”, that shouldn’t discourage you from making the recipe!
Vegetarian and VeganSubstitutions
There are easy substitutions to make this recipe vegan or pescatarian.
To make this pescatarian, omit the pork and substitute it for marinated tofu instead. Follow the marinade instructions for the pork, but use extra firm tofu instead. Make sure you press all of the water out to ensure it doesn’t break apart in the pan. After letting the tofu sit in the marinade, pan fry it. Cook the tofu on each side for about 3-4 minutes over medium-high heat.
To make this recipe vegan, omit the fish sauce for the nuoc cham. You can substitute it with vegan fish sauce or just 3 tbsp. of soy sauce in the sauce recipe. Note that the soy sauce won’t yield the same umami flavor as the fish sauce, but it’ll still be tasty! Also follow the instructions above for the tofu substitution for the vegan option.
How to prepare lemongrass for the marinade:
The pork marinade calls for mashed lemongrass and here are the steps to prepare. First place the stalk on a cutting board and trim about ¼ inch of the root end off.Trim off the upper stalk just where it starts to turn from white to green. Peel off the outer dry layers to expose the moist shoot.Chop and mince the shoot into fine pieces.Place the pieces in a mortar and crush into a fine paste.
Here are the visual steps to make Bún Thịt Nướng:
Gather all your ingredients and have them chopped, measured out and ready to go. This will save on time while constructing the three main parts: marinated grilled pork, noodles with garnish and the dressing or sauce.To make the marinade, mince the shallots and garlic. Add the mashed lemongrass, pepper, vegetable oil, sugar and soy sauce. Stir to combine.Pour the marinade over the pork.Stir to combine the marinade with the pork. Be sure it is thoroughly coated. Cover and refrigerate for at least 1 hour. While it marinates prepare the rice vermicelli noodles according to the package instructions.The garnish is very easy. It is best to do the quick pickling of the carrots first. Dissolve the sugar in the rice vinegar.Add the shredded carrots to the vinegar. Soak these for about 30 minutes but longer is fine too. Rinse and drain the cilantro, mint and perilla and chop the stems and discard. Keep the tops whole. Arrange the noodles, portioned into bowls then add the greens, carrots and chopped peanuts as shown above.To make the dressing: combine the fish sauce, sugar, water, lime juice and Thai chili slices. You can serve the dressing in individual bowls for each person if you like.Grill the pork on high heat in grill basket on a flame or charcoal grill or grilling pan on the stove. Get a nice char on the edges and both sides with grill marks. Arrange on top of the noodle bowls and serve with the dressing
Frequently Asked Questions:
How long can I store the grilled pork in the refrigerator? Once the pork has cooled you can store it in the refrigerator in an airtight container for 3-4 days.How do I reheat the pork? Reheat the grilled pork in the microwave for 2-3 minutes and stop to stir every 30-45 seconds until hot. Once reheated do not cool and store again in the refrigerator, consume it right away. So only reheat the amount you will consume.Can I freeze the grilled pork? Yes, allow the pork to cool and you can freeze in airtight containers for up to 2 months. Thaw completely in the refrigerator and then reheat in the microwave.How do I store the other ingredients? Store everything is separate containers for the best results. The dressing will keep quite nicely for about 1 week in sealed container in the refrigerator. The greens and pickled carrots can be stored for about 1 week. You may need to toss a little vegetable oil into the rice noodles to keep them from sticking. Store the noodles in a sealed container in the refrigerator as well for about 1 week.How do I prepare the rice vermicelli if the package instructions are not written in English? Yep, I have seen that in the Asian markets too. The method I use is to boil some water, pour this over the dry noodles to just submerge them in a large bowl. Let them sit for about 5 minutes or until al dente. Rinse them with cool water in a colander to stop the cooking process and set aside.
If you want to try some other popular Vietnamese dishes at home that are very easy to make check these out:
Bun Chais a grilled pork meatball and it includes the similar traditional dipping sauce recipe also. Bo Sot Vang (bò sốt vang) is a delicious beef stew you can make in a slow cooker. It has very unique flavors and is served with a crusty bread like French baguette or bahn mi. Vietnamese Pho Tronis a cold and VERY flavorful beef salad that is served during the summer months. Thit Kho Tauare slow braised pork medallions in a coconut sauce that you have to try. For dessert you have to try a Hanoi favorite: Vietnamese egg coffee with strong espresso coffee and creamy meringue.
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