My favorite Vietnamese dish of all time is Hanoi-Style Rice Vermicelli with Grilled Pork, also known as Bun Cha Hanoi in Vietnam. It's a dish that I can never get enough of. It's a refreshing and light dish, made up of rice noodles (bun), pork patties (cha), and thinly sliced fatty pork shoulder. Some awesome restaurants even add in grilled shrimp in the mix. Much kudos to those restaurants! The noodles and pork are eaten with fresh Vietnamese herbs and a sweet chili sauce. The best part is the charcoal-grilled pork. The garlic and shallot-marinated pork on a charcoal grill is enough to stop you in your tracks and make you giddy like a little school girl.
From the name, Bun Cha Hanoi originated in Hanoi, Vietnam. After Pho, Bun Cha is one of Hanoi's famous dishes. It's the Northern Vietnamese equivalent of the Bun Thit Nuong from Southern Vietnam. The two dishes are very similar in that it is rice noodles with grilled pork, served with a sweet chili dipping sauce and bountiful platter of fresh Vietnamese herbs. But there are slight differences that if you don't look closely, you wouldn't even notice.
In Bun Thit Nuong, the noodles and meat are in a bowl together. The dish comes with a side of dipping sauce (Nuoc Mam Cham) that you would drizzle over the noodles. Everything gets tossed together before eating.
In Bun Cha Hanoi, the meat is separated from the noodles. The meat is actually sitting in the dipping sauce as pictured above. You pick up some noodles with your chopsticks, dunk it in the dipping sauce and then eat it with pork and Vietnamese herbs.
The other noticeable difference is the dipping sauce. Bun Thit Nuong's dipping sauce has a slightly saltier taste. Whereas Bun Cha Hanoi's dipping sauce has a slightly sweeter taste. Because of the mild version, the grilled meats sit in the sauce in Bun Cha Hanoi, and the sauce is often referred to as broth. You will often see granules of delicious fat floating on top of the broth. I have many times picked up the bowl and slurped the meaty, sweet, sour, spicy goodness of the broth.
One last noticeable difference is the use of pickled papaya in Bun Cha Hanoi. Whereas Bun Thit Nuong typically uses pickled daikon and carrot.
Hanoi-Style Rice Vermicelli with Grilled Pork Recipe (Bun Cha Hanoi)
Ingredients (serves 5-7)
1.5 lbs ground fatty pork shoulder
1.5 lbs fatty pork shoulder (slice thin against the grain)
1 tablespoon roasted rice powder (available in the spice section in Asian markets)
5 tablespoons water
3 tablespoons granulated white sugar
1/4 cup fish sauce
3-4 cloves garlic (peel then mince)
1 large shallot (peel and mince)
Assorted vegetables (lettuce, bean sprouts, mint, perilla, and/or sliced cucumber)
2 bags rice vermicelli (JiangXi rice stick or Bun Giang Tay)
1 small unripe green papaya (peel and slice thin bite size pieces) plus 1 tablespoon salt
Pickled daikon and carrot (optional)
Sweet Chili Papaya Dipping Sauce
1 small unripe green papaya (peel and slice into thin bite-size pieces) plus 1 tablespoon salt
1 cup hot water
3/4 cup granulated sugar
3 tablespoons lime juice (1 fresh lime)
2 cups coconut soda (Coco Rico brand)
3/4 cup fish sauce (Viet Huong's Three Crabs brand)
6 minced garlic cloves
2 minced Thai chili peppers with seeds removed
For the pork marinade, combine water, sugar, fish sauce, garlic and shallot together in a small bowl.
Add half the marinade in the ground pork and the other half in the sliced pork shoulder.
To the ground pork, add the roasted rice powder and form into golf-ball size patties.
Let the pork sit in the marinade for at least 30 minutes, or overnight in fridge for best results.
Grill the pork over charcoal fire for a more authentic taste. You can also bake them in the oven at 400 degrees Farenheit for about 10 minutes. Make sure to flip and rotate for an even cooking.
Boil the noodles per packaged instructions then rinse under cold running water.
Thoroughly wash the lettuce, bean sprouts, mint, perilla and cucumber. Arrange on platter.
Add salt to the sliced papaya. Let sit for at least 30 minutes. Then rinse the salt off under cold running water. Squeeze out the water in the papaya. Pat dry and set aside.
Combine the hot water and sugar. Mix until dissolved. Add the rest of the ingredients and the papaya.
When you are ready to serve, add a single portion of meat to a small bowl. Ladle on the sweet papaya chili sauce on the meat. Then serve with a side of rice noodles and platter of fresh Vietnamese herbs.