Bun Cha Hanoi
Smoky flavours of marinade meat, cooked over coals, served with fresh herbs and rice noodles swimming in quality broth enhanced with the sweet tang of nuoc mam sauce.
When I think of Bun Cha Hanoi, I think my lovely friend Lili. Until the chaos of covid last year she owned a gorgeous Vietnamese restaurant in South Melbourne, called Rice Kitchen. My absolute favourite of her dishes was Bun Cha Hanoi. I had never had it before I met Lili, and in those last few months of Rice Kitchen I would make a special trip as often as I could to indulge.
I never imagined cooking Bun Cha Hanoi at home, not over hot coals at least. But I do like a bit of a challenge, sometimes. And this was one of those times!
I had some time off between Christmas and New Year, time enough to go flicking through my cookbooks. Jerry Mai’s recipe for Bun Cha Hanoi in Street Food Vietnam caught my eye. Jerry is the Vietnamese-Australian chef/restaurateur behind the casual street food restaurants Pho Nom and Bia Hoi.
I knew I’d have to cook over charcoal to achieve that smoky flavour. And this dish is all about the smoky flavour. A regular gas barbecue just isn’t the same. I had been looking for an excuse to invest in a Japanese hibachi grill for some time, and Santa Claus had left a little extra cash in my pocket. What’s a girl to do?
After a bit of research I settled on the Shichirin Round Tall Japanese BBQ Grill from CIBI. It’s the perfect size for cooking for 1-3 people, but they also do sell a bigger one for cooking for a bigger crowd. They also sell the charcoal to cook with, and the lovely lady at CIBI spent some time to talk to me about to set it up for grilling.
Whilst this recipe has quite a few steps, I can assure you it is well worth it. The most laborious of tasks is preparing the meat, and slowly cooking it over the charcoal. I’ve included the recipe which can be found on the SBS website as well as the cookbook.
Bun Cha HanoiPrint Recipe
- 500 g pork mince
- 50 g pork fat, roughly chopped
- 500 g pork belly, thinly sliced
- 1-3 garlic cloves
- 50 g sugar
- 100 ml fish sauce
- 5 red Asian shallots, diced
- pinch freshly ground white pepper
- 3 tbsp vegetable oil
- 100 g caster sugar
- 100 ml warm water
- 150 g white vinegar
- 200 g green papaya, peeled, seeded and thinly sliced
- 1 carrot, quartered lengthways and thinly sliced
- 250 ml chicken stock
- 200 ml warm water
- 140 g caster sugar
- 150 ml fish sauce
- 100 ml white vinegar
- 2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
- 2 birds eye chillies, finely chopped
- pinch freshly ground white pepper
- 100 g vermicelli, cooked and drained
- 1 bunch coral lettuce
- 1 bunch mint
- 1 bunch Vietnamese mint
- 1 bunch shiso (optional)
- For the marinade, combine all the ingredients in a small bowl.
- Place the minced pork and pork fat in a large mixing bowl and the pork belly in another bowl. Pour half the marinade over the pork mince and pork fat and the other half over the sliced pork belly and mix well to combine. Vigorously mix the pork mince to help bring the protein together. Scoop out the pork mince and then slap the mixture back into the bowl a few times to remove any air- this will help to prevent the mixture from falling apart when grilled. Cover and refrigerate the pork mince in and the sliced pork for at least 3 hours, or preferably overnight.
- Meanwhile, for the pickles, combine the sugar and warm water in a bowl and stir until the sugar has dissolved, then add the vinegar. Place the green papaya and carrot in a bowl, pour over the pickling liquid and set aside for at least 2 hours, ensuring the ingredients are fully submerged.
- Roll the minced pork mixture into golf ball-sized balls. If time permits you can then return to the refrigerator for 1-2 hours to firm up.
- Preheat the charcoal grill. You can use a barbecue grill for this dish, but you won't achieve the same smoky flavour.
- For the nuoc mam, warm the chicken broth in a small saucepan over medium heat. Place the warm water and sugar in a bowl and stir to dissolve the sugar. Stir in the fish sauce, vinegar, garlic and chilli.
- When the charcoal is ready, slightly flatten the pork balls using the palms of your hands, then transfer to the grill. Carefully add the pork belly, being careful of the flare ups from the fat dripping onto the charcoal (which will make the meat black and bitter tasting). Cook the meatballs and pork belly, turning regularly, for 7-10 minutes or until cooked through.
- To serve, place the cooked noodles and salad ingredients on a large serving platter. Drain the pickles and evenly divide amongst the small bowls. Add the meatballs and pork belly and evenly pour over the warm chicken broth and nuoc mam, finishing with a little pepper on top. Invite guests to dip a few noodles and herbs into their broth and eat, followed by mouthfuls of the meat and pickles.