Recently while visiting Hanoi I was introduced to bun cha: Vietnamese Pork Meatballs. It was a life changing experience. Really, it was. This past Christmas my family and I took a trip to Vietnam to visit my daughter who works there as an English teacher.
On one of our first days she booked us a street food tour with Thanh, a friend, who introduced us to many local Vietnamese delights, among them bun cha: Vietnamese pork meatballs. The word bun means rice noodles, and cha means grilled pork.
During one of our street food tour visits Thanh led us through an alley and up a set up of steep wooden steps. We ended up in a crowded rectangular room with a balcony at one end. The room was full of picnic like tables, packed shoulder to shoulder with locals hunched over their bun cha bowls eating with gusto. This must be good I thought!
We weren’t the only westerners in the room, but almost. I took my first bite of bun cha and fell in love. The combination of flavors is absolutely amazing.
In Hanoi, many local eateries are small, unassuming, and specialize in one or two traditional dishes only. Throughout our stay we found this out time and time again. If you are ever in Hanoi, and consider yourself an adventurous eater, book a tour with Thanh.
So, what is bun cha exactly? Well, for me, it is heaven in a bowl! Okay, I’ ll be more specific. Bun cha is a traditional Vietnamese dish of grilled pork meatballs slightly flattened to form patties. If you don’t have a grill, or are in the middle of a northern winter, no worries. You can cook the patties on a skillet and then broil them.
Bun cha: Vietnamese pork meatballs are then served with a delicious golden broth, a variety of fresh herbs, greens, and rice noodles.
After returning home I messaged Thanh for instructions on how to make bun cha. She gave me a brief explanation, so I decided to give it a go. There were a few FB messages going across time zones. I asked questions about proportions, ingredients, etc, just so you know. It was like having my personal culinary consultant.
I think my recipe turned out pretty close to what I had at this little upstairs restaurant. Unfortunately Thanh is not here to be my critic, but it does help that my husband and son thought the flavor profile was spot on!
Last but not least, enjoy this recipe for bun cha: Vietnamese pork meatballs, and share with your friends too! You don’t have to go to Vietnam to enjoy great Vietnamese food.
Bun Cha: Vietnamese Pork Meatballs
- 1/2 lb rice noodles
Accompaniments - greens served on the side:
- 1 cilantro
- 1 mint
- 1 red leaf lettuce
- 1 Thai basil
- Arrange all the greens on a tray.
- In a bowl place ground pork, five spice powder, salt, fish sauce, shallots, garlic, and pepper. Marinate for about one hour, and then form small, 1" meatballs. Flatten them out to form a patty.
- While the pork is marinating, slice the kohlrabi thinly, and place in a shallow glass dish. Each slice of kohlrabi should be cut into 3 wedge shaped pieces. Sprinkle with kosher salt and vinegar, and allow it to sit for about 1 hour.
- Cook meatballs/patties in a skillet, on both sides. When finished, transfer them to a baking tray and place them in the oven on broil for about two minutes on each side.
- Prepare the broth by placing fish sauce, water, lime juice, brown sugar and rice vinegar in a small sauce pan. Bring to a boil, and remove from heat.
- Divide the broth evenly into 4 separate bowls.