#44: Vietnam – Bun Cha

Hanoi cooking class, making Bun Cha for the first time.

Note that the featured photo here is not taken from my back patio. If only! But I use it because it’s such a fun memory from a trip of a lifetime. And it serves as the inspiration for this week’s post – Vietnam.

As I mentioned in an earlier post, I was fortunate to take a trip to Asia a few weeks before the COVID-19 pandemic put a stop to travel for so many. In hindsight, this might not have been the wisest decision at the time, but in early February, the situation was fluid enough to take the trip. This was a vacation I had long planned in my mind, but it came to fruition in 2020 as a way to celebrate my 40th birthday. And I was doing it all by myself.

Hanoi at night.

I’ve taken some time to think about the most important takeaways from my experience in Hanoi and I’d be remiss if I didn’t talk extensively about the food. In my short time in Hanoi, I took two food tours and one cooking class. And I ate A LOT in between. For the food tours, one was a walking tour that hit some…interesting notes (I elected not to try the duck embryo, but did brave the Durian ice cream sundae). The second food tour was a solo excursion on the back of a motorbike. My tour guide was amazing and even snapped this great photo of me.

At the midpoint of my trip, I took a cooking class through Rose Kitchen in Hanoi and it was incredible. We started off with a tour of the food markets, picking up ingredients to make a number of dishes from Spring Rolls to Chicken Pho. But the real star of the show was Bun Cha, a dish I had never heard of, but would soon come to love enough that I decide to replicate in my home kitchen. And I even bought one of those grill pans that snaps to hold the meatballs in as they cook. Despite a minor execution mishap, the tool worked wonderfully and will no doubt get repeat use at our house. What’s not to like about Bun Cha. It has TWO types of pork (pork meatball and pork belly) it involves a grill and it gave me an excuse to go to the Eden Center to get a bunch of ingredients from Thai basil to fresh noodles to the largest pack of mint I’ve ever seen.

The image on the left was the final dish as prepared during our cooking class in Hanoi. The image on the right was my effort last weekend. Looking at the two, I do see that the original was a bit more brothy (which is very pungent with fish sauce) than the bowl I fixed for myself While it might not look like much (not my best photo effort…I blame wine and good conversation with friends) the flavors were absolutely spot on. The long marinade of the pork belly and the pork meatballs in approximately 10 ingredients (including a Vietnamese caramel sauce and lemongrass and…surprise surprise…more fish sauce!) was key. I had to forego the inclusion of mango due to a friend with an allergy, which might have added to the tang of the broth, but all in all I was very pleased with the end result. Matt even said we need to make this again suggesting that since I’d made this before, and truly loved the experience I had in Vietnam, it really came through in my cooking. I would have to agree.

I used the recipe from the cooking class but also consulted this recipe from the Food Network to ensure I wasn’t misunderstanding any of the instructions. See link: https://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/food-network-kitchen/bun-cha-9635684

Overall Level of Effort: 3

Skill Level: Intermediate

Would Make It Again? Absolutely.

Additional Notes: Clearly my end result looked a little less soupy than what we had in Hanoi, but I think that is more of a matter of preference. Also, for space on the grill, I elected to only cook the meatballs that way and did the pork belly in the oven.

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