January 29, 2017 — Family Food

Bun Cha Noodle Salad

  • 2 hours plus marinating time
  • 4 PEOPLE
  • medium

I surprised myself making this. It was especially good. It’s more time-consuming than our usual suppers, but it demonstrates that putting in the extra effort can result in creating new fresh flavours.

Bun cha, along with pho and banh mi is something of a cult at the moment. I made it myself and now know why it's so popular; It's a perfect balance of ingredients, texture and taste. A brilliant dish.

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What you need

Approx. 800g – 1000g prime pork ribs without bone as far as possible


1 large finely chopped shallot

4 spring onions finely chopped

2 lemon grass sticks outer leaves removed and very finely chopped

5 cm piece of ginger peeled and very finely chopped

6 cloves garlic finely chopped

1 red chilli finely chopped (amount of chilli according to taste)

4 tbs fish sauce

3 tbs honey

2 tbs molasses sugar or other brown sugar

2 tbs hot water

Juice of 2 limes


300g dried rice vermicelli

Sesame oil and ground nut oil

300g bean sprouts

Small handful coriander leaves

Small handful Thai basil leaves

Small handful mint leaves

170g Chinese leaf

1/2 cucumber

3/4 cup unsalted roasted peanuts

For the pickle:

1 large carrot

1/2 small mooli

1 cup water

1 cup rice vinegar

4 tsp sugar

1 tsp salt

1 tsp black peppercorns

1 tbs coriander seeds

For the dressing:

8 tbs water

2 tbs sugar

4 tbs fish sauce

Juice of 2 limes

1 red chilli chopped in rings

1/2 red chilli (to taste) chopped finely

1 clove garlic grated

1 peeled 5 cm piece of ginger grated (optional)

Salt and pepper


Dad's Recipe Tales

I had this for the first time from the Hanoi Kitchen, a Vietnamese stall at the Kerb in Camden Market. Hanoi Kitchen, was one of about 35 stalls in the market – each chosen to represent a different national cuisine from around the world or regional food from around Britain. This poses a fascinating challenge, given that stalls are limited in the range of food they can offer (usually about 3 different items), how do they decide on a menu that will represent their national or regional cuisine? The challenge is further complicated by the fundamental requirement of producing food that is easy to hold in the hand and/or to eat on the street.

Most stall holders answer the task using proven and well-established precedents. So we get American food represented by hamburgers, Middle Eastern food in wraps, and oriental food with pots of noodles. You might think that this practical ‘street food’ restriction would distort a trader’s ability to represent a specific cuisine. But remarkably, it still seems possible to convey an accurate representation of a particular cuisine. An American hamburger, goes a long way to describing American food – and you can put endless variations of flavours and ingredients in a wrap or pot of noodles…

This is how the Hanoi Kitchen solved their product offer: ‘Having scoured the streets of Hanoi and tasted every dish along the way, we persuaded our favourite traders to teach us the best Vietnamese street eats so that we could bring them home to you in the UK!’ Look at their menu and you see the same main dishes being offered in most Vietnamese stalls and restaurants: Banh mi baguettes, pho ga chicken noodle soup and bun cha BBQ pork noodle (salad) pots – along with chicken, beef and tofu versions (they also offer summer rolls). So with a limited menu of three or four items, they have created take-away versions of the most popular Vietnamese classics.

Of course, any national or regional cuisine will be more complex and diverse than can be sold in a street market, but Hanoi Kitchen have done a good job at incorporating key ingredients, flavours and textures of Vietnam. Our bun cha was light and fresh, full of vegetables and herbs (especially mint), there was pickled carrot, sweet and savoury meat, offset with a filling portion of vermicelli rice noodles. The dressing balanced sweet, sour, salty and hot tastes well – and all was topped with the crunch of roasted peanuts. It was an excellent interpretation. Camden Lock may not be the old quarter of Hanoi, but our bun cha certainly helped to evoke the tastes and flavours of Vietnam.


How Dad Cooked It

The prime ribs are from CD Jennings and Sons in Surbiton. They are an excellent and economic cut of meat they are especially suited to this type of marinade. The other oriental ingredients were bought from Longdan’s in Kingson.

  1. Make the marinade and marinate the meat. Dissolve the sugar in the water. Put the garlic, ginger, chilli, lemon grass, shallot and spring onion pestle and mortar and pound to a rough paste, add the remaining ingredients, including the sugar and water and mix. Chop the meat into bite size chunks and put in a baking dish. Rub all the marinade over the meat. Marinate in the fridge for 4 hours.
  2. Preheat the oven. 180C Gas 4
  3. Cook the meat. Put a sheet of tin foil over the meat and cook for 30 minutes. After this time the moisture from the meat and marinade will form a pool of thin liquid. Take the meat out of the oven and drain the liquid from the dish. Reduce the liquid to a thick sauce in a separate pan and add back to the baking dish with meat and return to the oven. Cook for a further 30 minutes or more until it is well browned and beginning to blacken – baste and turn the meat often. You may need to turn the heat up or finish quickly under a hot grill. Place the meat and sauce from the pan in a clean serving dish and keep warm.
  4. Prepare the pickle. Toast the pepper and coriander in a dry pan briefly and very roughly crush in a pestle and mortar. Chop the shallot and ginger. Place all the ingredients in a pan and simmer gently for 15 minutes to infuse the flavours. Prepare the vegetables. My preferred method is to use a julienne tool (a vegetable peeler with teeth). Otherwise use a mandolin or cut to a thin julienne with a knife or use a vegetable peeler that cuts fairly thick and then cut julienne. Put the strip of veg into a bowl and pour over the strained simmering pickling liquid. Stir the vegetables for 30 seconds and then strain off the liquid into another bowl and cool the liquid. Return the vegetables to the cool liquid and marinate for 15 minutes – then drain and set aside in a serving bowl.
  5. Prepare the noodles. Make the vermicelli according to the instructions. (My instructions said to soak in cold water until pliable – which may work for a stir fry or a soup. However, if eating cold in a salad it may be necessary to give the noodles a very quick cook in boiling water – then refresh in very cold water and drain.) Put the drained cold noodles in a bowl and add a teaspoon of sesame oil and a tablespoon of groundnut oil. Mix thoroughly and set aside in a serving bowl.
  6. Prepare the bean sprouts. Soak the bean sprouts in cold water for 5 minutes and drain. Rinse again in cold water and drain. Put into a heat proof bowl and pour boiling water over the sprouts to cover. Stir for 20 seconds and drain plunging immediately into a bowl of very cold water. Leave for a minute and drain once more. Set aside in a serving bowl.
  7. Prepare the herbs. Put all the herbs with their stalks in a bowl of cold water and soak for 5 minutes. Drain and spin to dry. Pick the leaves off the stalks and put them in a serving bowl. Set aside in a cool place.
  8. Prepare the Chinese leaf and cucumber. Rinse and soak the leaf for 5 minutes. Drain and spin to dry. Chop roughly, put in a serving bowl and set aside in a cool place. Wash the cucumber and cut into thin slices, add to the bowl of Chinese leaf.
  9. Prepare the peanuts. This part of the process can be simplified if you can find a good source of roasted unsalted peanuts. Otherwise use raw peanuts with skins and either freeze, or cook and peel by rubbing in a kitchen tea towel or with your fingers. Cook them in the oven at 180C, Gas 4 for about 20 minutes – keep an eye on them and ensure they do not burn. Depending on your type of processor you can try blitzing on a pulse setting (my blender turns them to peanut butter immediately!) or put into a pestle and mortar and pound very gently to crack the nuts into large pieces – or failing any of these options, chop on a chopping board with a knife. Place in a small serving bowl and set aside.
  10. Make the dressing: Add the sugar to a bowl and pour over the water and stir to dissolve. Add the remaining ingredients and whisk. Taste and adjust the seasoning or other ingredients. Aim for a good balance of sweet, hot, salty and sour. Present in a serving bowl with small ladle. NB: there is no oil in this dressing – my instincts would be to add some oil, but I find the freshness of the salad from a dressing without oil, makes the dish fresher and more palatable. In any event there is oil on the noodles so this balances out in the end…
  11. Assemble the dish and serve: Place all the elements in the centre of the table and allow guests to build up their salad themselves. Or assemble onto individual dishes. Place the noodles on the plate first then the pickled vegetables, Chinese leaf and cucumber and bean sprouts. Add the meat, then add herbs and peanuts and finally add the dressing.
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