authentic Vietnamese bun chaa

The Vietnamese Bun Cha Food Dish, All You Need To Know

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One of North Vietnam’s most popular food dishes is bun cha. When you travel in North Vietnam, you will see signs everywhere advertising the sale of this famous dish called Bún Chả.

Bún Chả is a Vietnamese food dish that is thought to have originated in North Vietnam. It is made from rice noodles, grilled pork, salad, and a Bún Chả fish sauce mixture. It is a dish you can learn to make and serve in your home. Bún Chả became very famous when the U.S. President Barack Obama sat down with CNN’s Anthony Bourdain in a small local Bún Chả noodle shop in Hanoi, Vietnam.

Table of Contents

What Does Bún Chả mean?

Bún Chả which is pronounced as Bún (boon) Chả (cha), is a Vietnamese dish that is thought to have originated from Hanoi in North Vietnam. The word bún means rice noodles, and chả means pork. So together, Bún Chả means a rice noodle grilled pork dish.

The reason why Bún Chả is thought to have come from Hanoi is Vu Bang (1913-1984), a food writer and critic, wrote this in 1959 about Hanoi and Bún Chả:

“Hanoi is a town ‘transfixed by Bún Chả.”

Vu Bang

About Vietnamese Bún Chả

Bún Chả is a dish that consists of rice noodles, pork, and vegetables that is served with a Bún Chả sauce. Two kinds of pork are served with Bún Chả as:

  • Grilled Pork – A lot of the Bún Chả will use fatty grilled pork or pork shoulder. This is similar to bacon but not exactly the same. Sometimes this meat can have a lot of fat on it as the Vietnamese like the fat on the pork and will choose the meat cut with more fat than the actual meat.
  • Grilled Pork Patties – The other way that Bún Chả is served is with small grilled pork patties. These are more like mini pork grilled hamburgers.

There is another dish in Vietnam that is similar to Bún Chả called Bún Thịt Nướng. The major difference between Bún Chả and Bún Thịt Nướng is that for Bún Chả, the meat is always grilled on a BBQ.

What Ingredients Are Used To Make Bún Chả?

One of the most important things in making a good Bún Chả is to have some of the right ingredients. This is an essential part of making it as authentic as possible.

To find out about the recipe and to see how Bún Chả is made, we welcome you to come into our home in Hanoi, Vietnam. We will show you step-by-step how we make some authentic Bún Chả. You can watch the video below to find out more about how to make Bún Chả

Homemade Vietnamese Bun Cha – An Insiders Guide to Vietnam
Homemade Vietnamese Bun Cha Guide and Recipe.

The Four Parts of Vietnamese Bún Chả

A good Vietnamese Bún Chả has four main parts to it. The four parts of a good Bún Chả are:

The Four Parts of Vietnamese Bun Cha
The Four Parts of the Vietnamese Bun Cha Guide
  • Rice Noodles – To make Bún Chả, you need to have rice noodles. The Vietnamese use round rice noodles and not flat ones. In Vietnam, they sell them fresh. If you cannot buy the noodles fresh, you can make them fresh by checking out this recipe by Epicurious. Alternatively, go to the Asian Grocery store and buy some dried rice noodles. You would boil them as you would spaghetti noodles. Bún Chả rice noodles are usually served cold and not hot; you can prepare these ahead of time.
  • Vegetable Salad – As with most Vietnamese dishes, the Vietnamese like fresh vegetables. The traditional vegetables they use for the Bún Chả salad are lettuce, mint leaves, cilantro, marjoram, and perilla. The marjoram that we are talking about is a Vietnamese or an Asian Marjoram, and not a Middle Eastern marjoram. If you cannot find it fresh, your Bun Cha will be OK without it. Also, perilla is a Vietnamese herb that is part of the mint family. Some other Asian countries also use fresh marjoram and perilla, so you may find them at your local Asian grocery store. If you do not find them at the grocery store, you can use lettuce, fresh mint, and fresh cilantro for your Bún Chả salad. If you have some fresh mild oregano or sweet basil, you can also try to include that as part of your salad instead of the marjoram or perilla.
  • Grilled Pork – The meat used in Bún Chả is pork. The two common cuts of pork used to make Bún Chả are 1) ground pork and 2) pork belly. If you do not want to eat so much pork for the ground pork, you can try to mix in some ground chicken or turkey to make it leaner.
  • Sauce – The sauce for Bún Chả includes water, sugar, pepper, fish sauce, carrots, garlic, and lime or apple vinegar. Also optional are fresh red chili and green papaya.
Vietnamese Bun Cha Vegetables
The Vietnamese Bun Cha Vegetables Guide

Our Recipe to Make Bún Chả

Here is our basic recipe for Vietnamese Bún Chả; this serves about 6 people.

For the Meat Marinade

  • Ground Pork – 1 kilo or 2.2 pounds
  • Pork Belly – .45 kilos or 1 pound
  • Shallots – 100 grams or 3.5 ounces
  • Black Pepper – 2 tsp
  • Vietnamese or Asian BBQ sauce known as Thịt Nướng – 1 packet.

Mix 1/2 a packet of the Thịt Nướng BBQ sauce, 3/4 of the shallots, and 1 tsp black pepper in the ground pork.

Mix the rest of the BBQ sauce, shallots, and 1 tsp black pepper with the pork belly strips.

Set them both aside to marinate for about an hour.

When it is marinating, you can start to prepare the other parts of your Bún Chả.

In Vietnam, all food is prepared fresh and not prepared ahead of time or reheated. Usually, the meat and vegetables are purchased at the morning market to be eaten that same day.

Vietnamese Thịt Nướng BBQ Sauce Marinade

If you can not find the Vietnamese or Asian Thịt Nướng BBQ marinade sauce at the Asian Grocery store, then you can make your own. Some places also make Bún Chả with just salt and pepper in the marinate, but I happen to prefer the taste with a bit of BBQ marinade does add a lot to the meat.

Here is a recipe to make your own Vietnamese Thịt Nướng BBQ marinade sauce. Just add this to the meat you are marinating.

Vietnamese Thịt Nướng BBQ Marinade Sauce

  • 2 shallots finely diced
  • 2 stalks of lemongrass tender inside part only, diced and cut
  • 1 tbsp sesame seeds
  • 2 cloves garlic finely crushed
  • 1 tbsp brown sugar or honey
  • 1 tsp sesame oil
  • 3 tbsp Vietnamese fish sauce
  • 2 tbsp vegetable oil
  • 1/2 tsp black pepper

If you are making your own Vietnamese Thịt Nướng BBQ marinade sauce, you can increase the marinating time to 2 or 3 hours or even allow it to stay overnight covered in the refrigerator in an airtight container.

Bún Chả Sauce

The Bún Chả sauce is eaten with grilled pork, rice noodles, and vegetables. The Bún Chả sauce is at the heart of a good Bún Chả.

Here is how you make your own Bún Chả sauce:

  • Warm Water – About 4 .5 cups of water.
  • Sugar – 1/3 cup
  • Small Garlic – 1 clove cut up and finally chopped.
  • Fish Sauce – 1/2 cup
  • Apple Vinegar – 1/4 cup
  • Carrots – 2 medium carrots cut into thin slices (see the video on how to slice them). Carrots should be cut and first placed in water and salt and then tossed with a few teaspoons of sugar before putting the sauce. See my directions below.
  • Optional – Cut up pieces of green papaya.

Mix the warm water and sugar together. Stir until the sugar is almost dissolved. Add the garlic, fish sauce, and vinegar or lime. Stir all of them together. Taste the sauce. If you want it sweeter, add some sugar or sourer and add more fresh limes or vinegar. Put the carrots in the sauce.

if you do not want to use a lot of sugar, you can try to use sugar like Monk Fruit Sugar. Monk Fruit Sugar is a great zero-calorie, natural sugar.

How to Eat Bun Cha
How to Eat Vietnamese Bun Cha.

Preparing The Carrots For the Bún Chả Sauce

Peel and slice 2 medium-sized carrots (for any idea on how to cut them so they look like a flower, you can watch our video).

After they are cut, put the cut-up carrots in salt water (about 2 cups water and 1 Tablespoon salt. Let it sit for about 30 mins.

Then take out the water; no need to rinse. Mix carrots in 3 Tablespoons of sugar. Coat the carrots with sugar. They are now ready to be put in the Bún Chả sauce.

Cutting Your Carrots To Look Like A Flower – Making Vietnamese Bun Cha
Cutting Your Bun Cha Carrots Into A Flower Design

Eating Vietnamese Bún Chả

When you eat Vietnamese Bún Chả, each part of the Bún Chả usually comes separate on a plate and you mix them together while you are eating Bún Chả. This means you can put as many noodles, meat, and lettuce as you want in the sauce.

The noodles are cut into smaller pieces, making them easier to eat. The noodles do not need to be hot and are usually served cold. The salad is cut into bite-size pieces.

There is no special way to eat Bún Chả. Some people mix everything together and eat it that way. Others may take the lettuce and wrap and roll some meat in the lettuce with the noodles and then dip it in the Bún Chả sauce. Bún Chả is meant to be eaten any way you want.

This is because Bún Chả is a meal meant to be shared. It is a meal eaten together and enjoyed with your family and friends.

Pres. Barack Obama, Anthony Bourdain and Bún Chả

In 2016 when Pres. Barack Obama visited Hanoi, Vietnam; Anthony Bourdain from the CNN Travel and Food Show, Parts Unknown took the then U.S. President Barack Obama near the old quarters of Hanoi to a tiny Bún Chả noddle shop. The two sat down for a 6 USD meal of Bún Chả, spring rolls, and a bottle of Hanoi Beer.

The restaurant is named Bún Chả – Huong Lien and is located at 24 Le Van Huu Street, near the old quarters of Hanoi, Vietnam. At the restaurant, you can now see the table that Anthony Bourdain and Pres Obama ate at as the table is enshrined in plexiglass.

If you go to the restaurant, you can also order the Obama Combo Special: 1 Bún Chả 1 Fried Seafood Springroll, and 1 Hanoi Beer. This is exactly what Anthony Bourdain and Obama ate that day for about 6 USD.

In speaking of their eating Bún Chả at Huong Lien’s Restaurant. Anthony Bourdain said:

“What can I tell you about what it’s like to sit across from the President of the United States and drink beer from the bottle?
I can tell you that Barack Obama was, in spite of having had a high-ranking leader of the Taliban whacked in Pakistan a few days previous, very relaxed and at ease. He seemed to enjoy himself sitting on a low plastic stool eating noodles and pork bits with chopsticks.”
I talked to him as a father, as an enthusiast for the region, and he responded with real nostalgia for the Indonesian and Hawaiian street food of his youth.

Anthony Bourdain

The people of Hanoi loved and appreciated that a US President would go to a local Bún Chả noodle shop to eat their favorite dish.

This is a short video clip that shows a bit about where Pres Obama ate Bún Chả with Anthony Bourdain. As you can see from the clip, this is a very local restaurant and is not fancy at all. There is no real decor, and the stools are blue plastic stools. This is a typical Bún Chả restaurant in Hanoi and around Vietnam.

Obama Dines With Anthony Bourdain in Vietnam

A few years later, in 2018, when Pres Barack Obama heard about the untimely death of Anthony Bourdain, he wrote this about his eating Bún Chả at this small noodle shop in Hanoi:

‘Low plastic stool, cheap but delicious noodles, cold Hanoi beer, That’s how I’ll remember Tony. He taught us about food — but more importantly, about its ability to bring us together. To make us a little less afraid of the unknown. We’ll miss him.

Former us President barack obama

Bún Chả is a wonderful dish. It is one of my favorites. If you cannot come to Vietnam to try the dish here at a local noodle shop, you can always use this recipe to make a homemade authentic Bún Chả.

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Why is Rice Important to the Vietnamese?

Rice is essential to the Vietnamese because rice is one of the world’s most important staple foods. Due to its climate, Vietnam is one of the world’s leading rice producers. As with many things in Vietnam, there is folklore and legends about rice and rice production. You can visit many places in Vietnam to see some spectacular rice fields and rice terraces.

You can find out more about this by reading our blog, Why Rice is Important in Vietnam, What You Need To Know by clicking here.

What About Vietnam’s Morning Exercise?

The mornings in Vietnam are always extremely active, with people out and about exercising. It is usually safe to go out early in Hanoi, Vietnam. The streets are always bustling with a lot of activity and excitement. People in the city tend to start their days very early. You must also get up early to see the early morning exercise. There are a lot of places in Hanoi where you can see a lot of early-morning exercisers. Starting the day early is a habit that many people have throughout all Asia.

You can see a video about morning exercise in Vietnam and read our blog called Early Morning Exercise in Hanoi, Vietnam, What You Need to Know by clicking here.

Anita L Hummel
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