March 27, 2010

Spicy Food For A Spicy Personality!

Vietnamese Bun Cha Gio'...a light and flavorful dish for spring!

In college, one of my dearest friends and I, often scheduled lunch dates at our favorite Vietnamese restaurant. One day, we entered the restaurant and were intercepted by a young Vietnamese waiter who was still learning English. He led us to our table as we chatted and giggled away. The waiter, who seemed to show special interest in our dining experience, hovered over us, desperately trying to make conversation. We felt a little embarrassed at the extra attention! As he took our order, he asked me if I wanted my meal to be mild or spicy. I answered, "Spicy , please."  To which he smoothly answered, "Ah, spicy food for a spicy personality!" Yes, even with broken English, he had rehearsed pick-up lines. Some things cross all cultural boundaries! That was twelve or thirteen years ago, yet my friend and I never miss an opportunity to slip that unforgettable line to each other!

This week in "Confidence In The Kitchen" class, we focused on easy Asian dinners. I chose two of my favorite dishes for the girls, Thai fried rice and Vietnamese bun cha gio'. The town I grew up in has a significant Vietnamese population with incredible little restaurants and vast Asian markets. Exploring the Asian markets is a feast for the eyes--especially the produce department and meat counter!

Bun Cha is a traditional pork noodle salad, served in a bowl with fresh veggies and nuoc cham, an acidic dressing/dipping sauce. Nuoc Cham is normally made with sweetened lime juice and fish sauce, but I discovered that restaurants often make theirs with rice vinegar instead of lime. I find I actually prefer this method, as it cuts out a little of the "bite". The nuoc cham is the only source of HEAT in this dish--so add as much or as little as you want to the salad. You can also boost the heat by adding more chili-garlic sauce. Gio' is the Vietnamese word for fried spring rolls. Hot, chopped spring rolls are added to the top of the salad for crunch. In order to adapt this recipe to the cooking class...we did not make our spring rolls from scratch. Instead we simply bought good-quality frozen spring rolls, oiled them and baked them in the oven! It provides the extra flavor and texture without turning this meal into a 2 hour cooking affair!

This bold and healthy meal is perfect for eating out of the deck now that the weather is warming up!

You eat slowly, that is good for stomach; you plough deeply, that is good for fields

An ky no lau, cay sau tot lua -Vietnamese Proverb

Vietnamese Bun Cha Gio’

1 lb. boneless pork chops
1 ½ Tb. fresh grated ginger
1 garlic clove, minced
¼ cup fish sauce
2 Tb. soy sauce
2 Tb. sugar

½ cup warm water
3 Tb. sugar
½ cup rice vinegar
1 Tb. fish sauce
1 garlic clove, minced
1 tsp. chili-garlic sauce
¼ tsp. salt
1/8 cup shredded carrots

1 package cooked vermicelli noodles
2 cups mung bean sprouts
1 cup shredded carrots
1 cup sliced cucumbers
½ cup chopped cilantro or basil
½ cup chopped peanuts
½ cup chopped green onions

1 package frozen spring rolls

Freeze the pork for 30 minutes to firm it up. Then cut each chop in half length-wise and thinly slice (1 mm). If already frozen, thaw half way before slicing.

Mix the next five ingredients and toss with pork in a bowl. Allow the pork to marinate for 30 minutes.

Mix the warm water and sugar in a small bowl. Stir until the sugar in dissolved. Then add the following six ingredients and set aside the nuoc cham.

Preheat the oven to the necessary temperature provided on the spring roll package. Drizzle a little oil on a cookie sheet and roll the frozen spring rolls in it. Cook the spring rolls according to the provided instructions. Heat a large wok or skillet to high heat. Drain the pork well. Add 1 Tb. of peanut or veggie oil to the wok. Stir fry the pork for 1-3 minutes. Chop the spring rolls into ½ inch pieces.

To plate: Place a large hand-full of noodles in the bottom of four bowls. Top each with sprouts, shredded carrots, cucumbers, cilantro, and green onions. Place the pork and spring rolls on top, and sprinkle with chopped peanuts. Serve with nuoc cham on the side, so each person can add as much as they desire!
Serves 4.


  1. You just cannot imagine how excited I was to read this post! I fell in love with this salad in college and have repeatedly thought about it ever since - even trying to recreate it according to what turned out to be a very poor recipe. Yeah! No more searching. These photos are gorgeous.

  2. Beautiful dish. Looks very delicious. I would love to try it. I love Vietnamese food.

  3. This looks fantastic. We, too, have a plethora of Vietnamese restaurants in our area and it's so easy to find gluten free options (I have Celiac). Thanks for sharing!


  4. I did it! Fish sauce and all (only slightly reduced - still a major advancement for me (: ) This was incredible, Sommer! The flavors were perfect. The only bad part was Jonathan pulled down half of the nuoc cham sauce on top of his head and face and all over the kitchen - he cleaned up in the shower, but the fish sauce element is still lingering in my kitchen even though I keep cleaning. Oh, well. It was worth it. This recipe is wonderful!


I love to hear your thoughts! Thanks for taking the time. If you have a question, I'll get back to you ASAP!