Food File: Bun Thit Nuong


We are slowly exploring our new neighbourhood in Ho Chi Minh City and our exploration, naturally, focuses on food.

I was thrilled to discover our local market has a stall selling bún thịt nướng, a noodle salad dish topped with sweet barbecued pork and crushed peanuts.

Bun thit nuong from our local market

It’s one of my favourite Vietnamese street foods. Although every time I eat it with Darling Man we disagree about whether it’s a salad or not. Darling Man says it’s just noodles, not a salad. But I say the noodles are cold and it’s served with a dressing, so it’s a salad.

This disagreement never progresses very much further because once the food is delivered we both focus on eating. And in Vietnam, food usually arrives very quickly.

As in the case with a lot of Vietnamese dishes, the first thing you do when your bún thịt nướng arrives is give it a good stir.

It looks pretty when it is delivered to your table, with all the ingredients arranged on top of the noodles. But it tastes so much better when everything is churned up and the dressing is distributed properly so every mouthful is a mixture of textures and tastes – soft noodles and crunchy peanuts, sweet pork and sour pickled vegetables, all complemented by the shredded cucumber, lettuce and herbs that are hiding under the bún noodles.

bun thit nuong

The dish is liberally doused in the all-purpose Vietnamese dipping sauce called nước chấm, which is made from fish sauce, sugar, garlic, lime juice and diced chillies. (Are you drooling yet? I am!)

When we had our first house guest in our new house in Ho Chi Minh City, bún thịt nướng was near the top of a long list of must-eat dishes. We only had four days to feed Sally the best of the best of Vietnamese cuisine. It was a high-pressure task. Thankfully, the girl can eat.

For Sally’s last meal in Vietnam, I threw her on the back of my motorbike and went looking for bún thịt nướng for breakfast. We hit the jackpot just a few hundred metres from our house – a little mother-and-daughter shop that served bún thịt nướng with the works. As well as barbecued pork, this version had chopped-up sausage and spring rolls.

I am sure I impressed the hell out of Sally by ordering two bowls of bún thịt nướng and two iced coffees in Vietnamese. Although being asked some specifics about how we’d like our coffee took some of the gloss off. When hit by a wall of Vietnamese all I could do was stare blankly until the question was repeated three or four times.

“Oh,” I finally exclaimed. “She’s asking whether you’d like a lot of milk or a little milk.”

In Vietnam, coffee is not really a drink for girls. You need to be strong to drink Vietnamese coffee, the local thinking goes, so coffee is usually a man’s drink.

We decided we needed coffee with only a little milk. We must have looked so butch, two foreign girls out and about unsupervised and drinking coffee.

After we’d manfully put away our noodles and iced coffee, I noticed the mother-and-daughter team also serve bánh cuốn, another of my favourite Vietnamese dishes.

Making bahn cuon

Oh, this place is such a find. I’ll definitely be back to try everything that these two ladies can make from their tiny stainless steel cooking station.

Would anyone like me to ask Darling Man to translate a Vietnamese recipe for bún thịt nướng? It is pretty easy to make at home.

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7 years ago

By: Barbara

A career girl who dropped out, traveled, found love, and never got around to going home again. Currently on a year-long World School adventure with my two kids, seeing what this wonderful world can teach us.

26 Comments

  1. Carmel says:

    “Would anyone like me to ask Darling Man to translate a Vietnamese recipe for bún thịt nướng? It is pretty easy to make at home.”

    Um…me me!!!

    Why do I read these kinds of entries first thing in the morning? Now I’m hungry.

    After drinking my husband’s coffee for the last 5 years, I think I can handle Vietnamese coffee…I think.
    Carmel recently posted..Grilled Chicken Banh Mi & Hoisin Glazed Corn

    • Barbara says:

      Ok, Carmel, I’ll get Darling Man on it. He doesn’t like to stick to recipes, he prefers what he calls “freestyle cooking”. So I’ll have to be really strict with him. Or watch him closely and write everything down.
      If I make a batch of bún thịt nướng he will tell me it’s not good enough and ban me from posting the recipe. This one has to be his work! (So it might take a while.)

      • Carmel says:

        I can have a surprising amount of patience when waiting for a delicious result. Looking forward to it!

        I understand about not measuring or writing things down. I’m a bit nervous every time I write down a “recipe” of something I’ve made up. I’m never quite sure exactly the amounts I’ve used.

  2. Sally says:

    Mmmm…. memories. This was possibly one of my favorite meals while I was in Vietnam… and you fed me good.
    Sally recently posted..On Going Home

  3. yum, yum, yum!! your neighborhood is awesome! i LOVE bun, esp with spring rolls. so fresh and delish!
    wandering educators recently posted..Testaccio: Not the Usual Rome

    • Barbara says:

      Bun with spring rolls would have to be the least healthy bun option. I really do like the plain pork version, especially if there’s lots of herbs under the bun.

      And you are right — our new neighbourhood is pretty awesome, even though it’s not quite walkable. Not in the heat.

  4. Mark Wiens says:

    It’s 1 am, and I’m just drooling over this post – I absolutely love this dish too – such a perfect mixture of flavors. Glad you discovered a place so close to home! Also, I had no idea coffee was more of a man’s drink in Vietnam. Come to think of it, I did notice predominantly males at coffee shops I visited in Hanoi, and most females were with the company of a group of males.
    Mark Wiens recently posted..33 Foods Worth Traveling Across the World Just to Eat

    • Barbara says:

      Yes, coffee shops are definitely a man’s domain in Vietnam. Although this is changing. Groups of girls meet for “coffee” but then usually order ice cream not coffee!

  5. jan says:

    I wish I had known about coffee being a man’s brew, so that I could have struck a manly pose as I threw back the odd coffee in Vietnam.
    Yes – I would like the recipe if Darling Man would oblige! Although I would much rather be there eating it from the stainless steel stall. It looked so lovely, I would eat every meal there!

    • Barbara says:

      I don’t worry about the manly pose. I love the coffee here. Apparently it’s roasted in butter, which is just one of the reasons it tastes so good. That and the coconutty condensed milk. 🙂

    • Barbara says:

      Ummmmmm. It could be. Except I can’t understand it. “Có” is “have” … but I’m not sure what xin means. My teacher told me once it was a beautiful word, but she could not clarify the meaning. It’s part of the general “hello” word.
      And Darling Man is not around to help me out. So … what were you trying to say?

    • I was trying to say Yes please! to the recipe offer but when I tried it again in google translate it came up with something completely different! I’ll stick to English in future 🙂

  6. Looks delicious!
    Stephanie – The Travel Chica recently posted..3 Reasons Horseback Riding is Over-Rated

    • Barbara says:

      It is, Stephanie. And now I’ve been back a few times, the stall holders have noticed I don’t eat the pork fat. So now they say “nạc” when I walk in, which is Vietnamese for lean. I just wish they were talking about me. Sigh.

  7. Ayngelina says:

    I hope you’ll be posting recipes too. Vietnamese is my favourite, even more than Thai food.
    Ayngelina recently posted..Torn between two worlds

  8. That food looks so delicious and fresh. And I love Vietnamese coffee … I didn’t know that it’s considered a butch beverage though! 🙂

    • Barbara says:

      One of the reasons I love Vietnamese street food so much is because it is so fresh. And it’s interactive, too. I love adding all the extra ingredients, like herbs and bean sprouts and a bit of extra sauce.

  9. That is the noodle dish that I always order when we go out for Vietnamese. Although in Canada the price tag that goes with it is $9.95…..
    Amy @WorldschoolAdventures recently posted..When Things Go Wrong

  10. […] meet your old friend bún thịt nướng. (And remember that bún is a type of fresh rice noodle and thịt nướng is barbecued meat, in […]

  11. […] my great delight, I discovered one of my favourite dishes, bun thit nuong, is also a specialty of Hue. Darling Man organised a catch up with his Hue cousins at Bún Thịt […]

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