First Published May 2014 | Words and photos by Vietnam Coracle
Bún thịt nướng is a cold noodle salad that can be found all over southern Vietnam. It’s a light, balanced and extremely ‘pretty’ dish. The main components are bún (white rice noodles) and thịt nướng (grilled marinated pork). But, as always, there’s a lot more going on in this beautiful bowl of noodles. Unlike most noodles-in-a-bowl that you find in Vietnam, bún thịt nướng is dry: instead of a broth, this dish is served with a generous side of nước mắm (sweet fish sauce), which is poured into the bowl and turned through the noodles using chopsticks. Mixed in with the noodles and grilled pork is a delicious combination of textures, colours and flavours: peanuts, roasted shallots, mint, perilla and lettuce leaves, bean sprouts, pickled carrots and daikon, crispy spring rolls cut into small pieces, and red chilli. The interplay between crunchy, crispy, soft, chewy, wet, dry, herby and spicy is deeply satisfying: an adventure playground for your taste buds and tongue. It’s cool and refreshing – the perfect antidote to the heat and humidity of the south. There’s something simple and elegant yet delicate and mysterious about bún thịt nướng, which reminds me of one of the classic postcard images of Vietnam: the schoolgirls riding bicycles in a group down a hot, sun-drenched street, their white áo dài school dresses billowing behind them in the breeze.
You’ll see signs outside local eateries advertising bún thịt nướng throughout southern Vietnam, but my favourite place for this dish is at Anh Vy Cafe. Address: 649/65 Điện Biên Phủ Street, Bình Thạnh District, Saigon [MAP]. Ms Hiền has lived and worked at the café here for over 30 years. Her bún thịt nướng is a recent addition to her main drinks business, but, judging by the superb quality of her recipe, it won’t be long before her food is as popular as her drinks. A bowl of bún thịt nướng at Anh Vy is 25,000VNĐ ($1). For a refreshing accompaniment to this equally refreshing dish, try Ms Hiền’s iced passion fruit juice (nước ếp chanh dây) for 15,000VNĐ ($0.75) a glass. Opening hours are 10am to 7pm Monday to Saturday (closed Sunday).
Images of my favourite bún thịt nướng in Saigon at Anh Vy Cafe: