Experience the flavors of a traditional Vietnamese dish right in your own kitchen with this recipe for Vietnamese Pork Meatball and Noodle Salad. Bun Cha from Hanoi is a classic ground pork dish loaded with savoy flavor, crispy veggies and delectable rice noodles.
What is Bun Cha Made of?
Bun Cha is a ground pork dish traditional to the Hanoi region of Vietnam. Umami-rich pork meatballs (also called patties) are served alongside rice noodles, herbs and a variety of fresh vegetables.
It should be noted, this recipe is for Bun Cha Salad. It is not a traditional recipe for Bun Cha. It is purely an expression of my interest for the culture and its cuisine, and I’d love for you to experience the flavors for yourself. For more history on Bun Cha and a traditional recipe, check out this article from Rice & Flour.
What does Bun Cha mean?
Bun Cha is literally translated as grilled fatty pork (chả) over rice noodles (bún) with a dipping sauce and fresh herbs. In this recipe, we use ground pork, but some traditional recipes use pork belly.
In this case, the dipping sauce, or the Vietnamese bun cha dressing is a classic nuoc chom made with fish sauce, lime juice, a dash of honey, garlic and fresh minced chile for heat.
Is Vietnamese Bun Cha Healthy?
Bun Cha is definitely healthy-ish. It’s high in sodium due to the large amount of fish sauce used, though we don’t really worry about sodium here at ZK. This salad-version is made with all whole ingredients and loads of veggies, so for those reasons we qualify this as healthy.
Ground pork can be quite fatty, but it’s a whole-food protein and fat (no additives), so that makes this healthy in our book.
And finally, the rice noodles are very high in carbs with little to no fiber, which is where the “ish” in healthy-ish comes in. If you’re looking for a low-carb meal, reduce the noodles by half or skip them altogether and make a larger salad.
For a healthier, high-fiber noodle option, use brown rice vermicelli.
Ingredients in this Recipe
We recommend using rice vermicelli. Thin rice noodles are far more desirable than thicker, flat noodles like pad thai rice noodles. Look for these in the Asian aisle or at any international market. You can also get them online.
This salad is best with bibb lettuce (also called butter lettuce). You can find these sold individually packaged in plastic clamshell containers in the produce area. You can also use shredded cabbage.
English cucumber is best here, but small mini cucumber would also be delicious.
We like a combination of fresh mint and cilantro here, but feel free to use basil, parsley and scallions.
Aside from the pork, this is the most important ingredient in the dish. The funkiness of fish sauce is essential for creating a dish that’s rich in umami. This recipes uses fish sauce in the pork patties and in the sauce (nuoc chom).
Every savory dish needs a bit of acid, and lime juice works perfectly here. If you don’t have lime juice or don’t want to buy fresh limes, rice vinegar or white vinegar will also work.
Use any hot chile for the nuoc chom. We like Thai chile or, if you can’t find that, serrano.
Fresh garlic is used in the nuoc chom. We always recommend freshly minced instead of jarred for its potency and flavor.
A hefty amount of scallions are added to the pork meatballs/patties. They add tons of flavor and a welcome dose of green color.
Just a dash of baking soda helps to retain moisture in the pork patties while they cook which keeps them juicy and tender. It also encourages browning, which gives the patties a nice golden and caramelized crust.
Most ground pork sold comes as 80/20 (80% lean, 20% fat). Due to the high fat percentage, you don’t need any oil for cooking the patties.
Test Kitchen Tips
- Make ahead: the ground pork patties can be formed and stored in the refrigerator up to 2 days ahead of time. Wrap them tightly in plastic and cook them when ready. The nuoc chom can be made up to 4 days ahead of time.
- Storage: store any leftovers in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 4 days. Reheat the pork patties in a skillet over medium heat with a bit of a the nuoc chom. Add the noodles in the last few minutes to warm and soften them.
- Grill the pork: if you have a grill, feel free to cook the pork patties on the grill (this mea is perfect for summer). We offer directions for both gas and charcoal grill in the recipe card.
- Because this dish is so savory, we like to offer a bit of fruit on the side. Our Vietnamese Mango Fruit Salad is a natural fit.
- This Savory Citrus Salad is a another bright and fresh dish to pair with the Bun Cha.
- This Lemongrass Margarita is a fun take on a classic cocktail. The tartness of this drink balances out the bold flavors of the dish.
Bún Chả Salad — Vietnamese Pork Meatball & Noodle Salad
Noodles and Salad
- 8 ounces dry rice vermicelli
- 1 head Boston lettuce, torn into bite-size pieces
- 1 English cucumber, halved lengthwise, and thinly sliced
- 1 cup cilantro leaves and tender stems
- 1 cup mint leaves
- ¼ cup fish sauce
- ¼ cup lime juice (2 limes)
- 2 tablespoons honey, or cane sugar
- 1 small Thai chile or serrano, stemmed and minced
- 1 large clove garlic, minced
- Cook noodles per packet directions. Drain noodles and rinse with cold water. spread on a large plate and set aside.
- Arrange lettuce, cucumber, cilantro, and mint in a large serving platter. Drop noodles in bunches around salad.
- For the nuoc chom, combine ½ cup water, ¼ cup fish sauce, lime juice, honey, minced chile, and garlic; set aside.
- Combine scallions, 2 tablespoons fish sauce, sugar, baking soda, and ¼ teaspoon each salt and pepper in medium bowl.
- Add pork and mix until well combined.
- Divide pork into 12 portions then form into patties, each about 2½ inches wide and ½ inch thick.
- Preheat a large cast-iron skillet over medium heat for 5 minutes. Add patties in a single layer (depending on size of skillet, you may need to cook the patties in two batches); cook until browned on first side, 3–4 minutes. Flip, and continue to cook until browned and an instant-read thermometer inserted in the centers registers 160ºF, 3–4 minutes more.
- Transfer cooked patties to nuoc cham and gently toss to coat. Let stand in sauce 5 minutes.
- Arrange patties over noodles in serving bowl with salad. Drizzle nuoc chom over patties. Build personalized bowls as desired and serve with additional nuoc chom.