I’ve seen Anthony Bourdain ask this on his various television shows while he’s sitting in mixed company. It may be a little morbid but I love asking this question and inciting a good conversation about food. If you were on death row and knew you were going to die tomorrow, what would your last meal consist of?

I’ve heard all sorts of responses. My mom said she would have a bowl of rice and her favorite steamed fish. My sister gave a long, rambling list of items that seemed to have the common theme of “covered in cheese”. My husband said a whole 3 tiered wedding cake. I’m totally lost on the reasoning for that one….

My list is also a bit long and rambling, mainly because that’s so hard to have to pick and choose between may favorite foods and dishes. Most of the dishes I’d want are Asian and many of them are noodle based. But there is one dish that always seems to make it on to my rambling list, so if I really had to choose only one thing. This would be it: Vietnamese vermicelli noodle salad.

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Known as bun cha in Vietnamese, there are several variations but the version I’ve seen the most is grilled pork bun cha. The pork is often marinated in a sweet and salty mixture and char-grilled, allowing the marinade to thicken into a sticky glaze and darken into crispy bits. The vermicelli rice noodles are usually served warm, lettuce and fresh herbs such as cilantro and mint share the bowl as well as pickled vegetables.

I’ve eaten this dish since I was almost too short for the booth at our local Vietnamese restaurant and I love it! But I’ve only recently begun to prepare it myself. I’ve still got a few other recipes to try and I’ll report back on those as well. The recipe I used for this post I found on a blog called pink-parsley.com. It’s a pretty simple recipe and the dressing recipe is a really tasty version of nouc nam, which is a Vietnamese condiment. Well, more like THE Vietnamese condiment.

There were a few things I did differently. I used pork loin chops instead of tenderloin because they’re cheaper. The first time I sliced up the chops first and then marinated them and pan fried them (unfortunately, I don’t have a grill). This left the meat a little tough so the next time I left the chops whole and sliced them after they were pan fried and rested.

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I would also like to make a batch of pickled carrot and daikon radish. It’s a bit more traditional that then marinated carrots and cucumbers in this recipe. But since I did have a cucumber and not a daikon radish in the fridge, it worked out great! I found several recipes for the pickled carrot and daikon by just googling and searching on foodgawker. The other thing I think I might change is using Sambal Oelek in the nouc nam instead of jalapenos. It adds heat but not flavor. For some reason, the jalapeno doesn’t quite taste right to me. I’ll probably make this recipe for pickled carrot and daikon.

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One thing I would absolutely recommend is not to skimp on the herbs! That is half the reason I love this dish! The basil, mint, and cilantro are a knock out flavor combo and they make this dish! These herbs make the salad so refreshing and complex. Don’t skimp on the herbs!

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And just because I know you are out there, a few things to keep in mind to peeps who are new to Vietnamese food. There are a few items that are new to you, maybe they sound a little scary like, fish sauce for example. Don’t be afraid! It’s so delicious! It’s the epitome of umami, that mysterious fifth flavor that’s salty, sweet and sour. It’s in a lot of your favorite Asian dishes like pad thai and bahn mi. I put it in my ground beef when I make hamburgers and it’s transforming! So have no fear! That’s my pep talk for the day – trying for positivity, right? But here’s my confession – when people won’t try something because they think it’s weird, all I can picture is a 3 year old throwing a tantrum over a new vegetable. There I said it. You now know what’s behind that grimace on my face when people turn their nose up at an amazingly delicious adventure. I’m realizing that I’m having dinner at the kids table and I want to leave. All of the foods in this dish have been around for a long time, a culture of proud people have created this dish and hundreds of thousands, possibly more, derive pleasure from eating it. So, it’s hard for me to hide my hurt feelings when others don’t want to enjoy my obsession with me. Obviously, I’ve been burned before…

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I hope you make this recipe or go to your nearest Vietnamese restaurant and order up some bun cha. It’s so perfect for summer and you may just start to develop an obsession of your own. Again, the recipe I made for this post can be found at www.pink-parsley.com.

 

 

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