Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Bun Bo Xao - Hanoi, Vietnam

When I first arrived in Hanoi, I must admit, I was definitely overwhelmed.  Prior to Hanoi (excluding Bangkok, of course), I spent my days leisurely biking in the serene countryside of Thailand and Laos.  As my taxi driver weaved in and out through the streets, I knew immediately, my days of strolling down picturesque paths while listening to reflective indie slow jams on my ipod were long gone.  I started to have minor heart palpitations, while my palms began to sweat with anticipation.  The view from my cab window didn't help matters either.  All I saw were hoards of motorbikes, cars and bicycles, zipping across barely defined lanes and loaded with numerous passengers exceeding each vehicle's occupancy limit.
I shouldn’t have been too surprised. This city is notorious for its dense traffic. It was just a shock to my system to come from peaceful and passive Luang Prabang to the hustle and bustle of Hanoi. There was no middle ground that allowed me to adjust from one extreme to another.   However, despite the fact that my stomach was tied into knots, I was still excited.  Excited to experience the OTHER thing Hanoi is known for, the FOOD!
Once I finally got to my hotel, I checked into my room, took a second to brace myself, armed with a map, I charged downstairs and went straight to the concierge. 
“I’m absolutely famished." Yes, I used the word famished, because when I'm that starved I use words like famished.  "Can you please recommend an amazing place for dinner?”
“Of course, what kind of food are you looking for?”
All I can do at this point was to answer honestly.
With a laugh, she told me to go next door and order the Bun Bao Xao. 
Relieved that I wouldn’t have to attack Hanoi traffic during my first night of arrival, I started out the door then perched on a plastic candy colored stool that was in front of the restaurant.
The waitress said something incoherent in Vietnamese, to which I responded “Bun Bao Xao?”
She nodded knowingly.  Seconds later a bowl of noodles sprinkled with beautiful cool crispy herbs, such as mint and basil, with slices of fried steak arrived.  The noodle salad was perfectly  dressed with my favorite thing in the world - num mac sauce! I threw in a couple of diced chili peppers into the mix, then sloshed the contents of my bowl with plastic chopsticks. The fresh full flavors immediately rushed through my body like an icy cold waterfall and immediately calmed my nerves down.  The noise that surrounded me instantaneously muted as I tasted each note of the dish's symphony. With a sigh of relief, I knew I would be okay after finally tasting the comforting flavors of Vietnam. 

Bun Bo Xao

My version of Bun Bo Xao

Since the star of the dish are the crisp veggies, why not make each piece pleasing to the eye?  I used a papaya shredder that can be found at any Asian Market to peel my cucumber and created fancy pants slices.

If the crisp vegs are the star, the nuoc mam sauce is definitely the supporting role.  I added a few variations to my recipe, it may spook the traditionalist, but give it a go if you're not scared of a few little twists.


serves 4

For the salad

2 filets of sirloin

1 medium carrot

1 red bell pepper

1 medium cucumber

1/2 head of romain lettuce

1 package of rice vermicelli noodles

1 small bunch of mint leaves

1 small bunch of cilantro

1 cup of crushed peanuts

For the nuoc mam sauce

will keep in the fridge for up to a month

3 chili peppers

3 cloves of garlic

1 ½ tablespoons of minced ginger

½ cup fish sauce

1 cup of your favorite coconut water

1 tablespoon of honey


1.  To make the sauce, use a mortar and pestle and crush chili peppers, ginger and garlic until all ingredients are well combined. 

2.  Spoon chili paste into a wide mouth jar and add fish sauce, coconut water, honey.  Close jar with lid and shake vigorously, set aside.

3.  Fill large pot with water and put on high heat. 

4.  Wash the vegetables used in the salad.  Julienne red pepper into fine matchstick slices, peel cucumber with papaya shredder if available, cut into thin slices.  Using a grater, grate carrot stick. Wash romaine leaves, mint and coriander.  Cut into thin slices. 

5.  Crush peanuts into crumbs using a mortar and pestle

6.  Heat pan, add oil. Once oil is searing hot, place steaks (make sure the steak is dry in order to create a nice sear).  Cook steaks based on desired doness.  Remove from heat and place on plate with, cover with an aluminum tent.  Set aside and allow steak to rest.

7.  Once the pot is boiling add noodles.  Allow noodles to cook for 6-8 minutes.  After the noodles are cooked, strain and quickly rinse with cold water. 

8.  Add noodles to large bowl, arrange vegetables and peanuts on top along with steak.

9.  Either serve with nuoc mam on side or tossed in noodles. 


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