At first glance, a bowl of bun thit nuong can look a bit manic. A sprinkling of garnishes along with grilled meat are placed on top of a bed of noodles with some greens poking through underneath. However, how each of these elements complement each other is what makes this one of the most popular dishes in Southern Vietnam. It’s dead simple to prepare, is one of the prettiest to look at and also one of the most nuanced in flavour.
The elements are set in distinct layers. The bottom of the bowl is chock full of greens that can include torn leaf lettuce, curlicues of banana flower, sliced pickled carrots and daikon and chopped herbs such as basil and mint, along with a healthy dose of bean sprouts. The second layer is the rice vermicelli noodles and is the binder of the dish. A good vendor will prepare their bun to an Italian al dente, giving the noodles a firm bite when chomping down. The thit nuong is sliced pork butt that has been marinated with lemongrass, garlic, ginger and the ubiquitous Vietnamese fish sauce. The pork is then grilled and should have a bit of char which gives a slight hint of bitterness to the dish. There is also quite a bit of variation in the meats that can be served. Along with thit nuong, you can have nem nuong (grilled pork meatballs), gia gio (fried spring rolls), dau hu (fried tofu), tom nuong (grilled shrimp) and/or cha (fried pork patty).
The bowl is finished with a sprinkling of chopped roasted peanuts, chopped scallions and if you are lucky, deep-fried pork chicharones. Served on the side is the mandatory nuoc cham, which is a meld of fish sauce, garlic, vinegar and sugar. To eat, pour some nuoc cham in the bowl and mix everything together. Crunchy, meaty, slippery, sweet, savoury — you should get all of these taste sensations with each bite.
You can find bun thit nuong in practically every Vietnamese restaurant in town, however the dedicated vendors are the best ones to hit up. Expect to pay from 20,000 VND to 40,000 VND for bun thit nuong on the street depending on what meat you want.
If you have a motorbike and fancy a drive, head to District 8 where the affable Mrs Phuong has been serving a mean bun thit nuong for the past 38 years. Make sure to order her umami-esque nem nuong. For something a bit more central, head to Ben Thanh Market and the excellent food court inside.