songs of sapa (chargrilled pork patties + vermicelli salad)
Vietnamese food was always something I enjoyed eating out, but never dabbled with in my own kitchen until I got hold of Secrets of The Red Lantern a couple of years ago. Although I still shy away from making large vats of beef broth for Pho, a lot of the recipes are very accessible, and the Lemongrass Pork Chop Rice is a constant favourite in our household. Red Lantern was such a great read and resource that I couldn’t wait to get my hands on co-author Luke Nyugen’s latest book ‘Songs of Sapa‘ which focuses on regional Vietnamese fare that he reacquaints himself with while on a culinary tour through the streets and homes of his motherland.
The weighty tome is beautifully presented and sumptuously photographed, with recipes from his own extended family, as well as locals he met on his travels. It is sectioned into cities, peppered with captivating stories of the food and people in each area. The recipes showcase the subtle differences in dishes between the regions, and are well-written and easy to follow. I tried the Stir-Fried Ginger Chicken and Chargrilled Pork Patties with Vermicelli Salad (Bun Cha) and both came out great, albeit a touch salty for my taste – I suggest you approach the salt with caution when replicating the dishes at home. The Crisp Silken Tofu in Tomato and Black Pepper Sauce was less successful, with the tofu refusing to develop any sort of crust and even sticking to the base of my wok which was more than a little annoying.
Dishes run from casual street food and rustic home-cooking, to more intricate creations like the Crisp Prawns rolled in Green Young Rice Flakes. Recipes for essential soup bases, stocks, sauces and condiments are all provided and although a few ingredients will be hard to get hold of here, most should be stocked at your local Asian grocers. I am still working my way through the book, and hope to make the Steamed Rice Noodles filled with Pork and Wood Ear Mushrooms (Banh Cuon) and Pork Ribs Braised in Cocount soon. Who knows, I may even get the stock pot out and invite people around for one of the many noodle soups featured. If you are seeking a comprehensive introduction to Vietnamese cooking, I wholeheartedly recommend you run out and get a copy of ‘Songs of Sapa’.
Here’s the recipe for the tasty Chargrilled Pork Patties with Vermicelli Salad – I have adapted it slightly, removing the beansprouts (I am not a fan) and replacing with a mix of shredded carrot, cucumber and lettuce for a fresher tasting salad.
Chargrilled Pork Patties with Vermicelli Salad (Bun Cha)
500g (1lb 2oz) minced pork
5 spring onions, thinly sliced
50g garlic chives, roughly chopped
1 tsp freshly ground black pepper
3 tbsp shallots, finely chopped
2 tbsp garlic, finely chopped
1 egg, lightly beaten
2tsp dark soy sauce
2 tbsp fish sauce
500g dried rice vermicelli noodles
1 bunch of mint (leaves only), shredded
1 handful thai basil (leaves only), shredded
1 gem lettuce, shredded
1 cucumber, julienned
1 carrot, julienned
750ml (3 cups) dipping fish sauce (1/3 recipe here)
Place all the pork patty ingredients in a large bowl and combine well. Cover with cling film and place in the fridge to marinate for at least 2 hours or overnight).
Meanwhile, put the vermicelli in a saucepan of boiling water and bring back to the boil. Cool for 5 minutes then turn off the heat, leaving the noodles to sit in the hot water for 5 more minutes. Drain and rinse under cold water.
Roll the pork mixture into walnut sized balls, then flatten slightly to create patties.
Heat a griddle pan or barbecue grill to medium high and cook the patties for about 4 minutes on each side until browned and cooked through.
Heap the vermicelli into bowls and toss with the herbs and vegetables and a few spoonfuls of dipping fish sauce. Divide the patties between the bowls and serve with the extra dipping sauce.
Songs of Sapa by Luke Nguyen is available on Amazon (RRP £25.00).
Many thanks to Murdoch Books for kindly providing the review copy.