Tuesday, October 20, 2009

A Taste of Home - Vietnamese Noodle Salad "Bun"

Being an 8 hour drive from home, I often miss the good home-coked meals that my mom makes. Especially her Vietnamese food. My mom has been the main cook and caretaker for her family since she was just a kid, and despite being one of the youngest of 11 siblings. Through all her years of hard work and experimentation, she has become a master at Vietnamese cooking. If she were asked what her specialties are, they would have to be her pho (beef noodle soup), mi hoanh tanh (wonton noodle soup), and com chien (fried rice). My relatives rush over to our house when they hear she has made mi hoanh tanh or pho. Everyone praises the hearty, delicious taste. And my mom puts hours and intense labor into her work. The wontons are individually wrapped into pockets the size of ping pong balls, then steamed till perfect. The pho soup is simmered for hours to extract the flavors of the beef bone and vegetables. The com chien components are individually sliced and chopped and added one by one to create an enticing mix. It's a Vietnamese heaven at home.

But, at UC Berkeley, despite our medley of diverse and cheap cuisines, the Vietnamese selection is decent and much more expensive than where I am from. I often have cravings for bun (noodle salad), nem nuong cuon (BBQ pork salad rolls), and other Vietnamese dishes. So, I decided to make some bun for myself!

Bun is basically a mix of cooked rice noodles with some kind of meat, a medley of fresh julienned vegetables, mixed with nuoc mam cham (fish dipping sauce), and topped with a generous serving of fresh herbs. The meat can be thin-sliced beef, tofu, chicken, egg rolls (really good!), BBQ pork, or whatever. The simple meats can be stir-fried in finely-chopped lemongrass for flavor and texture. I only had chicken and firm tofu on hand, so I simply stif-fried that with ginger powder. I made the nuoc mam cham myself, adjusting until it tasted just sweet, salty, and tangy enough. I like to put heaps of garlic and thinly-sliced carrots in the sauce. I was pretty happy with how it came out. Eating it let me remind myself of home and how happy I am for being Vietnamese! Yay food and culture!

(I don't have the exact amounts, but this a kind of dish that you throw together to your own preferences. Bell peppers aren't usually in Vietnamese dishes at all, but that's what I had on hand and it went in as a good substitute for mung bean sprouts.)

Bun Ga (Vietnamese Noodle Salad with Chicken)
1. Cook rice noodles. Drain and let cool.
2. Saute chicken breasts (cut up into small pieces), tofu (cut into small cubes), ginger powder, and 1 white onion (chopped) until cooked through.
3. Make Nuoc Mam Cham: add 2-3(???) Tbs white sugar, 3 chopped garlic cloves, and 1/2 fresh squeezed lime in a small bowl. Let flavors absorb for a while. Add a good amount of fish sauce and water until it the salt, sugar, and tangy flavors balance out. Sorry, I can't explain better. If you've tasted this before, try to go towards that. If not, you can find recipes online with exact amounts. Add thin slices of carrot. It all came out to about 1 very full cup.
4. Put noodles in bowl. Add meat and tofu and top with fresh vegetables (julienned cucumbers, mung bean sprouts, lettuce) and herbs (cilantro, Thai basil, mint, VIetnamese coriander)