Banh Hoi & Bun Cha

I had pretty high hopes for the food in Vietnam, but honestly, we were a little bit disappointed. I think that perhaps because Vietnamese food isn't overly complicated, the Vietnamese restaurants in the States are just as delicious and that's why the food didn't stand out that much while we were abroad. Plus, I guess it doesn't help that we really only spent a few hours in Hanoi and then we were in Ninh Binh, which is not an area known for its food.

I've already decided I want to go back to Vietnam because I loved Ninh Binh so much, but I think the next time I go, I'll include Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon), which is known as the food capital, as well as Hue so I can go have my favorite soupy noodle dish, bun bo hue, in its origin city.

That being said, we had some awesome spring rolls while were in Ninh Binh. They were so memorable because the rice paper wrapper was sort of dry and crisp, but it wasn't fried. I don't know how it was made or prepared but we loved them so we've been on a mission to try and find the wrappers here. Though we haven't managed to find them, while we were at a Vietnamese grocery store in Philadelphia, we found dried banh hoi noodles, which are just rice noodles that are swirled and stuck together into sheets. They've changed the way I serve pork with tiny rice sticks.
Ingredients [serves 4]:
bun cha meatballs
1 lb. ground pork
3 cloves garlic, minced
½" piece ginger, grated
1 scallion, sliced
4 to 6 cilantro sprigs, chopped
1 tablespoon fish sauce
1 tablespoon soy sauce
2 tablespoons palm sugar
1 egg

dipping sauce
3 thai chilis, sliced
1 teaspoon coarse salt
½ lime, cut into wedges

Start by mincing the garlic and chopping the scallion.
Add the ground pork to a bowl along with all the seasonings. Use chopsticks to combine all of the ingredients together. I like using chopsticks because you don't end up squeezing and densifying the meat mixture.
Form the meat mixture into small patties and cook in a hot pan over medium high heat for 4 to 6 minutes on each side or until the meatballs are lovely and golden brown.
Serve the meatballs with all of the fixin's. I made a batch of pickled carrot (I didn't have any daikon so I just left it out), julienned carrot, mint leaves, nuoc cham, and lettuce to make the wraps. The meatballs have a lovely balance of flavors; they've got savory, sweet, and salty elements that come together wonderfully.
This dipping sauce is also something we were introduced to while were in Ninh Binh. All you need is salt, Thai chilis, and lime. You put the salt and sliced Thai chilis into a dish and serve with lime wedges. Squeeze the lime wedges into the salt just before you're ready to eat and just dip. The resultant dipping sauce is salty and spicy with a nice acidic edge.
I've also served banh hoi just on a large cutting board with all sorts of other ingredients, including bell pepper, Thai basil leaves, a fluffy egg omelet cut into strips, and pineapple.
Here's the recipe page: