These Vietnamese grilled pork patties with rice noodles, or bun cha, from America’s Test Kitchen combine a spicy fish sauce and lime juice sauce with chilled rice noodles, crunchy vegetables, and grilled pork for an outstanding version of traditional Vietnamese fare.
Anyone who’s experienced the collision of textures, temperatures, and tastes of Vietnamese bun, or rice noodle dishes, knows well the allure. If you have yet to experience it, these smoky Vietnamese grilled pork patties make a very able introduction. They’re from America’s Test Kitchen and come oh so close to approximating what we’ve experienced in countless Vietnamese restaurants.–Renee Schettler Rossi
Why is there baking soda in these pork patties?
The baking soda alters the pH of the recipe, which in turn (due to chemical reactions we won’t bore you with) helps the protein in the pork retain moisture and remain tender rather than tighten and turn tough when exposed to intense heat. What results is tender pork patties that are done in mere minutes.
Vietnamese Grilled Pork Patties with Rice Noodles | Bun Cha
For the rice noodles and salad
- 8 ounces dried rice vermicelli
- 1 head (8 ounces) Boston lettuce torn into bite-size pieces
- 1 English cucumber peeled if desired, quartered lengthwise, seeded, and thinly sliced on the diagonal
- 1 cup fresh cilantro leaves and stems
- 1 cup fresh mint leaves torn if large
For the sauce
- 1 small Thai chile pepper (or substitute another chile pepper) stemmed and minced, seeded if desired
- 3 tablespoons granulated sugar
- 1 garlic clove minced
- 2/3 cup hot water
- 5 tablespoons fish sauce
- 1/4 cup lime juice (from 2 limes)
For the pork patties
- 1 large shallot minced
- 1 tablespoon fish sauce
- 1 1/2 teaspoons granulated sugar
- 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
- 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- 1 pound ground pork
- Oil for the grill grate
Make the rice noodles and salad
- In a large pot over high heat, bring 4 quarts water to boil. Stir in the rice noodles and cook according to package directions until tender.
- Drain the noodles and rinse under cold running water until cool. Drain the noodles, spread them on a large plate or rimmed baking sheet, and let stand at room temperature until dry.
- Arrange the lettuce, cucumber, cilantro, and mint separately on a large platter and refrigerate until needed.
Make the sauce
- Using mortar and pestle (or on a cutting board using the flat side of chef’s knife), mash the chile pepper, 1 tablespoon sugar, and garlic to create a paste.
☞TESTER TIP: If you don’t care for things hot, use less than the entire chile pepper.
- Scrape the paste into a medium bowl and add hot water and 2 tablespoons sugar and stir until the sugar dissolves. Stir in the fish sauce and lime juice.
Make the pork patties
- In a medium bowl, combine the shallot, fish sauce, sugar, baking soda, and pepper. Add the pork and mix until well combined. Shape the pork mixture into 12 patties, each about 2 1/2 inches (6 cm) wide and 1/2 inch (12 mm) thick, and place on a rimmed baking sheet.
☞TESTER TIP: If your patties seem soft and a little sticky, slip them in the freezer for about 10 minutes before grilling or pan-searing to make them easier to handle.
- If using a stovetop, place a cast-iron or non-stick skillet over medium-high heat until hot. If using a gas grill, lightly oil the grate and heat the grill over high until very hot, 10 to 15 minutes. If using a charcoal grill, open the bottom vent completely. Light a large chimney starter filled with charcoal briquettes (6 quarts). When the top coals are partially covered with ash, pour them evenly over half of grill. Lightly oil the grate and set it in place. Cover the grill, and open the lid vent completely. Heat the grill until hot, about 5 minutes.
- Cook the patties until charred to your liking and cooked through, 3 to 5 minutes per side. If using a gas grill, cover the grill. If using a charcoal grill, place them directly over the coals.
- Transfer the patties to the bowl with the sauce and gently toss to coat. Let rest for 5 minutes.
- Transfer the patties to a platter, reserving the sauce on the side. Pass the noodles, salad platter, sauce, and pork patties separately and let everyone create their own plate.
Recipe Testers’ Reviews
This recipe takes me back to about 30 years ago when I had my first bowl of Bun Cha in a Vietnamese restaurant owned by a friend of a friend’s parents. We stopped in to say hello and they graciously welcomed me and placed a bowl of Bun Cha in front of me. For a moment, I didn’t know what hit me. The flavor explosion of salty, sweet, spicy, sour combined with cool lettuce, mint, cilantro, cucumber, thin vermicelli noodles, and warm pork just woke up my palate and took me on a flavor journey that I had never experienced before and which I hoped to have again. The thin sauce served on the side lent just the right balance to the dish and they also served it with crushed dry roasted peanuts on top.
I loved the experience of eating Bun Cha so many years ago, and having this recipe as a guide is a great way to enjoy it at home! Bun Cha is such a quick and easy meal to prepare, light, but packed with flavor…perfect for summertime! Basically a noodle and pork salad, this hits all of the Vietnamese flavors I crave in a salad like this. My husband asked me to add this to the regular dinner rotation.
The recipe is fairly straightforward and simple. The pork mixture came together quickly. I thought the dressing would be too much, but we ended up using it all. I only used 2 tablespoons of fish sauce in the dressing and it was still plenty flavorful.
When grilling the pork patties, make sure to pay careful attention to the pork patties on the grill to prevent overcooking, 3 to 4 minutes per side is perfect! The charcoal grill was used and it’s amazing how the baking soda helped to promote such beautiful browning to the pork when grilled.
Once cooked, dipping the pork patties in the sauce as instructed is genius…the charcoal flavor really adds a nice touch and comes through!
I would imagine a dark meat ground turkey or chicken would be a good substitute for the pork. I added some julienned rainbow carrots for some additional veggies in the salad.
Update: After making this recipe and hearing repeated rave reviews from my husband on how much he enjoyed this dish, I decided to make it again and it was even better than I remembered the first time!
I didn’t have shallot when making the second batch and used about a quarter cup of chopped yellow onion, which was a great substitute, I imagine green onions would be good as well. I also played around with the pork seasonings with the second batch and added a condiment not included in the original recipe: 1/2 tablespoon sweet soy sauce to the other recipe ingredients which added some extra salty sweetness.
The sauce was all used up both times we made this, it added great flavor. I added a few extra garnishes to the finished dish such as lime wedges, julienne carrots, crushed dry roasted peanuts which added a nice sweetness, crunch, and even more sour from the extra squeeze of juice from the lime wedges. I also played around with the variety of salad greens based on my preference and what I had on hand. The recipe-essentially a noodle salad bowl- is a great canvas to add in whatever you like as long as you’ve got the cilantro, mint, lime, cucumber and basic flavorings of the recipe.
The noodles I used were from my local Asian market, “Wai Wai” brand rice vermicelli from Thailand. I love these noodles because they soften when soaked in cold or warm water in just 2 to 3 minutes, which helped with the ease of preparation.
For my family this recipe is a win, and I will be making it again and again, but somehow we can’t seem to get more than 2 servings out of this recipe, it’s that good. Those little pork patties are addicting!
My husband and I were so happy to eat this on a summer day. Always love fresh Vietnamese flavors and herbs! The sauce was nice and piquant and tied everything together. (I did not seed the chile because we like the heat!)
We don’t have a grill right now, so I had to do the patties on the stove top in a 13-inch skillet. I cooked them on medium-high heat initially for 4 minutes, and then turned it down to medium for 3 minutes. This got them nice and browned!
I particularly liked that the recipe had you coat the pork patties in the sauce before eating it –this ensured that the flavor was better incorporated throughout the dish. I’m sure that grilling is always a little tastier, but I was satisfied with the stovetop result. Nice variety of textures in this dish and truly felt like I was getting carry-out from the neighborhood Vietnamese restaurant!
Vietnamese food is one of my all time favorite cuisines, and with restaurants still mostly closed due to shelter-in-place orders, I have been nursing a serious craving of late. On a recent trip to Vietnam, I found myself repeatedly at the Hanoi restaurant Bun Cha Ta in order to indulge my love of this simple yet flavorful meal. So when the opportunity to test one of my very favorite dishes arose, I jumped at the chance. I’m so glad I did as this dish was really terrific!
The grilled pork patties and spicy nuoc cham sauce are the perfect companions to the crunchy fresh salad. Add some neutral rice noodles and you have a complete and satisfying meal, which as the recipe author says, is “an ideal meal for a hot summer night.”
A couple of things I learned along the way: Consider grinding your own meat. It’s easy to do with a food processor, and allows you to know exactly where it came from. Just cut into 1-inch cubes, place in the freezer for 20 to 30 minutes, and pulse until you get the desired consistency. Do be sure to choose a well-marbled piece of pork, as you most definitely want some fat to flavor your patties.
I was curious about the addition of the baking soda to the meat mixture, and sure enough, they came out juicy and succulent. Although the patties can be made indoors on a grill pan, this method can be very smoky and messy, so my advice is to go with an outdoor grill if possible.
I was unable to find a Thai chile so substituted in a small serrano chile with the seeds removed. This led to a spicy sauce, so cut back a bit if you are not a fan of spicy heat.
Cooking the noodles and making the sauce can all be done ahead, which I would do next time in order to concentrate on making the patties. The noodles soften up very quickly, so pay attention and do not let them overcook. Be sure to let them dry out sufficiently so that any residual water does not dilute your sauce. I advise following the directions on the package as some types of rice vermicelli require only soaking in water to soften.
Serving the salad and pork on a platter makes for an appealing presentation and allows guests to personalize it to their liking, though skimping on the mint and cilantro isn’t advisable. I couldn’t resist adding a bowl full of chopped peanuts to be sprinkled on top along with some of the reserved sauce.
If you are as enamored of bun cha as I am, I encourage you to give this recipe a try. You, too, can create this yummy dish at home.
WOW! I think these Vietnamese Grilled Pork Patties with Rice Noodles are the best thing I’ve made in this round of testing! The salad is bright, tangy, funky, crunchy, juicy, slurpy, and toothsome!
I think using an excellent fish sauce is key here; I used Red Boat 40N and it’s the only fish sauce I buy now. It’s perfectly balanced. Also, if you can get your butcher department to do a coarse grind on the pork, it definitely gives the best bite, texture-wise.
I made two versions: one as directed with rice noodles, and one (to cut down on the carbohydrate load) with kelp noodles. Both were stunningly delicious, but I absolutely LOVED the way the kelp noodles retained a wee bit of crunch after soaking up the sauce. I found that the rice noodles absorbed just a bit more of sauce, which my family happened to love, but I still prefer a little crunch. Though the salad was a flavor explosion, I thought the appearance should be a little more on par with the flavor, so I added some julienned carrot, fanned some (nontraditional) avocado on top, and scattered some of the flowers from my already bolted plants for added prettiness! I was tempted to add even more “stuff,” like sliced scallions and radishes and maybe some chili crisps, but in fact, nothing else was needed. The flavors were perfect.
I think a big takeaway from this recipe is the soaking of the pork patties in the sauce. This technique infused a ton of flavor into the patties! I’m definitely stealing this method to use in other recipes!
This recipe was flavorful and easy. It did seem to take a while to put together but it was worth the little extra effort. The whole dish came together well, and the sauce was the element that tied it all in. My husband and two teenage boys liked it, too.
The patties were easy to mix together and shape. I cooked inside because it’s already horribly hot here in Texas. They took about 8 minutes to cook through.
One of my kids even had two hawaiian rolls with the patties and liked that a lot. In order to have leftovers since I always cook double everything so I can cook less often I made a second batch with ground turkey. Although they tasted great, the pork was definitely better. It’s nice to have an option to use a different type of meat. I also think the pork would be good even if you didn’t form it into patties.
First of all, I love this flavor profile. It’s got to be one of my favorites of all time. The funkiness of fish sauce (which is NOT subtle here), paired with pungent garlic and hot pepper, tempered by lime and sugar…I could literally drink the sauce in this recipe, it’s so flippin’ good. Maybe not the best date night drink—or maybe it IS! It might be a true test of love and appreciation…
I would say this recipe can feed 4 pretty hungry people. I also think that I personally would double the meat portion of the recipe to make it more of a main dish, and it would feed 5 or 6 people with those proportions adjusted.
For serving, the recipe suggested plating everything separately, but when we actually ate this meal, we ended up with full bowls of mixed up noodles, herbs, and greens drenched in extra sauce, with the patties spread throughout. It was truly delightful eaten this way.
I used Four Elephants Premium Fish Sauce- it’s got incredible flavor and it’s non GMO, which is always a plus!
I cooked the patties on my gas stove top rather than a grill. Honestly, the patties were so small I think they would have fallen to their scorching deaths on my charcoal grill outside. The gas stove with a sturdy cast iron skillet seemed much safer and easier for this meal, which is actually a nice quick one to accomplish when you have everything ready to go, and I felt setting up the coals on the grill was a little overkill for my purposes.
About those patties—they were cute! Mine turned out a touch taller that the recipe suggested, but also not as wide once I cooked them. They shrank inward and rose up as burgers often do once the heat is turned on.
I could eat this meal every week with no complaints. I also think I could exchange the ground meat for any ground meat—turkey, chicken, beef, even lamb. It could also be made with a bean-based pattie or tempeh, which would slide into place. I would substitute fish sauce for a vegan, using Kombu seaweed and some mushrooms for some salty and umami goodness—I find oyster mushrooms can sometimes have an almost seafood or shellfish-like aroma before they’re cooked and then become more like chicken once fried in butter. But alternatively you could steep the mushrooms and kombu in simmering water to make a dashi and add that to the chili-garlic-sugar paste for a sauce.
This recipe is deceptive. It doesn’t take long for the patties to cook and there’s virtually no other cooking, but it takes some time to bring it to the table. Or maybe it’s just because I’m a slow mincer. Either way, it’s well worth whatever time it takes because it delivers a wonderful collection of flavors, highlighted by that wonderful umami that fish sauce brings to anything.
Getting a nice char on the patties is key, so even though they’re small and cook quickly, you can’t take them off the grill too soon. Between the flavorful pork, the noodles, the crunch from the cucumber, and the pop from both the mint and cilantro, this dish has it all. I think dropping the cooked patties into the sauce was a great move because it added even more flavor to them. I ate one plain and while it was good, it wasn’t as good as the others.
Didn’t have any issues with the recipe…it’s just that I told my family dinner would be ready in a half hour and it was more like an hour plus before we finally sat down!
This is the ideal recipe for a hot day! Cool, crisp, and satisfying. I’ve never made anything like this, but it was a huge hit in my house. My husband turned the leftovers into fresh tacos, using the lettuce as the wrap—he raved about this recipe a second time! I cooked the patties on the grill in a cast iron skillet. I liked this method because the patties sizzled away in their own fat and both sides were brown and crisp.
My uncooked patties were incredibly soft, so I popped them in the freezer for a few minutes before grilling just so that I could handle them when grilling. Hhighly recommend this step! Also, next time I may break the noodles in half before cooking them, just so they are a bit more manageable when serving (they were a bit of a tangled mess!). Overall, this was great for a hot summer’s day when you want something fresh.
This dish was a time machine, lurching to London. One bite and I was walking down a one-way side street just off the iconic, bustling, Oxford Circus. The place? Pho, a tiny, fast paced, sweet scented, Vietnamese restaurant that’s a refuge for office workers. Of course, Pho has other locations, but this one is where the memory lives.
Bun cha was a go-to lunch during this time of life. The pork balls with nuoc cham were a new flavor to me at the time and I fell head over heels. It was always the week’s best inexpensive indulgence.
I have consistently had trouble finding Thai red chiles in Brooklyn. Maybe I’m just stubborn, as I’m sure Chinatown would be a good source. But when you’re already spoiled for good sources within walking distance a car trip (in the age of Covid) seems extreme. So I opted for a green chile pepper. Not exactly the equivalent on the Scoville scale and possessing a thicker skin than the Thai red chile. But here’s the happy accident. This dish tasted so much like Pho’s version. Some mild heat from the pepper but no hot kick to turn you off.
Pho serves their Thai pepper sauce (Nuoc Cham Chay) on the side and the sweet, salty Nuoc Cham sauce poured over the rice noodles. I don’t know what I’d do if my rice noodle bowl with bright herbs and crips cucumber wasn’t covered (not swimming) with this irresistible sauce. I’ll add some extra peppers to a portion of my leftover nuoc cham today and see if it makes this dish even better.
A lot of people are turned away from cooking this type of cuisine due to the perceived chopping involved. Including me. However, I found this a relaxing dish to make as everything was prepped ahead of time and refrigerated until ready to use. This dish was also devoured at the table with the same vivid memory. Also, everyone thought overall it was a bit sweet. I’m sure the Thai chili would have aided the balance, but when I make it next time, I will be omitting the sugar in the pork patties.
Thumbs up all around the table. A fresh and vibrant dinner with loads of flavor. The rice vermicelli noodles were perfect with the crunchy cucumber, fresh herbs and grilled pork. The pork patties had a wonderful crisp exterior and were perfectly done. They held together and flipped easily on the grill.
The recipe came together quickly and would be an amazing dinner to grab the ingredients on the way home. I had the sauce and the patties prepared and ready to go by the time my grill was hot. Served a family of four with two teen boys and had leftover patties and vermicelli for two.
Vietnamese is always a huge hit in our house. Also, anything that is served as build-your-own makes family dinner so simple.
This dish really delivered in flavor and I think it would be fun to make for a summer dinner party since it would be relatively easy to scale and most of the prep work can be done in advance. The contrast of smells and colors and textures is delightful: the lightly charred pork, the crunch of fresh greens, the spicy funk of the sauce, the soft noodles. Everyone at my table had seconds, which meant it served three plus leftovers for one.
Personally, I would have loved the addition of some lemongrass to the pork patties. I was unable to get my hands on a Thai chile so I added sambal oelek until I brought the sauce to an appropriate heat level.
Originally published July 23, 2020