My love affair with this dish has a bit of a back story. When I was in art school I worked at this Vietnamese restaurant called Little Saigon where I did anything and everything I was told—bussing tables, expediting orders, bringing out meals etc. And I eventually waited tables too (woo! movin' up the ladder!) . At that point in time I had no clue whatsoever, about this thing called Vietnamese cuisine. It smelled good, looked fresh, but I've never tasted it. It was a mystery in the flesh.
During closing time, we were dined by the owners, and that's when I had my sweet, delicious tryst with Bun Bo Xao a thoroughly delicious, simple and refreshing noodle salad with charred Beef steak with fragrant lemongrass over rice noodles and refreshing carrots and cucumbers, all drizzled with a tangy and sweet marinade. Guys....! FOOOOREEEALZZZ YO! This thing is IN. SANE! I used to dredge this thing with Sriracha (umm... on everything else too) for that extra kick! Heavennn!
So in memoriam, today I dusted off a goodie oldie, and it was time to Bun Bo (bun pronounced boon). I got myself some amazing cut of organic grass fed steak (sirloin) and cut it paper thin, marinaded it and grilled it at the end. And that marinade is amazing. Check this out... Sriracha, Garlic, Brown sugar, fresh mint, soy sauce, fish sauce, sesame oil! Every single ingredient adds tons of flavor here you guys! I'm so excited to share this recipe with you.
This steak gets charred, and the noodles just soak up the flavor of the dressing adds a tangy and spicy kick to a minty fresh background. So much delicate flavor, yet so meaty.
I can't wait anymore... so let's do this.
Steak and marinade
1 tbsp lemongrass (the tender white part), minced + 1 extra tbsp for sauteeing
3/4 lb. steak (I used sirloin), sliced paper thin against the grain
1 tbsp fresh garlic (crushed) + 2 tbsp for sauteeing
2 tbsp Fish sauce
1 1/2 tbsp Brown sugar
1 tbsp Sesame oil
1/4 cup Fresh mint (washed & chopped)
Hit of Sriracha
2 tbsp fresh chopped mint (optional)
1 shallot (chopped fine)
Neutral tasting high temp oil (like Grapeseed oil)
Noodles and marinade (Nuoc Cham)
1 lb. thin Vietnamese rice noodles (cooked as per manufacturer suggestions)
• The salad marinade (Nuoc Cham)
1/4 cup water
2 tbsp Fish sauce
Juice of 1 lime
1 tbsp Brown Sugar
4 cloves Garlic (chopped fine)
Hit of Sriracha
Any Hot pepper sliced thin (I used a Habanero)
1 large cucumber (sliced 1" long pieces and thin)
1 cup Fresh mint leaves (chopped)
1 cup fresh carrots sliced thin and pickled (2 cups white Vinegar, 2 tbsp sugar, 1 tbsp salt. Mix well and soak the thin cut carrots for 30 minutes)
1 cup roasted and crushed peanuts for garnish
Wedge of lime (optional)
We start by marinating the beef first. This is a really quick and potent marinade, infusing a lot of flavor into the meat, and it really helps if the meat is cut really thin and against the grain for a tender result.
Cut a fine piece of the best steak you can find, really thin. Once cut, in a bowl add to this beef, the lemongrass paste, crushed garlic, fish sauce, brown sugar, sesame oil, sriracha, and some fresh chopped mint. Mix well with hands, wash those hands with soap, seal the bowl with cling wrap and place in fridge for 20 minutes. Marinade done.
While the meat is marinating, prepare the noodles (rice vermicelli) per manufacturers suggestions. General process is that you bring some water to boil (2 parts water for every part of noodle), and when it bubbles you turn off the heat and soak the noodles for 3 to 4 minutes. Adding some oil to the water might help in the noodles coming out not too clumpy.
Once done, drain the water and rinse the noodles quickly under cold water and add some oil and free up any remaining clumps. Set aside. Noodles done.
Now we make the marinade. Prettttty darn simple. Combine all ingredients into a bowl and mix very well. Taste for seasoning and acidity as well as sweetness. It should smell and taste citrusy and sweet with notes of the fish sauce. Gorgeous marinade done.
Now the toppings. Pickled carrots: 1 cup thin sliced carrots, soaked in 2 cups of white distilled Vinegar, 2 tbsp sugar, and 1 tbsp salt. Soak for 15 minutes at least. Add some fresh mint if you like. Pickled carrot topping done.
Peel the cucumber and cut into thin 1" slices. Cuke topping done.
Now, the last step and here;s where you have to multi task a bit. Ready?
Bring out two heavy bottom pans and heat one of them really friggin' hot! Turn up the heat all the way on the biggest burner on your stove, and give it some time—5 to 6 minutes. The other one medium high heat will do.
Add 1 tbsp oil to the medium hot pan. Add 1 cup thinly sliced shallots and the 1 tbsp crushed garlic as well as 1 tbsp minced lemongrass. Move it around a bit in the pan.
Now the really really hot heavy bottomed pan. WARNING: This is going to go very quick, so be prepared.
Add 1 tbsp oil and spread it around, and then immediately and the slices of beef, as many as you can without crowding the pan. And here's the important part.
DON'T TOUCH THE STEAK FOR AT LEAST 2 MINUTES.
Check on the lemongrass and shallots and turn off the stove if the shallots are translucent.
Now back to the pan with the steak. Flip the steak and grill for 1 more quick minute. You'll notice some beautiful charred marks thanks to the sugar in the marinade. Once done, remove and place in a bowl to rest. Lemongrass Beef done.
And we're on the home stretch, all we need to do is assemble.
In a wide bowl, place a handful of noodle as the base. Add in the fresh chopped mint, slices of cuke, handful of pickled carrots, and pour in some dressing (4 to 5 tbsp). Now place the steak slices on top—as many as you like—the best part! Garnish with some crushed roasted peanuts and a hit of Sriracha and lime for heat and freshness.
Aaaaaand devour and enjoy this amazing and refreshing noodle salad, which happens to look quite dashing I must say! Bonus points if your food looks good, right ?!
Seriously, there isn't a bad view here.
And let's take a moment to admire the colors and details of this Bun Bo beauty-in-a-bowl.
So there we are you guys! I've recreated this nostalgic dish for you guys, hoping you'll give it a shot and travel down memory lane with me, to the days of 24/7 hustling, partying and biking everywhere to school and my 3 odd jobs. I was a man on the move! Those were amazing days, and little did I know that my various experiences in different restaurants will somehow summon an interest in cooking so deep that I'll go this far.
Thank you for all the support. I hope we can keep making memories with food, or food with memories and live our life deliciously surrounded by the people we love, everyday.
Love, hugs and Nomaste.