The Vietnamese Grill

Serves: 5



I have a theory about the best way to eat during the sweltering dog days of summer. I take my cue from sun-belt lands that have scorching climates all year long. Hot climates generally produce cooking styles well suited to warm weather eating. And nowhere is this more true than Vietnam.

I visited Saigon hot on the barbecue trail, and didn’t have far to go to strike paydirt. My hotel, the New World, was located across the street from Saigon’s Ben Thanh Central Market. And as at markets throughout Southeast Asia, Ben Thanh was teeming with grill jockeys.

A favorite stop was a stall where a woman grilled chicken wings that had been marinating in a fragrant paste of lemongrass, garlic, and fish sauce. Another vendor proffered an egg that had been "hard-boiled" (roasted) over a coconut shell charcoal fire. I wrapped it with a sprig of mint in a lettuce leaf and dipped it in nuoc cham, Vietnam’s delicate table sauce-a piquant mixture of fish sauce, lime juice, and sugar. The combination was stellar.

Grilling is ubiquitous in Vietnam, first because it produces such flavorful food, and second because it’s so cheap to prepare. As in Thailand and Indonesia, coconut is a major crop here and the tree’s by-product-coconut husks-makes excellent charcoal.

But grilling isn’t only for the poor, a fact brought home to me where I stopped next-a tiny restaurant called Vietnam House. Located on the second floor of a fashionable townhouse on Dong Khoi Street, Vietnam House seems to exist chiefly for the pleasure of deep-pocketed foreigners. This has both advantages and drawbacks: You get to dine among lacquered screens and gilded wood carvings, serenaded by live, twangy Vietnamese classical music and served by waitresses in ao dai (slit dresses). On the down side, you feel a little like you’re in Epcot.

I wouldn’t say Vietnam House specializes in grilled fare, but two items here rank as world-class barbecue. The first is chao tom, an ingenious combination of shrimp mousse that is grilled on a piece of sugarcane. You don’t really eat the cane, so much as chew it to release the sweet juices.

The other dish is bo goi la-lot, beef grilled in la-lot leaves and served on tiny skewers. La-lot is the piquant leaf of a Southeast Asian vine that reminds me a little of basil. The beef fairly sizzled, its fat counterbalanced by the herbal tang of the leaf.

A counterpointing of grilled meats with vegetables, specifically with lettuce and aromatic herbs, and noodles is one of the hallmarks of Vietnamese cuisine.

A Meal Outdoors

No dish represents the Vietnamese penchant for enriching small portions of grilled meats with a large proportion of noodles and vegetables than banh hoi thit (grilled pork with rice noodles) and its sister dish bo bun (grilled beef with rice paper). And no one makes them better than the restaurant Thanh Nien.

I enjoyed my grilled pork in the restaurant’s airy courtyard. To my left, stood a grove of bamboo to my right, a thatch-roofed portico. Oscillating fans stirred the torrid air. The tables around me were filled with fledgling capitalists chattering on cellular phones.

As I sipped an icy "33" Export beer, the waitress set before me three plates. The first contained neatly coiled, snowy rice noodles. The second held the actual pork, which had been thinly sliced, marinated in a fragrant mixture of lemongrass, shallots, and vodka, and smokily charred on the grill. The cooked slices were then dusted with an aromatic sprinkling of chopped scallions and toasted peanuts, the former for pungency, the latter for sweetness and crunch.

The final element was a salad platter that turns up on all Vietnamese tables. The refreshing assortment included lettuce and basil leaves, sliced cucumbers, mung bean sprouts, and crisp, pointed slices of star fruit. To eat the dish, you wrap a coil of noodles and a slice of pork in a lettuce leaf, with basil for fragrance and slices of cucumber and star fruit for crispness.

The result is a morsel perfect for summer, being simultaneously hot and cold crisp, soft, and chewy sweet, salty, lemony, and aromatic. I can’t think of a dish in the West that comes close to achieving such a complex interplay of temperatures, textures, and tastes. And it’s fun to eat.

Search for the word "Vietnamese" to find the many Vietnamese recipes in this book.

This The Vietnamese Grill recipe is from the The Barbecue Bible Cookbook. Download this Cookbook today.

More Recipes from the The Barbecue Bible Cookbook:
A Day with Najmieh Batmanglij: The Persian Grill
A Few Shark and Bake Tips
A Griller's Guide to the World's Chiles
A Marinating Tip
A New French Paradox
A Special Word About Ground Meat, Burgers, and Sausages
A Traditional Barbacoa
Aleppo Pepper
Approximate Times for Rotisserie Cooking
Barbecue Alley: The Mexican Grill
Barbecue Countdown
Barbecue from the Land of Morning Calm:
Basmati Rice Five Ways
Beef Grilling Chart *
Black Gold
Bombay Tikka "Taco"
Butterflying a Flank Steak
Cleaning and Oiling the Grill
Cooking Hamburgers
Cooking With a Blowtorch
Cooking with Wood
Fish Grilling Chart*
From Hamburg to Hoboken: A Brief History of the Hambuger
Grate Expectations: Some Tips on Grilling Vegetables
Grating Citrus Peel
Grilled Rujak
Grilling Indoors
Grinding It Out
Ground Meats Grilling Chart
Hawkers' Center
How to Butterfly Pork or Beef
How to Butterfly Short Ribs for Korean-Style Grilling
How to Cut Up a Chicken
How to Dry Fennel Stalks
How to Grill Perfect Chicken
How to Grill Perfect Chicken Halves and Quarters
How to Grill Perfect Fish Fillets
How to Grill Perfect Vegetables Every Time
How to Grill a Whole Grilled Fish
How to Grill the Perfect Fish
How to Grill the Perfect Whole Chiken
How to Grill the Perfect Whole Fish
How to Make Scallion Brushes
How to Peel and Devein Shrimp
How to Skin and Bone Fish Fillets
How to Spatchcock a Chicken or Game Hen
How to Stuff Sausages Like a Pro
How to Unskewer Shish Kebabs
How to grill a perfect steak
How to grill with out a grate
How to make ricw powder
How to prepare fresh coconut
How to rinse and dry Cilantro
How to rinse salad greens
How to toast seeds, nuts, and breadcrumbs
In pursuit of the best Tuscan Steak
Jerk: The Jamaican Barbecue
Lamb Grilling Chart
Larding the Beef
Making crosshatch grill marks
Matambre: A hunger-killer from South America
Mesclun Mix
Of Koftas, Lyulas, and Seekh
On trimming fat from meat
Pit Cooking
Pork Grilling Chart
Pork the Italian Way
Poultry Grilling Chart*
Shellfish Grilling Chart*
Stalking the Elusive Grilled Snail
Stuck on Sate: The Indonesian Grill
The Afghan Grill
The Argentinian Grill
The Birth of the Kettle
The Brazilian Grill
The Four Styles of American Barbecue
The Indian Grill
The Japanese Grill
The Macanese Grill
The Moroccan Grill
The Most Famous Fish House in Indonesia
The Splendid Resaurant Karim
The Tale of Three Barbecues: The Thai Grill
The Ten Commandments of Perfect Grilling
The Turkish Grill
The Vietnamese Grill
To Render Chicken Fat
Types of Charcoal
Uruguay's Mercado Del Puerto
Vegetable Grilling Chart*
What to look for in a Grill
When You’re Feeling Less Than Brave
When to cover the Grill
When to use a Drip Pan
Whole Fish, Tikin Xik Style

"I must say this is the best recipe software I have ever owned."

"Your DVO cookbook software saves me time and money!"
-Mary Ann

"Call it nutrition software, meal planning software, cooking software, recipe manager, or whatever you want. It is the software I use to stay healthy!"

"Your software is the best recipe organizer and menu planner out there!"

"Thank you so very much for creating such a wonderful cooking recipe program. I think this is the best recipe program there is!"

"I saw lots of recipe software for PC computers but I was having a hard time finding really good mac recipe software. I'm so glad I discovered Cook'n! It's so nice to have all my recipes in a computer recipe organizer. Cook'n has saved me so much time with meal planning and the recipe nutrition calculator is amazing!!!

My favorite is the Cook'n Recipe App.