Life Life

12/07/2019 - 07:44

The pleasant taste of grilled pork noodle

Ho Dac Di street where I live is not a main one but is truly a food paradise, at least in my heart.

The area is in close distance to a university village so the food here is not only abundant but also cheap and delicious.

Two or three o’clock in the afternoon is the opening time of a variety of street food stalls that come in different colors and aromas, including stalls that sell bún thịt nướng (grilled pork noodles), bún mắm nêm (noodles with pungent fish paste), bánh nậm (flat rice cake), bánh lọc (tapioca dumplings), bún hến (clam noodles), bánh canh Nam Phổ (Nam Pho noodle soup),

A colorful bowl of grilled pork noodle

Every time having food cravings, I usually drop by a noodle stall, ordering a big bowl of grilled pork noodle. The place opens at around 3pm and quickly sells out if one comes in a bit late.

The customers gather around a little table where the vendor lady sits with her little treasured baskets. The place is so modest in size that parking can be a nuisance. Yet the “love for fine food” is what keeps the noodle stall always packed with guests who come to enjoy the noodle.

There is nothing more delightful than a bowl of grilled pork noodle in a chill afternoon. The dish is both warm and cool at the same time: the coziness from the pot of burning charcoals used to grill meat and the coolness of leafy green veggies, papayas and carrots salad.

The dish’s price is affordable, only 10 thousand VND for a decent bowl of noodles that fills my stomach up. Its flavor is generally sweet, mainly from the sugary sweetness of the dipping sauce and grilled pork. But the sweetness of a savory dish is so subtle that if one ever consumes too much of it, they still won’t be bothered.

It is such a joy to watch the vendor grill every slice of meat on hot stove. The meat got burnt and turned into a catchy red color along with several joyful popping sounds. Grilled pork can be a bit chewy yet crunchy, and one can feel like having a “party” of taste in their palates. I particularly like slightly overburnt pork pieces with skillful marinade.

Marinating meat is a true art! The sellers have to marinate the meat beforehand and allow seasonings to absorb evenly and deeply. Lemon grass is a must-have spice in the marinade, arousing such an inviting smell of the grilled pork. The chosen pork for the dish should be fatty enough so when grilled, it can be juicier. Such a mouth-watering aroma of grilled pork comes from the burning charcoal beneath!

In order to have an appetizing bowl of grilled pork noodle, it is vital to prepare good quality noodles. Hue’s noodles mirror the gentle characteristics of the Central people. Unlike the rough and chewy noodles of the South that reflect the strong and generous character of the Southerners, Hue’s noodle strands are smaller and more delicate with a distinctive savory coolness.

With the dried noodles, I see the special role of nước lèo (peanut sauce) and fish sauce. The peanut sauce of grilled pork noodle is a special yellowish viscous sauce filled with the scents of peanut and sugar. An alternative is fish sauce blended with minced garlic and chili, but as a habit, I only prefer grilled pork noodle served with peanut sauce. Peanuts are crunchy and rather rich in flavor in the palate

A typical side dish for the noodle is “chua ngọt”, consisted of carrots and papayas thinly sliced and soaked in a mixture of sugar, water and rice vinegar. The sourness of papaya and carrot helps balance the sweet taste of the grilled pork and the peanut sauce. It also adds a sense of harmony and aesthetic look to our cuisine.

A bowl of grilled pork noodle looks appealing, just like a vivid and colorful summer picture of the countryside: bright yet strangely cool thanks to the burnt orange color of grilled meat, the cool greenish color of raw vegetables, the light orange of carrots, and the white shade of raw papaya plus red chilies. A tasty dish should be eye-catching first, indeed!

I particularly fancy having grilled pork noodle with minced hot red chili. Its strong spiciness enhances the taste of meat and the sweet sourness of papayas and carrots. Chilies improve the dish’s flavor and tempting look, but too much can spoil the pure goodness of the dish.

Among the “four favorites” of humans, perhaps eating evokes the most delicate and satisfying feeling. Nothing can compare to savoring a favorite delicacy right in the homeland.

When not in Hue, I often desperately miss the taste of my homeland: just a bite and all the sweet childhood memories revive. Indeed, culinary art is not just about chewing and digesting, but also about enjoying its romance and poetry!

Story, photo: Thuc Dan