The Meal Planner

When I was in my first year of college every Tuesday and Thursday my classmates and I had a 3 1/2 hour break between Design and Art History, the break nestling in nicely right over lunch time. A few of the girls who grew up there wanted to introduce the rest of us to the best Vietnamese restaurant in the city. Vietnamese? A small town girl like me had never had Vietnamese. What was I in for?

I ordered a bowl of vermicelli with BBQ pork on top and it came with a small bowl of orange liquid with strips of carrots and bits of red chili's floating in it. "What's this?" I asked my classmates. "Mostly fish sauce" said one of the girls. Ewwwwwwww. Fish sauce? (This was obviously before my culinary days) I was squeamish and decided to eat my bowl of noodles and meat without it. Everyone ranted and raved about how GREEEEEAT the food was and it was sooooo delcious and "Mmmmmmm this is the best Vietnamese I've ever HAAAAD."

I really didn't see the greatness. It was so bland. I was eating plain ol' rice noodles with a few pieces of pork on top. What was wrong with these people?

One of the ladies noticed my full bowl of Vietnamese dipping sauce sitting untouched. "Aren't you going to add that to your vermicelli?" she asked. "Uhhhhhhhhhhhhh......I guess" as I half heartedly poured the tiniest amount over my noodles. Skeptically I took a bite.

WOW. The flavor had completely changed and gone from bland and boring to FANTASTIC! I dumped the entire bowl of dipping sauce over my bowl of vermicelli and greedily slurped up noodles. So delicious. Just like the rest of them, I couldn't get enough. We ended up eating there almost every Tuesday and Thursday for months on end. I even had one friend who would go all by herself just to get her hands on that sweet, sweet Vietnamese taste. The bowls of vermicelli came in small, medium and large and a medium bowl was big enough to satisfy our needs. My friend that went in by herself couldn't get enough so she began ordering large bowls. She even confessed to me one evening that sometimes she ordered a large order AS WELL AS a small bowl. FOR HERSELF. "They do take out you know" she informed me.

I too love the sweet, sweet Vietnamese taste. It's a combination of sour, sweet, spicy, garlic and delicious all rolled into one. I've been making it at home for a year and a half now and have tweaked the recipe down to a science. I haven't seen my college friend for over 6 years but I'll bet she'd love me for this one ;)

*Recipe inspired by Oiishi Eats

Serves 4

BBQ Pork:
1 - 1/2 lb pork shoulder, sliced thin
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 tbsp soy sauce
4 tbsp sugar
4 tbsp rice vinegar
2 tbsp fish sauce
2 tbsp oyster sauce
4 tbsp oil

400g vermicelli noodles (these can be found in the International aisle of the grocery store or at an Asian supermarket)
1 cup lettuce, thinly sliced
1 cup bean sprouts
Chopped peanuts
Cilantro (optional)

Vietnamese Dipping Sauce:
This can be made ahead and stored in the fridge for over a month. It's also delicious for dipping spring rolls.

3-1/2 tbsp sugar
3/4 cup warm water
2 tbsp lime juice
2 cloves garlic, finely minced
5 tbsp fish sauce
1 tsp chili-garlic sauce or ½ tsp minced chili (or more, depending on your tastes)
Thinly sliced carrot (optional)

Mix together all pork marinade ingredients in a large bowl. Thinly slice the pork and toss in the marinade. Mix together and place in fridge to marinate for at least 20 minutes.

In a resealable jar, add all the Vietnamese dipping sauce ingredients and shake well. Place in the fridge.

To soak your vermicelli noodles, most people put them in a large bowl and cover them with warm tap water and let them sit for 30 minutes. I'm not most people. I find that covering them with boiling water and letting them sit for 5-10 minutes works just as well. I get more instant gratification that way :) They don't get mushy or gluey or anything, but prepare them how you like and drain.

Once the pork has marinated, turn the oven on to broil. Place a rack on a cookie sheet, and lay the strips of pork across the rack. Place in the oven and broil for 6-10 minutes. This is really dependent on your oven, how far from the broiler the pork is and how thickly you've sliced your pork. Just keep your eye on them. Once they look brown and a little crispy around the edges they're done.

To assemble your bowl, place a couple tablespoons of bean sprouts and a couple tablespoons of lettuce in the bottom. Top with a good amount of noodles (about 1/4 of what you've prepared) and strips of pork on top. Garnish with peanuts (and cilantro if you like.) Before you eat, pour on some Vietnamese dipping sauce and get ready to slurp.

Click here for printable version of Charbroiled Pork Vermicelli.

Do you really have to ask how much we love this meal? It's painfully obvious that I adore this dish and my husband is just as enthusiastic about it as I am. Our toddler likes digging in and eating it with her hands as well. Oh I've said it before about the Charbroiled Pork Sandwiches, but I'll say it again: The marinade for the pork is WONDERFUL.

This meal is delicious and inexpensive. Not only do we save money by making this ourselves at home instead of eating out, but since we already have a big bottle of fish sauce in our fridge it's incredibly cheap to make. I would take a wild guess and say it's under 5 dollars.

For more inexpensive meal ideas, visit Erin at $5 Dinners.

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14 Responses
  1. Carla Says:

    Yayyy! Thanks for posting this one - I can't wait to try it!

  2. Anonymous Says:

    Thank you so much for posting this, it is one of my most favorite dishes.

  3. what a great story! fish sauce does amazing things!

  4. Andrea Says:

    I made this tonight and it was soooo good! Hubby and I ate it til we bloated then went back and ate some more! Awesome!

  5. Andrea - You sound like me and my husband! Thanks for coming back to tell me you liked the recipe, I'm so glad.

  6. Anonymous Says:

    Oh my goodness... I've always loved this in the restaurants and couldn't figure out how they made it. Just tried your recipe... It's perfect! Husband's pigging out at home, 3rd bowl! You are so good. Thank-you. Those beautiful food pictures really help motivate me to cook too!

  7. Anonymous you just made my day. Thanks so much for the encouraging words.

  8. Anonymous Says:

    OMG... we order vietmenese every friday at work and I always order this and this week I was sick on Friday :( ... so i found and tried your recipe last night hoping to make up for my loss and WOW, just as great as the resturant we order from, if not better, and everyone loved it, even the picky kids !!! this is definately going to be a regular in our house !! thanks a bunch !!!

  9. Anonymous Says:

    Thank you! Thank you! Thank you! This is our favorite Vietnamese dish and it tastes exactly like the restaurant version. Even my 3 picky kids ate so much of it that next time I'll have to double the recipe, just so we can all have seconds. It was amazing!

  10. Harold Vance Says:

    Your pork marinade is awesome and also works great on pork chops. I like to add chargrilled onions and chargrilled pineapple to the dish. This kicks it up another notch.

  11. Harold I love the marinade as well, but have never thought to use it on pork chops. Brilliant! I've got some in the freezer, so I'll have to try it soon. The grilled pineapple and onions sounds like a winner too.

  12. Harold Vance Says:

    TMP, I also add minced lemongrass to your marinade. I love the smooth lemony flavor that it imparts. Lemongrass is very easy to grow in a southern climate and it is also an ornamental and drought-tolerant. Mine is six feet tall even though we had almost no rain this past summer.

    My brother in-law and nephew still remember the time that I grilled pork chops for them with your marinade. There is nothing like taking one straight off the grill and eating it like a caveman.

    I have tried modifying your recipe but have concluded that it can't really be improved except for maybe adding some lemongrass.

  13. Anonymous Says:

    Made this with chicken substituted for the pork tonight, and it was delicious. Holy smokes, though, that's a lot of noodles! Lots of leftovers for tomorrow. :)

  14. Quoc Says:

    Wow, I enjoyed reading your story! But I enjoyed your recipe even more! It was really tastey. My wife loved it too. We followed your recipe for the pork marinade, however I wound up using thinly sliced pork tenderloins cuz thats all we had. I don't recommend it cuz it gets pretty dry. Also, I decided to use my mom's recipe for the dipping sauce. I believe yours is the American version cuz it seems sweeter.

    I must say that adding a fried egg on top with a few sprinkles of scallions and a drizzle of sesame oil will make a world of difference.

    Thank you for sharing and I hope to try some of your other recipes real soon!