Warm up this Winter with a “Michiganized” Vietnamese Bun Bowl

Bún chả is a traditional Vietnamese dish of grilled fatty pork served over rice noodles, usually served with herbs, vegetables, and a dipping sauce. These now internationally popular bowls are easy to throw together on a busy weeknight and can accommodate most produce that is still available (we have cucumbers, garlic, green onions, onions, carrots, and spinach available in northeastern Michigan right now, with the help of a hoophouse). This dish has a lot of room for your own personal local interpretation and I just love the mixture of hot, caramelized meats and garlicky sauteed spinach; the cold, sweet and salty pickled vegetables; the fresh, fragrant herbs straight from the garden; the spicy, pungent kim chi; the smooth Vermicelli noodles drizzled in toasted sesame oil. This dish is pure love.

Michigan Vietnamese Bun Bowl

Serves 2-4


  • 2 boxes thin rice noodles
  • 1 lb ground pork
  • 2 cucumbers
  • 4 shredded carrots
  • 1 jar kimchi, homemade or bought
  • 3 green onions, thinly sliced
  • 2-3 eggs, soft-boiled, peeled and sliced in half
  • Toasted sesame oil
  • Rice vinegar
  • Soy Sauce
  • Sriracha or other hot sauce
  • 5 T brown sugar
  • Juice of three limes
  • 1 lb spinach
  • 3 T cooking oil; I use coconut
  • 1/2 onion, finely diced
  • 2 tsp grated fresh ginger
  • 1 hot Thai chili, deseeded and finely chopped
  • 3-4 cloves garlic, chopped
  • Several sprigs of fresh basil or cilantro, or both

The noodles.
I generally use Thai Kitchen brand thin rice noodles. You can find a version of this in the Asian aisle of most groceries. Follow the instructions on the back. Once the noodles are cooled, I dress them in toasted sesame oil.

The pickled veggies.

I cover cut up cucumbers and shredded carrots with rice vinegar for at least a couple of hours so they soak up some of that salty sweetness.

The kimchi.
Obviously if you make your own kimchi, you’d want to have this on hand for the meal. You can also find it at most groceries and there are some superlative kimchis on the market these days. I recommend The Brinery’s Oh Gee Kimchi.

The eggs.
Soft-boiled eggs add a rich, custardy texture and flavor to this meal. Place your eggs in a saucepan large enough to fit them in a single layer. Fill the pan with cold water, covering eggs by an inch. Set over medium-high heat, and bring to a boil. Turn off heat, cover, and let stand 1 1/2 to 2 minutes. Remove eggs from water and place in ice water for 5-10 minutes.

The meat.
I recommend Standen Acres or Resonance Center Farm ground pork. Heat half the oil in a large skillet over high heat. Add the onion, ginger, garlic and chili and cook for 2 minutes.
Add the pork and cook for 3 minutes or so until white all over, breaking up the meat with a wooden spoon. Add the sugar and lime juice. Stir, then leave it to cook without touching until all the juices cook out and the pork starts caramelizing – about 2 minutes. Then stir it and leave it again, without stirring, for around 30 seconds to get more caramelization. Repeat twice more until caramelized to your taste.

The spinach.
Heat the other half of the oil in a large skillet over medium high heat. Saute the garlic for just a minute, then add the spinach and stir it through. Add a few splashes of soy sauce, and keep stirring until all the spinach is wilted.

Create your bowl! Lay down your noodles, and put all these toppings on and dress with fresh herbs. I usually add a few splashes of the soy sauce, rice vinegar, and sriracha sauce on top. This is a pretty simple, delicious meal that never ceases to impress guests.

Molly Stepanski is the Local Food Coordinator for Northeast Michigan and owns and operates Presque Isle Farm with her family. She enjoys digging, planting, and hiking in the dirt; cooking up her own recipes; drinking wine; and eating lots of fresh, seasonal produce (and anything deep-fried, in accordance with her southern heritage). Contact her at [email protected]