Bun (rhymes with "swoon") a Vietnamese cold noodle salad, is perfect for battling the summer heat.
Like Country Time lemonade and watermelon, I think bun should be made an "All-American" summertime staple. What other dish can fill you up and cool you down so satisfyingly.
The dish, consisting mainly of cold rice vermicelli noodles and chopped raw vegetables, is cooling, refreshing, yet still doggedly unvegetarian since the nouc cham is made with fish sauce. Also, what bun is complete without a few char kissed slices of meat. Topped on your mound o' noodles will be choices grilled beef, pork, shrimp, and even cut pieces of fried egg roll. Or if you are feeling particularly carnivorous, all of the above!
When you are served your bun, take the nouc cham and douse everything with it like it was on fire. This thin sauce is tart and tangy and provides all of the flavor. After that, there's nothing left to do but toss and enjoy.
The bun served at Pho Bac Ky comes in a boat.
That's right. A boat.
And as if that weren't silly enough, they stuck a dainty cocktail umbrella into one piece of grilled pork. It looked as if it was taking a leisurely cruise somewhere in the China Sea.
But no matter what vessel your bun comes in, what you get will always be the same; a pleasureable mix of sour pickled carrots, raw bean sprouts, crushed peanuts, and slivered cucumber mingling with the feather light noodles and the aforementioned grilled meats. And if you opted for the egg rolls, you also get a crunchy counterpoint which feels like shrimp-filled croutons.
Pho Bac Ky does a good rendition of bun, albeit an expensive one at $7.45 (perhaps the cocktail umbrella jacked-up the unit cost). The pork is a bit gristly in parts, but was tender with an aromatic lemongrass sweetness.
Also ordered was a formidable dish of broken rice with the same grilled pork, "julienned pork", and something they call an "egg quiche". This "egg quiche" is a dense concoction of beaten egg cooked solid with all sorts of odds and ends thrown in for texture. Chief among them; ground pork and wood ear fungus. Trust me, it tastes better than it sounds.
The "julienned pork" is actually and quite literally, pork confetti. What the confetti consists of is beyond me. The opaque pieces are most obviously pork meat, but the clear strands remind me of the crunchy stuff they put in headcheese. In any case, if you don't think about it and just eat, it is quite tasty and mysteriously wispy.
Feeling full and happy after all this food, we decided, "What summer meal is complete without an icy dessert?" Pho Bac Ky thankfully has a colorful assortment of cool dessert drinks, some of which will put you into a technicolor acid trip. My absolute favorite is cryptically called "The Black Sea". Crushed ice, black tapioca pearls, grass jelly, and the vanilla-like essense of pandanus leaf make a cold drink that is chunky and creamy sweet without being too rich.
Pho Bac Ky
4250 Barranca Parkway, Suite K
Irvine, Ca 92604
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