Barb Hodgens
Barb Hodgens

Barb Hodgens loves to cook with alternative, healthy whole food ingredients, with a focus on gut health. Barb has overcome her own gut health issues through healthy eating. Share your ideas, comments and photos at the end of this post :)


My family continues to reminisce about a recent holiday to Vietnam and the delicious street food of Hanoi. One meal in particular takes us straight back to that fabulous, food frenzied city; their famous' Bun Cha' – Vietnamese meatballs. Traditional Bun Cha does pork two ways - a pork meatball and strips of pork belly. Back home, I simplify the method by combining my cuts with a meat grinder. I grind a portion of shoulder meat together with belly to replicate the flavour in one meatball and halve the work in the traditional dish.

On the streets of Hanoi, Bun Cha is char-grilled on a small pile of hot coals. Obviously char grilling brings with it a unique flavour that my version is missing but no one has ever complained! A stove top pan or BBQ hot plate does the job perfectly! 

Bun Cha is served with a generous pile of fresh herbs. Fragrant and digestion friendly herbs are one of the things I love most about Vietnamese food. They give Vietnamese cuisine an unparalleled freshness. There is no substitute for their unique flavour or aroma so I recommend a trip to your local Asian grocer. These are all gut-loving herbs, full of medicinal qualities that are well known to support and improve digestion, so the more the merrier.

Traditionally Bun Cha is served with vermicelli rice noodles and bean shoots but it’s easy to skip the carbs in favour of more greens. There are no rules and many common non-Asian salad vegetables complement this dish.

As with many Vietnamese dishes the key ingredient is fish sauce. The sauce ties it all together.  I recommend you use ‘Red Boat’ which, is made in Vietnam and is a premium fermented fish sauce. You may only find it in Asian grocers but it’s worth tracking it down because cheap imitations will be full of preservatives. 

These Vietnamese meatballs are a perfect summer dish, and easy enough to prepare mid-week. This recipe produces enough meatballs for two meals or enough to freeze for another time. If you are new to using a meat grinder, be sure to read our tips before you begin.   


Pork Patties
1 kg of pork shoulder or leg 

500 grams pork belly with skin
6 cloves of garlic - crushed
5 spring onions - finely chopped
1 bunch coriander stems – finely chopped (save the leaves for the salad)
2 tablespoons of honey
¼ cup of premium fermented fish sauce
1 small chili – chopped (optional)
½ teaspoon of salt

3/4 cup of chicken stock

¼ cup of premium fermented fish sauce
Juice of ½ a lime (plus more to taste)
1 red chili - finely chopped
2 garlic cloves – crushed
2 tablespoons of honey

Herbs, Greens & Salad ingredients – all or any of this combination
Vietnamese mint

Mint leaves
Thai basil
Perilla leaves
Watercress leaves
Bean shoots 


Pork Patties
1.  Chop both cuts of meat into 5 cm cubes or ask your butcher to do this for you because slicing pork belly skin is not easy. 

2.  Combine the meat in a bowl and toss to disperse the skin and fat throughout.
3.  Place the bowl in the freezer for 45 minutes. It is best that the pork fat is near frozen before you grind it.
4.  Prepare the meatball seasoning (not the dipping sauce). Combine the crushed garlic, chopped spring onion, coriander stems and chili, fish sauce, salt, and honey in a bowl and mix to incorporate then set aside.
5.  Set the meat grinder on the bench with the 8mm cutting plate into the grinder head and a bowl underneath.
6.  Remove the chopped pork from the freezer and turn it out onto the feeder plate.
7.  Turn the grinder on then push the meat through the grinder with the food pusher into a bowl.

8.  Add the prepared meatball seasoning mixture to the ground pork and then thoroughly mix through with your hands (or use a spoon if it’s too cold!).
9.  In warm weather place the ground pork back in the freezer for 30 minutes.
10.  Turn the power on the meat grinder and feed the pork and spice mixture through the grinder a second time.
11.  The meat is now ready to roll into patties and cook but the flavours enhance if left to marinate for a few hours or overnight before cooking.
12.  Roll into small balls then chargrill, pan fry or BBQ for a few minutes either side until cooked.
13.  Store the uncooked meatballs in an airtight container for 3 days or freeze until required.

1.  In a small saucepan simmer all the ingredients on a low heat for 2 minutes. 

2.  Transfer the sauce to a serving bowl or small jug to serve and serve warm.

Asian Greens
1.  Wash and dry the herbs. 

2.  Remove the leaves and discard the stems.
3.  Serve the greens on a platter or large bowl.
4.  Serve the bean shoots in a separate bowl.

How to eat it Bun Cha

Large bowls work best with this meal. Simply pile in salad herbs, optional vermicelli noodles, bean shoots and meatballs and pour over the sauce. Enjoy!