Vietnam – Luke Nguyen a culinary salute.

Week 9 – Vietnam

Vietnamese Grilled Pork Skewers with Sesame Salt


Vietnamese Pork skewers



Last week I was delighted to have Vietnam to cook and Bunny was off into central Asia again with Kyrgyzstan. Vietnamese food is hugely popular here in Australia, partially due to Luke Nguyen and his terrific TV shows, and cookbooks – we love you Luke! He has brought Vietnamese food off the streets, out of the food courts and into our homes, making it look and sound so enticing.

From now on Bunny will be posting about the countries she has researched and cooked. I have been struggling to catch up from when we first began this blog, as we cooked for several weeks before we actually started to write it up. I had to wait for my daughter (bunny, for those of you who didn’t know) to tell me our blog name, where to go and how to make a post. As a typical teenager, she is often busy and out, so it seemed to take a long while to pin her down and get this show on the road.








A little bit of history

In case your geography is a little hazy, Vietnam is that long skinny country running along the coast East of Cambodia and Thailand, part of South-East Asia. A fascinating country, with a colourful past, Vietnam was part of the chinese empire for over a thousand years. Various buddhist Vietnamese royal dynasties flourished. Vietnam has had many different names such as Van Lang, An Nam and Dai Viet. Later fierce rivalry divided the North under the Trjnh lords and the South under Nguyen rule. Briefly united as one, they were taken over by the French in 1862 and renamed Cochinchina,

The French colonised most of the area they called Indochina –  literally the countries between India & China, comprising Vietnam, Cambodia, Thailand, Laos, Myanmar (Burma)  and the Malaysian Peninsula. After WWII and Japanese occupation, fighting the French was followed by the Vietnamese war, and the chaos of civil war. Not until the 1980’s the now unified country started on more moderate political and economic reforms, massive economic growth has made modern Vietnam one of the fastest growing economies in the world. Tourism is now booming too. Still much remains rural and undeveloped, or you could say unspoilt.

Fab things to see 

Old towns – fantastic old cities with amazing architecture, palaces and temples – Hanoi, Hoi An, a Champa trading and fishing port, My Son also a Cham city, and Hue, the former Nguyen Imperial capital, all UNESCO world heritage sites.

Sapa – lush rice terraces and colourful hill tribes.


Phong Nha-Ke Bang



Kimboi Hot Springs


Natural Wonders – Ha Long Bay & 100’s of limestone islands and caves like the world’s biggest Son Doong & Phong Nha Caves in Phong Nha-Ke Bang National Park. Great beaches and Kimboi hot springs.

Fab things to eat 

Traditionally heavily influenced by chinese cuisine, Vietnamese cuisine places great emphasis on balancing the 5 elements of spicy, sour, bitter, salty and sweet along with a foods heating or cooling properties. All the senses are considered, touch, sound and sight are important, not just how a dish tastes or smells. Vietnamese like to include 5 colours of ingredients in dishes too.

Dominated by rice and noodles, lots of soups and broths – especially the famous Pho,  tons of fresh vegetables and masses of fresh herbs, using little oil, Vietnamese food is very healthy, light and packed with flavour. (Think Vietnamese rice paper rolls.) Condiments are big, the iconic dipping sauce Nuoc Cham on every table. French legacy has left a passion for delicious french breads especially baguettes, but sweets are mostly asian in style.

I made a recipe by Luke Nguyen, from his SBS TV show, except he used wild Hmong black pig! But we found his recipe had too much fish sauce for us. We are used to fish sauce but we all agreed, especially hubby that it was way too strong. Have adapted the recipe to suit us, I hope you like it too. My son of course added heaps of Chiu Chow Chilli oil to it – he’s mad on that stuff! If you like hot – it’s the yummy roasted chilli paste common as a condiment with chinese food and takeaway.

Grilled Vietnamese Pork Skewers with Sesame Salt                             (Serves 4) 


2 tbsp sesame seeds,    2tsp salt
500 g pork neck, or pork leg steaks finely sliced
4 spring onions, sliced finely
4 tbsp minced/sliced finely lemongrass/ 2 stalks peeled, use tender part only
1 tbsp fish sauce
1 tsp oyster sauce
1 tsp sugar
1 tbsp honey
½ tsp fresh gr. black pepper
3 tbsp vegetable oil
12 bamboo skewers, soaked in water for 30 minutes


Marinating time 1 hour – overnight

  1. Mix sesame with salt.
  2. Place pork strips, spring onion, lemongrass, fish sauce, oyster sauce, sugar, honey, pepper and oil in a mixing bowl and marinate as long as possible, preferably overnight.
  3. Thread the pork onto bamboo skewers and chargrill or pan fry (with a little extra oil) each side for 3 minutes.
  4. Serve with the sesame salt to dip.
  5. Serve with plain steamed rice, and stir-fried green vegetables or a Vietnamese style salad.

We were a bit divided on this dish, but overall gave it a 6/10 – because of the fish sauce.

Sorry no photo from me – used the one above from Luke Nguyens’ recipe on the SBS website

What to make when it’s too hot to cook?

I think I was too hot and flustered that night to bother. We have had a few scorching days here in the Blue Mountains outside Sydney, Australia – that day I think it had been 42° C that’s 107.6 Fahrenheit! and was still in the high 30’s by 7pm. Really was too hot to cook, but I needed to get my cultural meal done for the week – see what I do for you out there!

What we often have when it’s very hot is another tasty Vietnamese speciality – rice paper rolls.  They are a great family dish as little or no cooking is involved, and everyone can help themselves and make their own rolls with whatever they like. It’s a fun and no fuss meal everyone enjoys – especially me the cook!

If you haven’t tried them, it’s so easy. Just lay out all the fillings, salad ingredients, noodles and condiments, have the rice sheets ready to soak on the spot, and let everyone do their thing. The only thing that is cooked is the prawns (and you can use cooked ones) and the rice vermicelli noodles which are just soaked briefly in boiling water. Apart from Bunny, we love prawns and so I like to make quick Chilli Garlic prawns to put in our rolls.

Quick Chilli Garlic Prawns  Serves 4

  • Mix 2 – 2½ dozen green (uncooked prawns, peeleed & de-headed) in 1 tb soy sauce, 1 tb peanut oil, 2 cloves garlic, crushed, 1 inch cube fresh ginger grated (optional) 1 tsp sesame oil, 6 sprigs fresh coriander, finely chopped, 1 dsp Sambal Oelek, (Indonesain chilli paste, could substitute with 1 tsp hot chilli flakes) , 1 dsp soft brown sugar
  • Marinate 15-30 minutes. Grill or panfry. Soooooooo good! hot or cold.

Local Mountains News Flash

For the best rice paper rolls in the Blue Mountains, and probably the best I’ve ever had anywhere, go to The Laughing Elephant, Station St in Wentworth Falls. This is a treasure trove of exotic asian ingredients, spices, curry pastes, condiments, rice, dried noodles, and hard to find fresh herbs, spices and vegetables like fresh turmeric, thai eggplants, fresh curry leaves  and galangal plus fresh rice and egg noodles too.

If you can’t find what you want, the very helpful staff will order it in for you. Best of all they make the most fantastic Vietnamese rice paper rolls fresh on the spot from the very best local ingredients – free-range chicken, free-range chinese BBQ pork, tofu and Australian prawns salad, fresh herbs and a yummy nutty dipping sauce!

Their other speciality is Banh Mi Thit, or Vietnamese filled rolls. Again these are delicious, made with a freshly baked mini baguette (from the German bakery next door) with that free-range chicken or BBQ pork, topped off with fresh mint, coriander and chilli, loads of salad, and spread with mayonnaise, BBQ paste and fish sauce. Wow – these are the best Banh Mi ever! If you are in the neighbourhood, do try them.

Notes for cooks

I use Australian metric measures , tablespoons and cups:

1 teaspoon = 5 ml,  1 dsp (dessertspoon) = 3 tsp, 1 tablespoon = 4tsp = 20 ml (NOT 15ml as in USA),  1 cup = 250 ml.