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Bún mọc dọc mùng (Meatballs & Taro Stems Vermicelli)

Quyen Nguyen from Vietnam

Serves
3
Preparation
45 minutes
Cooks in
60 minutes
Country of origin
Vietnam

When I left Vietnam for school in California, I thought I’d have no problem finding Vietnamese food. There are plenty of phở (beef noodles) and bánh mì (Vietnamese sandwich) served in food trucks and trendy pop-up dinners in Southern California. But the international perception of Vietnamese food does not (yet) stretch too far outside the main staples like phở or spring rolls. For years, I desperately looked for a place with a Hanoian-style Bún mọc dọc mùng (fresh rice vermicelli with taro stems and mushroom meatballs) in the US, but to no avail. In fact, few of my Asian friends even knew taro stems were edible! If you’ve never heard of it before, it is a celery-looking vegetable that is spongy in texture and absorbs all the yumminess of your soup or broth.
Bún mọc dọc mùng might sound exotic to my friends but for me, it is simply what I grew up having. My dad used to take me to the old quarter in Hanoi, and we would sit on those tiny plastic chairs, excited for our 2-dollar bowls filled to the brim with green taro stems. The ribs, meatballs and pineapples combined produce a unique and calming sweetness. If chili sauce or a thin slice of fresh chili pepper were added, the result would be a divine mixture of sweet and spicy, not overpowering but delivered just right via the hot, tender and spongy taro stems. During wintertime, bún mọc dọc mùng was my perfect alternative to phở, with a healthier fiber supply, too.
Being away from home has taught me two things: (1) those 2-dollar bowls aren’t simple to make but if you have the will, it is doable in your kitchen and (2) frozen taro stems in the US cannot compare with the fresh ones back home, but they do the job. When I’m stressed with essay deadlines at school, washing the taro stems or slicing the shiitake mushrooms helps me meditate while nourishing myself. It slows down my day and reminds me of those noodle bowls of steamy goodness that attract endless crowds every morning in Hanoi.

Ingredients

  • 0.5kg rice vermicelli
  • 0.5kg pork ribs
  • 100gr ground pork
  • 2 wood-ears (a type of Chinese mushroom)
  • 5 shiitake mushroom
  • 0.5kg Taro stems (called “Dọc mùng” in Vietnam or “hasu-imo” in Japan)
  • 5 stems of scallions, diced
  • 1 stalk of lemongrass (sliced), 1 small ginger (sliced)
  • 1 spring onion, diced
  • 1 grove garlic, finely minced
  • 1/4 cup of parsley, finely minced
  • 1 pineapple, sliced
  • 2 tomatoes, sliced
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp pepper
  • 1 tbsp sunflower oil
  • Sriracha

Method

  • To make Rice Vermicelli with Taro Stem and Mushroom Meatballs: PREPARING THE RICE VERMICELLI Bring water to a boil and cook the vermicelli for 30 seconds to 1 minute (do not overcook!) Let dry.
  • PREPARING THE TARO STEMS Peel the outer dark green skin to reveal to lighter, spongy green texture inside. Slice into 5-6cm long pieces. Soak in salt water (this is a key step to avoid the small risk of certain taro stems irritating your lips!). Wash with filtered water and let dry.
  • MAKING THE BROTH Chop the pork ribs into edible chunks (2-3cm long). Marinate with a sprinkle of salt, lemongrass and ginger. Add the ribs and water to a 5-quart stockpot, and bring broth to a boil. Once it boils, lower the temperature and let the ribs sit until it reaches your preferable level of tenderness. (I normally let it simmer for a half hour.)
  • MAKING THE MEATBALLS Slice the wood-ear and shiitake mushroom into thin slices, then mix them with the ground pork. Add diced onion. Add salt, pepper and oil. Use your hands to thoroughly mix for 5 minutes (but don’t knead too hard or you’ll overwork the meat!) Pinch a piece from the meat mixture to make a 3cm-sized meatball by gently rolling it between your hands. Continue to form meatballs out of the rest of the mixture.
  • COOKING THE MEATBALLS Bring the broth to a boil and add the meatballs. It takes 1 – 2 minutes for the meatballs to cook through. You can tell they’re ready once the balls start floating in the stockpot.
  • FINAL STEP: ADDING TARO STEMS Add sliced tomatoes, pineapple and taro stems to the boiling broth. The pineapple is sweet so you don’t need to add sugar. It takes 3-4 minutes for the stems to cook. Then voila, your broth filled with colourful veggies is ready to serve! Distribute the rice vermicelli into wide noodle bowls. Place meatballs and sliced scallions on top of the vermicelli. Add the broth with taro stems, tomatoes, pineapples and pork ribs to each bowl.
  • This dish is best served when hot. You can add Sriracha (or any chilli sauce) if you’d like!

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