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We used to have a favourite Vietnamese restaurant in Victoria Street. We didn’t even need to order when we went there. We would just sit down, give the waiter our secret hand wave, he would wink at us and like magic – and within the space of 5 minutes – he would bring us one plate of prawn spring rolls and two bun bo xao.

Now that we live in Canberra, bun bo xao is a bit harder to get. I guess I should say good bun bo xao is a bit harder to get. I’ve realised that you have to pay more, and in general, expect less when you eat out here. It sounds harsh, and I know Melbournians have earnt a reputation being snobs out here – we’re known for complaining about the food, the coffee, the markets, and I must admit that as a Melbournian I have done nothing to dispel the myth that we’re food snobs. We just like nice things alright.

Bun Bo Xao
serves two

for the nuoc cham
½ cup water
¼ cup fish sauce
¼  cup rice vinegar, or white vinegar
¼ cup white sugar
1 red chilli, finely diced
2 cloves garlic, finely diced
juice of half a lemon

150g rice noodles (also called stick de riz at Asian grocers)
2 tbsp vegetable or canola oil, not olive oil
300 g rump steak, thinly sliced against the grain
1 small white onion, sliced into julienne
1 stalk lemongrass, white part only, finely diced
1 red chili, finely diced
2 cloves garlic, finely diced
1 tsp fish sauce
2 tsp soy sauce
1 tsp dark soy
3 iceberg lettuce leaves, sliced into thin julienne
10 slices cucumber, sliced into julienne
20 Vietnamese mint leaves, sliced into strips
10 mint leaves, sliced into strips
2 purple perilla leaves, sliced into strips (optional)
2 tbsp roast peanuts, roughly chopped

  1. Make the nuoc cham by combining water, fish sauce, vinegar, sugar, chilli and garlic in a small saucepan. Bring to the boil over a low heat, turn off and cover with a lid to infuse. When cool, add lemon juice and taste for balance – it should be salty, slight sweet and sour. Add more sugar if it’s not sweet enough. This dipping sauce is great for spring rolls and will keep for months in the fridge.
  2. Cook the rice noodles – I’ve found the easiest way to do this is to boil water in a large saucepan. Once the water is boiling, turn off the water and place the rice noodles in the pot. Wait until the noodles turn white, about 3-5 minutes, and taste to see they are cooked through. Drain immediately using a colander, run some cold water through and set aside.
  3. To assemble, place iceberg in a bowl and top with cooked rice noodles, cucumber and herbs. Set aside.
  4. Heat the oil in a wok until smoking and add the beef, onion, garlic, lemongrass and chilli all at once. Toss in the wok until the beef is cooked through, then add the fish and soy sauce and stir to combine. Cook for another 30 seconds and place onto top of the noodle bowls.
  5. Pour two tablespoons of nuoc cham over each serve, top with peanuts and serve immediately.