Two of the owners from Prahran Vietnamese cafe Hanoi Hannah, Simon Blacher and Nick Coulter, recently returned from a week in Hanoi, Vietnam with their head chef, Shyam Maharjan (aka Sam with the crazy hair) with a few new recipes up their sleeve and a motivated outlook for their business.

“When we went to Vietnam, we wanted to learn as much as we could in a short time,” says Balcher. “So many street vendors opened up to us and shared their information, which was great because unless you grow up with Vietnamese food it really takes time to understand the details…it’s very layered and complex.”

Leaving third partner Paul Nguyen back in Melbourne – “he gives us authenticity,” laughs Balcher, “he’s the token Asian guy in the photos” – Coulter, Maharjan and Balcher explored the streets of Hanoi and discovered Bun Cha, a dish of fried pork patties in fish sauce with noodles.

“Bun Cha is a great lunch dish you often find in Vietnam,” says Balcher. “They have Pho for breakfast, Bun Cha for lunch and grilled meats for dinner.”

With its origins in Hanoi, Bun Cha is the perfect dish for the tiny diner on High Street, which doesn’t take bookings but buzzes along every night with customers happy to leave their names and get a call to come back later.

Hanoi Hannah’s affordable price point is another reason why Bun Cha sits well on the menu – it’s affordable Vietnamese street food. Chef Maharjan minces down pork from pork belly and then marinates it in lemongrass, honey, salt and pepper. “I like to give it some chilli too, so it’s spicy, and then we char grill it,” he says.

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The sauce for pork patties is “like a light version of the fish sauce,” says Maharjan. “It’s not very strong with lots of aromas. I make it from fish sauce, water and sugar, garlic and chilli.”

The fishy, sweet and charcoal flavours of the dish are equally powerful and complementary, while a generous serving of Vietnamese mint, parilla, green papaya and vermicelli on the side to add at will makes the dish a personal adventure of sweet, sour, hot and salty. “Vietnamese food is always very textural,” says Balcher, “and this has crunchiness, the chewy meat, the softness of the noodles and of course the broth.”

Here’s the recipe:

BBQ Pork- Cha nuong

Serves 6


400g pork belly
400g pork shoulder minced
4 shallots
2 stalks of lemon grass
4 cloves garlic
1 small fresh chilli
few stalks of spring onion

2 Tbsp honey
2 Tbsp oil
1 Tbsp fish sauce
2 Tbsp coconut caramel
1 tsp salt
1 tsp crushed black pepper

Preparation and cooking

  1. Remove the skin, then slice the meat thinly make sure that each piece of meat has layers of fat and lean meat (Put the meat in the freezer before slicing, it’s easier). Put minced pork and slice belly pork in 2 separate bowls.

  2. Chop the white tips of the lemon grass and place in a mortal. Grind the chopped lemon grass finely with the pestle.

  3. Remove seeds from the chilli and chop finely. Chop garlic and shallots very finely. Combine with lemongrass, pound with mortar and pester to make a paste. Add a pinch of salt for flavour.

  4. Divide the paste equally between the 2 bowls of meat.

  5. Divide oil, honey, fish sauce, coconut caramel, pepper and salt between the bowls.

  6. Leave to marinate for 15-20 minutes.

  7. While marinating the meats, light the charcoal and prepare to grill.


Meatballs: Use a Tbsp to make the meatballs and place on the metal rack.
Slice BBQ: Place the slice on the racks

  1. Barbecue in the open air until cooked through on both sides. Fan and turn the meat regularly until golden brown, approx. 20-25 minutes.

  2. Transfer grilled pieces of meat to individual bowls of dipping sauce (see recipe below).

  3. Serve with a bowl of rice noodles and herbs.

Dipping Sauce For Bun Cha- Nuoc Cham

Serves 6

10 gloves garlic
1 piece of green papaya or kohlrabi
½ small carrot
1 small chilli
150 ml fish sauce
1.5 litre of water
37.5 ml vinegar
2 Tbsp lime juice
9 Tbsp sugar
pepper to taste


  1. Peel and rinse papaya or kohlrabi and carrot. Slice into thin petal shapes.

  2. Add salt to the vegetables leave for 5 minutes and rinse with fresh water. Drain water.

  3. Peel, crush and chop the garlic.

  4. Remove seeds from the chilli, cut into rings.

  5. Mix fish sauce, water, sugar, vinegar, garlic and chilli in a bowl.

  6. Squeeze in lime juice.

  7. Adjust seasoning to taste.

  8. Heat up on a stove or in microwave for 2 minutes.

  9. Add garlic and chilli.

  10. Place some BBQ pork in a small bowl, add some carrot and papaya or kohlrabi slices on top. Pour the dipping sauce until the meat is covered. Add a pinch of pepper if you wish.

  11. Serve with fresh noodles, herbs and spring rolls.

*The sweetness of the vegetables helps to balance the taste of the fish sauce.