Too cool for school: Vietnamese Salad Bowl

Living twenty miles from cool, sophisticated Seattle in Tacoma (AKA “Grit City” or “the Armpit of Puget Sound”), Sweetie and I are accustomed to life outside the golden circle. Seattle has the Pike Place Market, the Gum Wall, Tom Douglas’s foodie empire, the Smith Tower, the Seahawks, and the Experience Music  Project Museum to name a few. The über cool live on Capitol Hill, Georgetown, Ballard, West Seattle, South Lake Union, or Belltown. Tacoma has the almond roca factory, the Tacoma Dome, Emerald Queen Casino, and the Lemay Car Museum. Tacomers, or maybe it’s Tacomites, live in Fircrest, Lakewood, Fort Lewis, and Hilltop. When you Google “Tacoma” and select the Images tab, you get pictures of trucks.

But this morning, after a five-minute drive, we shopped at our neighborhood Thriftway, found plenty of parking, chatted up some neighbors about a drive-by shooting, exchanged hi-how-are-yous with the grocery clerks, and were home before you could whistle Dixie. After living in Tacoma for nine years, I feel the nascent beginning of fondness. It’s easier here, no pressure to live up to an image, no need to be cool.

Soooo, we feel right at home in Vancouver, WA: the less expensive, less likely to be on Top Ten Lists, fewer food truck pods, more parking places, Vancouver. I must be loosing my edge because we’ve been here for a month and I have yet to take one of the many forms of mass transit into the big city. I’ve always wanted to eat at Pok Pok, Andy Ricker’s Thai restaurant, maybe next week.

I did cowboy up and drive into downtown Portland to buy a pair of Keens, my favorite shoe brand. Here’s what I saw.

NW Glisan Street, Portland

NW Glisan Street, Portland

The Keen Garage

Truly, there are as many bikes in downtown Portland as there are cars. 

Bikes everywhere.

Portland is young, vibrant, eclectic and just too much trouble.

Thanks to my friend Nancy for introducing me to the Mavericks and a great Vietnamese dish. 

Vietnamese Salad Bowl

  • Lettuce, chopped or shredded
  • Pork meatballs
  • Rice vermicelli 
  • 1 peeled, seeded, diced cucumber
  • Bean sprouts
  • Shredded carrots


  • Chopped peanuts
  • 1/2 cup shredded mint leaves
  • 1/2 cup chopped cilantro
  • Crispy shallots
  • Sautéed green onions
  • Nuoc Cham sauce

Nuoc Cham Sauce:

  • 1 part water
  • 1/2 part lime juice, white vinegar, rice vinegar or combination
  • 1/4 part sugar
  • 1/4 part fish sauce
  • Garlic
  • Red pepper flakes or chile sauce

Whisk together vinegar, fish sauce, sugar, lime juice, garlic, and red pepper flakes in small bowl. Set the sauce aside.

Pork Meatballs:

  • 1 1/2 pounds lean ground pork
  • 1/2 cup finely chopped shallots
  • 3 tablespoons minced garlic
  • 4 teaspoons sugar
  • 2 1/2 tablespoons Nuoc Nam sauce
  • 1 1/4 teaspoons freshly ground black pepper
  • 5 tablespoons short grain glutinous rice, such as sushi rice
  • 4 ounces pork fat, cubed
  • Vegetable oil
  • 6 to 8 (8-inch) bamboo skewers, soaked in warm water for at least 30 minutes. 

In a small bowl combine the ground pork, shallots, garlic, sugar, fish sauce and pepper. Stir to combine 

Place the rice in a small skillet and heat over medium-high heat, stirring constantly, until rice is toasted, golden brown and fragrant. Transfer to a plate to cool. When cool, place rice in a coffee grinder and process to a fine powder. Measure 3 tablespoons of the powder and set aside.

Add rice powder to ground pork mixture. Don’t over process or the mixture will become sticky. 

Lightly oil your hands. Divide meat mixture into heaping 1 1/2 tablespoonfuls and roll each into a smooth ball. Recoat your hands with oil as necessary. Thread the meatballs onto the bamboo skewers, fitting as many as you can on each skewer.

Grill or broil the skewered meatballs, turning occasionally, until cooked through.  

Rice vermicelli: Prepare the rice vermicelli according to package directions and transfer to a colander to drain. Rinse well with cold running water. Drain thoroughly before using. The noodles may be prepared up to this point 2 hours ahead of serving.

Crispy shallots and green onions: Dice four shallots and sauté in 1 tablespoon oil until brown and crispy. Remove from pan and brown green onions. 

Salad: Divide the drained vermicelli, lettuce, bean sprouts, carrots, and cucumber evenly among 6 deep soup bowls. Top with the meatballs, spearmint leaves, and cilantro. Garnish with the peanuts, crispy shallots, and sautéed green onions. Drizzle generously with Nuoc Cham Sauce and serve immediately, with chopsticks and more Nuoc Cham sauce on the side.






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1 Response to Too cool for school: Vietnamese Salad Bowl

  1. Barb says:

    Sounds great and I like the pictures Ill have to come to Vancouver one day it looks like fun

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