Those of you in Los Angeles may or may not know about Kogi, the Korean taco truck that spawned the hipster food truck movement in this town and became an icon of LA street food. I’ve always had an affinity for their Korean BBQ tacos, and wondered if the same idea could apply to Vietnamese food.
And then it dawned on me: Vietnamese-style pulled pork. Bánh mì. Tacos. Yes!
Bánh mì is a cultural classic, consisting of marinated grilled meat (usually pork) served on a crunchy French baguette with pâté and topped with Vietnamese pickles, cukes, cilantro, and chiles. No other sandwich tastes like a bánh mì, and a bánh mì-style taco combines the best of Vietnamese and Mexican street food for me.
Let’s break down what goes into a Vietnamese taco…
First, we have pork. Whether you call it pork shoulder, pork butt, or Boston butt, it’s all the same. The sauce that we braise our pork in is reminiscent of traditional Vietnamese marinated pork, or thịt nướng, with hints of ginger, lemongrass, and fish sauce.
Then, we have pâté. Pâté is a savory spread made from fatty minced meat and found in all Vietnamese markets (as well as French ones — whose culture heavily influenced Vietnam in colonial history). It’s an optional ingredient, but pork (or chicken) liver pâté is a staple in bánh mì and adds a lovely layer of umami to the tacos.
What makes this dish very Vietnamese-esque, however, are the mayonnaise, cilantro, and pickled daikon and carrot pickles (also known as đồ chua)… but especially the cilantro. I almost consider it to be the foundation of a bánh mì (after the baguette, of course) and classic Vietnamese-style cilantro is served on whole stems. You might not like the stems, you might even pull the leaves off for this recipe, but rest assured that every Vietnamese person has inevitably pulled out those long stringy stems with their teeth and let them dangle from their mouths while taking a bite — it’s a rite of passage, I’d say.
Kewpie mayonnaise is a Japanese condiment that you can find in any Japanese market, and sometimes a well-stocked Vietnamese/Chinese market. It’s creamier than American mayo, with a slight tang and sweetness to it — think mayo mixed with Miracle Whip, but much better. You can also substitute American mayo and you probably won’t be able to tell the difference once it’s piled together in a tortilla, but check this out: Even people who typically don’t like American mayo tend to like Japanese mayo.
Serve up these tacos family-style with some cheap light beer, and you’ve got the makings of a great weekend gathering. (And by the way, go by the amounts stated in the recipe, not by what the pictures show… I had to quadruple everything to serve a party of 14 that day!)
Slow Cooker Vietnamese Pulled Pork Tacos (As I Like to Call Them, Bánh Mì Tacos!)
Makes 4 servings
For the Pulled Pork
2-inch piece ginger, peeled and minced
2 stalks lemongrass, trimmed and minced
1 jalapeño pepper, minced
6 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup soy sauce
1/4 cup rice vinegar
1 tablespoon fish sauce
2 1/2 pounds pork shoulder, fat trimmed
For the Pickles
See my recipe for Vietnamese Daikon and Carrot Pickles (Đồ Chua)
In a slow cooker, combine the first eight ingredients and stir until the sugar is dissolved. Lower the pork shoulder into the sauce. Cook on low for 8 to 10 hours. You’ll know it’s done when the meat shreds apart easily like butta! (For a truly buttery taste, I cooked the pork on low for a full 14 hours — started the night before and kept warm until the next night — and that first bite was maaaaaagic!)
(Side note: For the last 4 hours, I added thick slices of portobello mushrooms to the slow cooker as a meatless option for dinner. Though it does cook alongside the meat, it’s an amazing addition if you have flexitarian friends… you might even have to shoo the meat-eating friends away, they’re that good!)
Using two forks, pull apart the meat and leave it in the slow cooker (on the warm setting) while you get the rest of your ingredients together.
Arrange on a table: tortillas, pâté, mayo, cilantro, cucumber, đồ chua, limes, Sriracha, and finally a steaming bowl of pulled pork (I like to keep some of the fatty juices in it, and for the big party that day, I just brought the whole slow cooker outside where I was serving).
To assemble the taco, smear pâté (if using) and mayo on the tortilla. Top with pulled pork, cilantro, cucumber, and đồ chua, and squeeze a wedge of lime over the whole thing. If you like a little fire to your taco, add some slices of jalapeño and a squirt of Sriracha. (Or, make your own “secret sauce” by stirring together mayo and Sriracha.)
Ăn ngon! (Eat well!)