Le Garçon Saigon’s chef Bao La gives us the lowdown on one of his favourite recipes. These snack parcels are also favourite among Vietnamese locals for their smoky, meaty moreishness, as well as having cultural significance. The betel leaf was supposedly once used as an icebreaker in social situations, when it was passed around like chewing gum. The leaf remains rooted in Vietnamese culture today, and is given at traditional weddings by the groom to his bride’s family.

Bò nướng lá lớt
Grilled beef wrapped in betel leaf

The quintessential Vietnamese snack Bò nướng lá lớt features chargrilled parcels of fragrant beef wrapped in wild betel leaves (lá lt). When heated, the leaves release an aromatic, spicy scent which pairs well with cold beer or a crisp white wine.

*Heart-shaped betel leaves (lá lt) are tender, dark green and shiny on one side, and can be found at most wet markets and grocery stores. To keep them fresh, snip off the last half inch of stem and cover with a splash of water in the fridge for up to four days.

2 bunches betel leaves (around 5-6 dozen leaves)
500g beef tri-tip, finely sliced across the grain into 3mm pieces
50g lemongrass, finely chopped (approx. 6 stalks)
50g garlic, minced (approx. 10 cloves)
1 tsp salt
15g sugar (approx. 4 tsp)
6ml soy sauce (approx. 1 tsp)
100ml vegetable oil

To make the beef marinade, combine the salt, sugar, soy sauce, lemongrass and garlic in a large mixing bowl, and mix well until the sugar has dissolved.  Generously coat the sliced beef with the marinade then seal in the flavours with a touch of vegetable oil, leaving to marinate for at least two hours or overnight if possible.

To prepare the betel leaves, detach the leaves from their centre stems using scissors or your fingers. Wash thoroughly in cold water, then lay the leaves flat to dry.

Lay the betel leaves shiny side down with their tips pointing towards you. Place two slices of beef on the lower half of the leaf, roll the leaf from bottom to top, and place the seam flat on your bench to keep the parcel from unrolling, or secure with a skewer. Repeat with the remaining beef slices.

Grill the parcels on a charcoal grill or barbecue hotplate over medium heat for five minutes or until done, turning regularly to colour all over. Serve and enjoy with Nước mam chấm dipping sauce.

Nước mam chấm
Dipping sauce

The Vietnamese ‘mother sauce’ Nước mam chấm is ubiquitous for a reason and complements the cuisine’s light dishes. It blends sweet, sour, salty, savoury and spicy for a combination that offsets the freshness of the delicate vegetables and herbs.

150ml water
100g sugar
20ml rice vinegar
75ml fish sauce
4 cloves garlic, finely chopped
2 bird’s eye chilli, thinly sliced

Whisk together the fish sauce, rice vinegar, sugar and water in a saucepan over medium heat.

Stir well and cook until just before boiling point, when all the sugar has dissolved.  Remove from the heat and allow to cool.

To serve, add the garlic and chilli to taste. Transfer to a sterilised jar and store in the fridge.

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