Thit Bo Voi Nam

Beef with Mushrooms

I have many memories of Viet Nam. This little café in a small village just outside of Tuy Hoa is one of the few good memories. My unit had been doing some civic action projects and I was along to provide medical screening for the locals. After a long day, we had some free time in the village before heading back to base camp. I did a little shopping for gifts to send home. Then I stopped in at his little café for a bite to eat before heading back to the convoy. A bit of pigeon-English with a bit of pigeon-Vietnamese and we had the menu selection sorted out. It has become one of my war stories: “I stopped in at this little place and ordered thit bo voi nam (beef with mushrooms), gao (cooked rice), bánh mì (little loaf of French-style bread) and Coca Cola.” Just a Yankee boy out on the town in a faraway place.

Preparation: 1 hour Life Experience Recipe
Serves 4 persons or 1 hungry GI Larry Andersen
  • 1 pound boneless lean beef
  • 2 stalks lemon grass (scallions will do)
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1/4 teaspoon fresh ground black pepper
  • 4 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 2 cups sliced mushrooms
  • 2 medium yellow onions, finely sliced
  • 2 red chile peppers,
  • 1 tablespoon soy sauce
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • 1 teaspoon arrowroot
  1. Cut the beef across the grain making long thin, pencil-sized strips of beef. Trim lemon grass and slice in thin rounds, finely chop. Set aside. Trim, devein and remove seeds from chile. Finely chop and set aside.
  2. In a medium bowl, make a marinade of the lemon grass, chile, minced garlic, soy sauce, pepper and 2 tablespoons of oil. Add the beef strips and marinate in the refrigerator 30 minutes.
  3. In a small cup mix the sugar and arrowroot with just enough water to make a slurry and set aside. Brush mushrooms and slice thinly and set aside. Peel and cut onion in thin slices.
  4. Add 1 tablespoon oil to a hot wok. Add onions and stir fry for 1 to 2 minutes or until begin to caramelize. Remove onions and set aside. Add remaining oil to hot wok. Add meat and marinade mixture and mushrooms. Cook over high heat, stir frying, until beef is just cooked through, about 1 to 2 minutes. Add arrowroot mixture and cook until sauce is thickened. Stir in onions. Serve with some sticky rice (hey, ya gotta eat it with chop sticks, ya know) and some crisp salad greens.

    Most of this recipe is from memory. In researching similar dishes, I found that they frequently used nuoc mam, a fermented fish sauce. Having been downwind of nuoc mam on more than one occasion, I don’t include it in this recipe. I use soy sauce instead. Peanuts are often added but there were none in this little café. Lemon grass is sometimes hard to find so I substitute scallions and just the merest splash of lemon juice to the marinade.

I had our batallion interpreter, Lam Bat, to thank for the little Vietnamese I knew. I had practiced with him and wrote the words in my little notebook. The few words that he taught me served me in good stead.

It had been a long day. The kids, as always were seemingly fascinated by the tall Americans with the hair on their arms. We all had an hour or so of free time to spend in the little village. One of the kids attached himself to me and followed me around. He carried my parcels and, though we didn’t speak each other’s language, managed to get along just fine. He wouldn’t take any money for being my tour guide and I don’t think I’ll ever know what he wanted, But he did agree to have lunch with me and we went to this little café. The tables and chairs were way too small. The floor needed to be swept and the walls were bare and the lighting dim. But my guide said it was, “Numbah wun!” I could watch the little old woman in the kitchen as she clevered the lemon grass, vegetables and the beef (that's water buffalo, over here). I watches as it all sizzled in the pan (it was a big frying pan - I was saddened, it wasn’t a real wok). And when the food was served, I tanked my little guide, cám on, for bringing me there. It was one of the best meals I had eaten since being in country. Later, when the trucks were pulling out, we waved goodbye, tam biet , and our grand adventure for the day was over.

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Latest revision done November 2005
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