Vietnamese go gaga over two things: grilled meats and wrapping said meats. Bo la lop combines these two things in a harmonious flavourful package.
The dish itself consists of beef marinated in fish sauce, lemongrass and garlic, wrapped in betel leaves, or la lop, and then grilled over hot coals. While the fish sauce and lemongrass gives the beef its distinctive Vietnamese flavour, the betel nut gives it a herbacious, almost peppery taste. It also helps seal in the juices of the meat. you will smell a bo la lop stand before you see it. The betel leaf wrapping produces a tremendous amount of aromatic smoke which is distinctive with its rather medicinal smell mixed with the scent of grilled meat. It’s a pretty heady experience.
Bo la lop in Saigon
Depending on the stand, chopped scallions, chopped peanuts and mayonnaise may be sprinkled or poured onto the finished nuggets of wrapped beef. Typical of anything eaten in southern Vietnam, an array of garnishes such as banh hoi (bundles of thin rice vermicelli noodles), assorted herbs, sliced cucumber, unripe banana and some chopped scallions will be available to customise your roll. Served on the side is a small cup of nuoc cham sauce, a blend of fish sauce, sugar, garlic and vinegar.
The traditional way of eating bo la lop is to grab a piece of lettuce then place some banh hoi on it to help soak up the juices flowing from the wrapped beef, which you put on next. After that, it’s all about your own preference in herbs.
It can also be served as part of a noodle dish (bun bo la lop), in bo bay mon (beef served seven different ways) or wrapped in a fresh spring roll (goi cuon bo la lop).
Most bo la lop stands also serve mo chai as well. Essentially, this is a meatball wrapped in beef fat, which maintains the moisture of the meat while it cooks - it doubles down on the already fatty pieces of nem and turns them into a cholesterol-laden sphere of delicious goodness.