April's Can't-Miss Dish

BBQ Pork Rice Plate at Ba Le Boston
By Ellen Bhang · 04/04/2022

Looking for a no-fail, mouthwatering, gonna-tell-your-friends-about-it plate? Each month, Boston Globe columnist Ellen Bhang highlights the dish you need to try right now—and something to sip alongside it.

BBQ Pork Rice Plate at Ba Le


On the plate: BBQ Pork Rice Plate (Com Heo Nuong Dac Biet)

Where to find it: Ba Le is a family business, owner Jennifer Nguyen is proud to say. Her daughter and son-in-law, as well as two of her grandchildren, work alongside her at the beloved Vietnamese deli, located in the Savin Hill neighborhood of Dorchester. Even the apron-clad ladies who are busily loading up your takeout container behind the steam table are considered relatives. Most of Nguyen’s employees have been with her for 28 years, the entire time Ba Le has been open.

The deli makes the most of every square inch. The center display showcasing stacks of boxed sweets, jarred condiments, and tins of savory snacks takes up most of the floorspace. Even the cafeteria-style railing in front of the steam table serves as shelving for colorful delicacies made of sticky rice. Almost everyone comes here for take-out, but you might be able to score a seat at one of a few tables tucked next to a refrigerator case.

You may already be familiar with Ba Le’s much-lauded banh mi sandwiches, but be sure not to miss a hearty combination plate that’s full of vivid flavors.

Notes on the nosh: The BBQ Pork Rice Plate features lightly charred slices of grilled pork shoulder layered over a fragrant mound of broken jasmine rice. On top is a fried egg and what the menu describes as a “pork pattie:” a meaty, black-pepper-seasoned wedge that’s like a cross between meatloaf and a rustic French terrine. Rounding out the combination is a container of nuoc cham, the traditional umami-packed dipping sauce; as well as refreshing slices of cucumber, tomato, and pickled shreds of carrot and daikon.

The marinade that gives the grilled pork its deep, savory flavor is extremely special—so much so that Nguyen is reluctant to talk about what goes into it. “I need to keep the secret,” she says, noting that the proprietary formula contains at least 10 ingredients. A street food vendor in Saigon taught her how to make the marinade, she explains. It’s the recipe that the vendor herself has been using for more than 50 years.

Sip alongside: For a refreshing beverage pairing, choose any of Ba Le’s smoothies. Available in flavors like mango, strawberry, avocado, and passion fruit, each one blends fresh fruit with whole milk, as well as a splash of condensed milk for extra creaminess. Nguyen is keen on satisfying her customers’ desire for variety. “I want my customers to have more joy,” she says, equating happiness with an abundance of choices. After nearly 30 years of doing business this way, Nguyen and her family are sticking with their winning recipe.

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