Vietnamese “shaking beef” with lime juice and garlic

Grab a wok and start shaking

Topics: Kitchen Challenge, Food,

Vietnamese "shaking beef" with lime juice and garlic

Houston, Texas’ most populated city, also has the third-largest population of Vietnamese Americans in the country, numbering 64,000 in the most recent census. My friend Truong tells me that of those 64,000, 80 are in his immediate family.

Like many Vietnamese, Truong and his family escaped Vietnam after 1975 and came to this country as refugees. Once settled in the Houston area, Truong’s family flourished (as I said, now numbering in the 80s). They adapted quickly to the local culture, embracing the best of their new home, including crawfish, Texas barbecue and, Truong’s latest favorite, a Snuggie in which to watch reality shows on his humongous plasma TV. After they moved to Houston, Truong’s family opened a successful Vietnamese restaurant. Truong grew up in that professional kitchen, and it shows. The Vietnamese food he has cooked for me is, hands down, the best I have had anywhere. He knows how to select the best fresh produce, meat and seafood, which he expertly combines in the complex symphony of flavors that make up Vietnamese cuisine.

Truong’s palate may have been honed by coming from a family of restaurateurs, but his technical skills come from his professional training as a surgeon. He has special knives that he sharpens himself, and that only he is allowed to touch. He slices with what can only be described as surgical precision. When I watched him cook one memorable meal, he arrayed his knives carefully on the cornflower blue kitchen towels he had stacks of in the kitchen. They looked familiar. I thought to myself, they couldn’t be, and commented, “You know, it’s funny, Truong, but those look just like surgical towels in the O.R.”

He barely looked up from his prep. “They are. But they haven’t been used.”

With his thankfully sterile surgical towels at the ready, Truong whipped up pork and shrimp dishes typical of the Vietnamese kitchen. With them, he served his homemade jar of nuoc cham, the ubiquitous Vietnamese dipping sauce made of lime juice, fish sauce, garlic, sugar and chilies. Nuoc cham is the salt, the ketchup, the soy sauce, whatever all-purpose condiment you can name, of the Vietnamese table, and by far the tastiest of these.

One Vietnamese dish that doesn’t need nuoc cham is bo loc lac, Vietnamese “shaking beef.” That’s because this dish is dressed with a similar sauce of zesty lime juice, this one enhanced with loads of garlic and an unexpected amount of ground black pepper.

Bo loc lac combines succulent morsels of beef dressed with this lime sauce along with lettuce leaves, sliced tomato and jasmine rice. This is a zesty, deeply seasoned dish. When you taste it, you may understand Anthony Bourdain’s love affair with the country and its cuisine:

“I think I’ve gone bamboo … I’ve gone goofy on Vietnam, fallen hopelessly, hopelessly in love with the place.”

– Anthony Bourdain, “A Cook’s Tour”

You Might Also Like

Vietnamese Shaking Beef (Bo Loc Lac)

Serves 6

Note: To answer the question that might come to mind, this is called “shaking beef” to describe the action of jiggling a wok to sauté the beef. The lime-pepper-garlic dipping sauce is typically associated with this dish, but for non-beef eaters, it also makes an intensely flavorful dressing for salads, fish, shrimp, and deep-fried tofu cubes.


  • 2 pounds beef sirloin, cut into ¾-inch cubes


  • 1 teaspoon nuoc mam (Vietnamese fish sauce)
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 1 tablespoon finely chopped garlic
  • 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 3 tablespoons canola oil

Lime-Pepper-Garlic Dipping Sauce:

  • 2 teaspoons sugar
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • ¼ cup freshly squeezed lime juice (about 3 limes)
  • ¼ cup water
  • 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 teaspoons finely chopped garlic


  • 3 tablespoons canola oil
  • 3 tablespoons sugar
  • 4 tablespoons finely chopped garlic
  • 1 ½ teaspoons freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/3 cup soy sauce
  • Garnishes:
  • 15 green or red leaf lettuce leaves
  • 1 sliced tomato
  • Steamed jasmine rice, for serving


  1. Combine all ingredients for marinade and add cubed beef. Allow to marinate for at least 30 minutes at room temperature, then pour off marinade. 
  2. Combine all ingredients for lime-pepper-garlic dipping sauce and let stand at room temperature.
  3. Heat oil in a large sauté pan or wok at high heat. Add garlic, sugar and black pepper and allow to caramelize for a minute.
  4. Add drained, marinated beef to the pan and stir-fry for 2 minutes. (If the beef can’t fit comfortably in one layer in the pan, separate it into batches and divide the ingredients in step 3 accordingly.)
  5. Add soy sauce and cook for 1-2 more minutes. Beef should be seared on the outside and medium-rare to medium on the inside.
  6. Garnish a platter with the lettuce leaves. Mound the cooked beef on top. Garnish with tomato slices.
  7. Serve lime-pepper-garlic dipping sauce on the side, or pour over the cooked beef just before eating. Enjoy with steamed jasmine rice.
  8. Lettuce leaves can be used as wrappers for the beef.

Recipe adapted from Boston’s Elephant Walk restaurant.

More Related Stories

Featured Slide Shows

  • Share on Twitter
  • Share on Facebook
  • 1 of 13
  • Close
  • Fullscreen
  • Thumbnails

    The 12 most incredible pint-size look-alikes in "Orange Is the New Black" season 3

    Young Daya has yet to become entirely jaded, but she has the character's trademark skeptical pout down pat. And with a piece-of-work mother like Aleida -- who oscillates between jealousy and scorn for her creatively gifted daughter, chucking out the artwork she brings home from summer camp -- who can blame her?

    The 12 most incredible pint-size look-alikes in "Orange Is the New Black" season 3

    With her marriage to prison penpal Vince Muccio, Lorna finally got to wear the white veil she has fantasized about since childhood (even if it was made of toilet paper).

    The 12 most incredible pint-size look-alikes in "Orange Is the New Black" season 3

    Cindy's embrace of Judaism makes sense when we see her childhood, lived under the fist of a terrifying father who preached a fire-and-brimstone version of Christianity. As she put it: "I was raised in a church where I was told to believe and pray. And if I was bad, I’d go to hell."

    The 12 most incredible pint-size look-alikes in "Orange Is the New Black" season 3

    Joey Caputo has always tried to be a good guy, whether it's offering to fight a disabled wrestler at a high school wrestling event or giving up his musical ambitions to raise another man's child. But trying to be a nice guy never exactly worked out for him -- which might explain why he decides to take the selfish route in the Season 3 finale.

    The 12 most incredible pint-size look-alikes in "Orange Is the New Black" season 3

    In one of the season's more moving flashbacks, we see a young Boo -- who rejected the traditional trappings of femininity from a young age -- clashing with her mother over what to wear. Later, she makes the decision not to visit her mother on her deathbed if it means pretending to be something she's not. As she puts it, "I refuse to be invisible, Daddy. Not for you, not for Mom, not for anybody.”

    The 12 most incredible pint-size look-alikes in "Orange Is the New Black" season 3

    We still don't know what landed Brooke Soso in the slammer, but a late-season flashback suggests that some seriously overbearing parenting may have been the impetus for her downward spiral.

    The 12 most incredible pint-size look-alikes in "Orange Is the New Black" season 3

    We already know a little about Poussey's relationship with her military father, but this season we saw a softer side of the spunky fan-favorite, who still pines for the loving mom that she lost too young.

    The 12 most incredible pint-size look-alikes in "Orange Is the New Black" season 3

    Pennsatucky had something of a redemption arc this season, and glimpses of her childhood only serve to increase viewer sympathy for the character, whose mother forced her to chug Mountain Dew outside the Social Security Administration office and stripped her of her sexual agency before she was even old enough to comprehend it.

    The 12 most incredible pint-size look-alikes in "Orange Is the New Black" season 3

    This season, we got an intense look at the teenage life of one of Litchfield's most isolated and underexplored inmates. Rebuffed and scorned by her suitor at an arranged marriage, the young Chinese immigrant stored up a grudge, and ultimately exacted a merciless revenge.

    The 12 most incredible pint-size look-alikes in "Orange Is the New Black" season 3

    It's difficult to sympathize with the racist, misogynist CO Sam Healy, but the snippets we get of his childhood -- raised by a mentally ill mother, vomited on by a homeless man he mistakes for Jesus when he runs to the church for help -- certainly help us understand him better.

    The 12 most incredible pint-size look-alikes in "Orange Is the New Black" season 3

    This season, we learned a lot about one of Litchfield's biggest enigmas, as we saw the roots of Norma's silence (a childhood stutter) and the reason for her incarceration (killing the oppressive cult leader she followed for decades).

    The 12 most incredible pint-size look-alikes in "Orange Is the New Black" season 3

    While Nicki's mother certainly isn't entirely to blame for her daughter's struggles with addiction, an early childhood flashback -- of an adorable young Nicki being rebuffed on Mother's Day -- certainly helps us understand the roots of Nicki's scarred psyche.

  • Recent Slide Shows



Comment Preview

Your name will appear as username ( settings | log out )

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href=""> <b> <em> <strong> <i> <blockquote>