Grilled Pork Chops with Bún Thịt Nướng Inspired Marinade

Welcome to the latest stopover on the TLC Book Tour.

I received a free review copy of this book from the publisher for this stopover.  I assure you I was not paid for this review and all opinions, thoughts and rants are completely my own.

About the book:

Sunshine Nails

Publisher: Atria Books (July 4, 2023)

Hardcover: 304 pages

Real Simple Must-Read Book of Summer 2023

“Mai Nguyen has proven herself to be a real standout.” —Taylor Jenkins Reid, New York Times bestselling author

A tender, humorous, and page-turning debut about a Vietnamese Canadian family in Toronto who will do whatever it takes to protect their no-frills nail salon after a new high end salon opens up—even if it tears the family apart. Perfect for readers of Olga Dies Dreaming and The Fortunes of Jaded Women.

Vietnamese refugees Debbie and Phil Tran have built a comfortable life for themselves in Toronto with their family nail salon. But when an ultra-glam chain salon opens across the street, their world is rocked.

Complicating matters further, their landlord has jacked up the rent and it seems only a matter of time before they lose their business and everything they’ve built. They enlist the help of their daughter, Jessica, who has just returned home after a messy breakup and a messier firing. Together with their son, Dustin, and niece, Thuy, they devise some good old-fashioned sabotage. Relationships are put to the test as the line between right and wrong gets blurred. Debbie and Phil must choose: do they keep their family intact or fight for their salon?

Sunshine Nails is a light-hearted, urgent fable of gentrification with a cast of memorable and complex characters who showcase the diversity of immigrant experiences and community resilience.

What I thought:

I’m a Yelper, you see, so when the book opens with a Yelp review, I was all in. I also was all in with Nguyen’s characters and their varied voices.   I had a love/hate relationship with Phil but how could I not adore someone who makes these kinds of observations:  “It was the kind of hot day when public libraries became cooling centers first and havens of literature second” (19)?

The tale involves Debbie and Phil, immigrants from Vietnam who have made a life for themselves and their two children in Toronto. Their children, Jessica and Dustin, are first gens making their way in the entertainment industry in LA and the tech industry in Toronto, respectively.

The family’s “mom and pop” nail salon is not lucrative but allows Debbie and Phil to provide for themselves and a niece that they’ve sponsored. That is, until the big bad “Take Ten” nail salon opens directly across from them. Sunshine Nails is a tale of resilience, family, survival and finding your roots. The book also deals with gentrification.

The book’s blurb talks about how the collective family members work at sabotaging the new, shiny and modern Take Ten, but…not really…I actually wanted more revenge here.

I did enjoy the book and would recommend.

The Food:

There’s a great deal of delicious food in the novel.  Here’s what I spied:

  • Crab legs with ginger and scallions, barbecue pork fried rice, turmeric noodles with toasted sesame rice crackers, spring rolls, minced beef congee, crispy bánh xèo, and  bánh bột lọc (7)
  • Sangria (27)
  • Peanut butter sesame bagel (33)
  • Marinated and barbecued beef, chicken, pork, quail, shrimp and squid (49)
  • Shrimp satay with a honey glaze drizzle (56-57)
  • Spinach-artichoke cups and gin-gin mule (58)
  • Heineken and Hennessey 61)
  • Bánh bèo and a fertilized duck egg (64)
  • Bitter melon stuffed with ground pork (65)
  • Shredded chicken salad (69)
  • Mimosas and lavender-hibiscus donuts (111)
  • Rose water w/agave syrup (114)
  • Duck and scallion pancakes (146)
  • Bird’s-eye chilis and homemade fish sauce (151)
  • Bún bò Huế(151)
  • Bruschetta (172)
  • Bolognese with fresh pappardelle (173)
  • Crabmeat soup, Peking duck, sweet red bean soup (177)
  • Vietnamese coffee and rare beef soaked in lime (186)
  • Hot soup, tofu stir fry, yellow noodles and red bean pudding (228)
  • Fried rice with Spam (246)
  • Bò Chiên Bơ (253)

I really had quite a few things I wanted to make and try like scallion pancakes, chicken satay, Bún bò Huế.  I even thought about sangria and Vietnamese coffee.   In the end, however, I of course ran out of time and decided to do a riff on a Bún Thịt Nướng (BBQ pork).

Grilled Pork Chops with Bún Thịt Nướng Inspired Marinade

Based on Hungry Huy’s recipe for Bún Thịt Nướng


  • 3 T. shallots minced
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 jalapeno, chopped (remove seeds if desired)
  • 2 T.  sugar
  • 1 T. fish sauce
  • 1 T. soy sauce
  • 1/2 T. pepper
  • 3 T. avocado or grape seed oil
  • 1 T. seasoned rice wine vinegar
  • 4 pork chops (butterflied or bone in, your choice)


  1. Mince garlic and shallots. Chop jalapeno.  Place in a medium bowl and mix in sugar, fish sauce, soy sauce, pepper, oil and vinegar until sugar dissolves.  Add pork and cover with plastic wrap or a lid. Refrigerate. Marinate the meat for 1 hour.
  2. Remove pork chops from marinade and set aside.  Heat grill to 400-450°F (or medium-high heat).   Scrape the grill grates clean.  Place the chops on the grill and cook until grill marks form on the bottom, about 3-4 minutes.
  3. Flip the chops and continue to grill until the thickest piece registers 145°F on an instant-read thermometer, 4 to 7 minutes more depending on the thickness.
  4. Remove from grill and let rest for 5 minutes.

Yield: 4

Serve with a cold noodle salad or a salad of leaf lettuce, cucumbers, a few pickled jalapenos and shredded carrots.  Or, do like I did and serve it with a tomato salad with Berber spice.  (It was already made in the fridge.  Don’t judge.)

I added the jalapeno to the marinade because, once again, of Phil’s observations.

“The spicier the food, the less everyone would eat, the more money they’d save on food.” (151)

Thanks again to TLC Book Tours for the chance to read and review Sunshine Nails.  


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