Ethnically Chinese but born in Vietnam, my parents fled Saigon for a better life in their late-20s with me barely 2 years old. We ended up in New York City with few physical possessions but with a life-long affinity to Vietnamese food.
Growing up, and not realizing it at the time, I could always distinguish which of my mom’s home-cooked dishes were Chinese and which were Vietnamese.
How? The Chinese dishes were spoken of in Chinese and the Vietnamese dishes were said in Vietnamese – simple huh?
When I moved to Dubai in 2007, there was only one Vietnamese restaurant, Hoi An, and it was in the Shangri-La hotel so you can just imagine that the food prices were too prohibitive for frequent dining. Just an appetizer alone would set you back $20 which is about how much a simple meal for 2 people would cost in a budget-friendly Vietnamese restaurant.
One more Vietnamese restaurant opened up this year, bringing the grand total in Dubai to TWO, but once again, it is a high-end establishment, called Voi, and billed as a “fine dining Vietnamese and French Colonial restaurant” located in Jumeirah’s Zabeel Saray hotel on the Palm Jumeirah.
Without budget dining options, I started recreating many of my mom’s dishes at home but it was challenging at times because my mom, being a natural in the kitchen, doesn’t use any set recipes nor measurements so I supplemented her recipes with two Vietnamese cookbooks.
As I began cooking at home, I realized how limited my knowledge was of Vietnamese cuisine.
I wanted to learn more and to try my hand at making some of the foods that my mom didn’t know how to make like Nem. I also wanted to make the flavorings for Vietnamese Curry or Bo Kho from scratch instead of using pre-made spice packets. Somehow, in my Google searches, I landed on a “Delicious Vietnam” post and discovered a whole bunch of blogs that featured not only traditional but also inventive and fusion Vietnamese dishes.
Below is the round-up of the November submissions. This round-up is, sadly, the second-to-last of the series as next month, this two-year blogging event as we know it will conclude it’s run and migrate to its own Facebook page.
But before it ends, you have the chance to enter a giveaway and win a copy of Indochine, the new cookbook from Luke Nguyen. Anh from A Food Lovers Journey will be hosting the final Delicious Vietnam edition and details of the giveaway can be found on her blog here.
I hope you enjoy the round-up below and hope to see you in December’s edition!
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An old storybook memory of Jack and the Beanstalk comes alive again with Lan at Angry Asian Creations (Baltimore, MD) as she recounts a story of a magical drink reminiscent of her childhood with her eldest uncle and his family.
Her magic beans of choice? Organic soy beans – for which she didn’t have to barter a cow but went the modern route of purchasing at Whole Foods.
If you’ve never made Organic Soy Milk before (I haven’t), all you need are soy beans, water, a little bit of sugar, a pinch of salt, and a cheesecloth. Easier than I would have imagined!
These beautiful little servings of steamed rice cakes topped with shrimp and pork crackling and drizzled with Vietnamese fish sauce is a popular snack food.
Quynh Anh of QA Kitchen (Amsterdam, Netherlands) gives us the secret of how to make perfect Bánh bèo or Water Fern Cakes. She has it down to not just a science, but an art -Â balancing the proper proportions of rice flour and tapioca flour with water. She also explains some of the regional differences of size and texture.
Even preparing the shrimp topping is an art and can range from dicing to mincing to shredding to flattening the shrimp with a knife then breaking it apart during the cooking stage.
I don’t think I’ve every tried Bánh bèo but you can be sure that if I ever see it on a menu, it will be one of the first things I’d order.
OMG! Dang and Oanh of Rau Om (based in Michigan and California) totally had me at “Époisses” in their description of French-Vietnamese Grilled Époisses Rice Crackling.
hated despised cheese up until a few years ago but have now acquired such a taste for it that I’ve even come to love a strong, stinky, put-it-in-two-nesting-tupperware-containers-yet-still-stinks-up-the-fridge cheese, like Époisses.
From Dang and Oanh: “In our post this month, we’d like to introduce a new dish that combines infamous delicacies from Vietnamese and French cuisines. In our take on the north-central dish banh dap, we finally had a chance to combine Époisses with mam to astonishingly harmonious effects. The flavor of mam and époisses combined beautifully, with salty mam dominating the initial sensations and rich, creamy Époisses lingering on the palate afterwards.”
Here is a food equation for you: Cabbage + Rolls = ?
Just look at that photo of beautifully wrapped cabbage rolls amidst knotted garlic chives! No question mark about it – it just screams: put me in your mouth right now with some extra sauce so that you can taste my inner goodness.
Doug of Javaholic (Northern California, USA) recreates this Vietnamese comfort food that he’s grown to love. While tofu can be used as a vegetarian filling, he prefers (as do I) the pork version. Nom-nom-nom.
I must say that I’ve never heard of betel leaves before and am now intrigued by this leaf that is not only prevalent in Vietnamese food but also its culture (betel leaves are used ceremonially in traditional Vietnamese weddings).
Nam of The Culinary Chronicles (San Diego, CA, USA) tells of a restaurant specialty that I recall my mom telling me about but have yet to experience first-hand and that is something known as Beef-Seven-Ways (Bò 7 Món).
Her favorite course is the Grilled Beef Wrapped in Betel Leaves in which the “leaves are quite fragrant and literally produces a trigger effect for my mouth to start watering when I smell it being grilled.”
One of the monthly blogging events that I participate in (and am hopelessly late with posting the finished dish and photos) dared me to cook up something savory with tea for the November challenge.
I still haven’t gotten around to doing anything for this challenge but I was excited to see that Mai from Flavor Boulevard (Berkeley, CA, USA) channeled this cooking with tea thing into her recipe of Black Tea Hades Rice.
Mai imparts some lessons and tips learned in her experiment: (1) loose-leaf teas versus tea bags and (2) how “green tea gives the rice the tea fragrance, and black tea gives it the tea taste, but neither gives enough of both.” Try for yourself!
And once you’ve done it, remember this: “tea rice needs companions, too, something savory enough to make it exciting but plain enough to not overpower its flavors.”
Whether Chinese or Vietnamese, one of the things that both cultures have in common is the comforting effects of rice porridge (aka congee). Often fed to weaning babies as a first food (in quite large quantities too, I’ve observed), it courses through our Asian veins.
Hong and Kim of Ravenous Couple (Los Angeles, CA, USA) presents a very traditional southern way of making Fish Porridge, made famous in the Mekong delta region which is known for its abudance of fish, other sea life and for its floating markets.
I shared a similar experience with Anh of A Food Lover’s Journey (Melbourne, Australia) – looks like we both returned from visiting our parents with pickling on the brain.
For me, it was a new venture into pickling daikon and carrots (mostly for Vietnamese Banh Mi/sandwiches and for snacking ) and for Anh, it was Vietnamese Preserved Mustard Cabbage. Unlike my mom though, Anh’s parents have invested in a special pickling jar – who knew there was such a thing!
These preserved mustard greens can be used in all sorts of dishes, from soups to stir-fries, or can be eaten straight out of the jar.
And finally, my submission for the month is home-made Vietnamese Curry Powder. Having nearly run out of my own precious stash that I had brought over from the US, and finding no recipe sources on-line, I used a commercially available powder as a base to create my own special blend.
It received the seal of approval from Scotch and can’t wait to taste-test it on my parents the next time I see them.
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I hope this round-up has left your taste buds anxious to try and make some of these dishes or to visit a Vietnamese restaurant :).
Perhaps you will consider participating in next month’s final edition of Delicious Vietnam. Put it on your food blogging calendars and be sure to send your submissions to Anh by December 31, 2011. Happy blogging!