We welcome our first guest post from our dear friend Xuân currently living in London. She showed us a sunny picture of her antidote to the gloomy British autumn weather and immediately made us both crave a piping hot bowl of bún riêu. We also love all the improvisations Xuân deployed to create a diasporic variant of a Vietnamese classic dish.
In case you are wondering, this blog entry is not by Oanh and Dang, our dear creative chefs. This is Xuan, Oanh & Dang’s long time friend and a big fan of their creative Rauom’s cooking fantasies.
What am I doing here?
I was invited by Oanh to be their guest blogger this week sharing my story of making bún riêu. What an honour! Thank you, Oanh. I’m trying my best. Ahem…
Where do I start?
Ah yes, from Rauom blog’s search box.
Lately, I often find myself time and again going first to Rauom blog’s search box to find inspiration and recipes before I head out my cooking adventures in London.
But the recipe for bún riêu was not available yet and my cravings for bún riêu were so much to bear, given London’s ghostly, cold weather and the Brits’ reputation for food. So, I decided to make bún riêu from 3 main things that I can gather:
- Crystal clear broth, made easy
- Salmon bones from local fishmonger
- Frozen minced crab-meat (thịt, mai cua xay nhuyễn, đông lạnh ở siêu thị Việt Nam) found in Vietnamese supermarkets
Below are all the hurdles and joy of making it.
Making the broth
I just followed closely Oanh’s instructions on how to make clear broth from kombu. The experiment was successful. The broth was clear, as promised. But I do miss the fatty layer on top of the broth, as when you make broth from ox-tail bones and pork bones. That was when the ‘Eureka’ moment came it. Why don’t I ‘recycle’ the salmon bones from a local fishmonger near my place? I saw how they wasted the salmon by just throwing away all these meat and bones.
What if it wouldn’t work? Nah, it’s OK. After all, I am just experimenting and exploring the possibilities.
Making the “riêu” (crab meat “fluff”)
So the broth was ready. Now, for the riêu cua, you need to drain the water from the frozen minced crab meat first (thịt, mai cua xay nhuyễn đông lạnh).
I also did a search on Google for various recipes and found this one on making riêu cua helpful:
When the broth is boiling, just slide the minced riêu cua into it. Eventually, it will float up as a sign of being cooked already. It was quite thrilling for me to watch the process as I’ve never done it myself. I was afraid that all the riêu would just sink to the bottom.
But luckily, to my relief, they floated. Onto the next part then.
Making other accessories
Essential accessories to riêu cua include: tomato, fried tofu cubes, tamarind, mắm tôm (shrimp paste) and of course loads of herbs such as rau quế (basil), bắp chuối (banana flowers), rau muống chẻ (split water spinach stems), rau kinh giới (Vietnamese balm). I couldn’t find these herbs in Chinatown after coming out late from work. So, voila, I just used dills. So please do not follow this and please excuse that part.
To process 5 tomatoes, you need 2 teaspoons of oil and 1 teaspoon of annatto seeds (hạt điều đỏ). Just heat the oil, add the annatto seeds until the red colour comes all out and then remove all these seeds. Add the sliced tomatoes in, stir fry, then add a little bit of salt, sugar, and hạt nêm Knorr (bouillon cubes). Don’t overcook this, as the tomatoes will get too soft when they go into the broth afterward. Not nice looking. You already have the solid, healthy broth. You don’t want to ruin that look with mushy tomatoes.
For me, this is the most difficult part: the part of aiming, finalising every taste, every ingredient in order to make it there: the bún riêu flavour. There are points when I had to close my eyes, trying to reminisce the rich flavours of bún riêu on a cold rainy night in Hanoi or Saigon so that I can aim for that taste while cooking here in London.
And so, into my bún riêu pot went:
– One small bowl of tamarind liquid filtered from tamarind cube mixed with warm water (Một chén nước me lọc)
– 3 teaspoons of shrimp paste
– 3 teaspoons of fish sauce
– 1 teaspoon of sugar (C’mon. I’m from the South).
Actually, to be honest with you, I can’t remember now the precise measurements. After tasting for a while, slowly I arrived to that point of ‘this is it’. Happy inside, I shared the image of bún riêu with Oanh.
Sharing beyond cooking
From my little experience, the key to good cooking is good eating experiences. I am forever grateful for my roots in Vietnam where I grew up in a family filled with aunts who can cook delicious đám giỗ (memorial feasts) for a whole village. My travelling life in Vietnam also brought me to countless bún riêu street vendors. These little moments of indulgence have eternally shaped my taste. No matter where I am, be it London or Copenhagen, I will somehow slowly and amazingly retrieve it.
Here I share with you my first attempt. I hope it’ll get better with time.