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Delicious Vietnam #14

We are excited to host the June 2011 edition of Delicious Vietnam. It was fun to read through the amazing array of posts on different aspects of Vietnamese cuisine. Without further ado, let’s start the multi-course feast.

Breakfast fares: Bánh mì & Xôi (sticky rice)

From San Francisco, CA, USA, Mary at tiny banh mi presented a new flavor combination for bánh mì with a clever name: a Duck Confit Bánh Mì, which she calls Damn Bien (“damn good”)

Damn Bien: Duck Confit Bánh Mì

“To me, nostalgia is the language of inspiration for the different types of bánh mì I’m making and writing about here. The Damn Bien (aspiring to be ‘damn good’) bánh mì contains the specially dressed fresh carrots, jicama, cucumber and cilantro surrounding the French comfort food of sumptuous and crispy duck confit hash I fried.”

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Head-spinning East goes West goes East Bloody Mary (Rượu Pha Nước Cà Chua)

The Vietnamese translation above is literally liquor mixed with tomato juice because there is no way for me to translate Bloody Mary into Vietnamese without being blasphemous.

Bloody Mary is a lovely Sunday morning drink and reputed hangover cure, made with vodka, (sometimes roasted) tomato juice and various spices – most commonly Worcestershire sauce.

Anyway, a month or so ago, a Vietnamese history blog I visit often to disabuse myself of gradeschool-level history mentioned efforts to market Worcestershire sauce in the Far East. Now Worcestershire sauce was attributed to an Englishman bringing back a recipe from the British Far East colonies and attempting to recreate a taste he encountered there. Some decades later, Worcestershire sauce was marketed in Thailand as Western Fish Sauce. Reading the article inspired the idea to make Bloody Mary using Asian ingredients.

Tomatoes on a bed of chopped onions and sea salt - ready for roasting

Worcestershire sauce is made with primarily tamarind, anchovies, chile pepper, sugar (high fructose corn syrup in the US), and clove. The ingredients up to sugar are easy to substitute – altogether that’s just nước mắm me (fish sauce with tamarind). Clove is harder replace, and it’s one of the defining components of Worcestershire sauce. I ended up making a tea of 10 clove pieces and 20 pepper corns in a shot glass to titrate into my drink.

Tomatoes cut in half were laid on a bed of chopped onions and sea salt and roasted at 375 until the outside were charred. Tomatoes and onions were then blended with wasabi (horseradish traditionally) and lemon juice and chilled overnight (forgot to strain juice to get the seeds and other chunks out.)

Roasted tomatoes

Tamarind fish sauce were made from a semi-dry tamarind block, softened and rehydrated with boiling water – about 1/3 of a cup for a 1 inch cube. After straining, fish sauce and sugar and chopped garlic were added to taste. That’s nước mắm me. The sauce was then blended to make a smooth liquid to add to the tomato juice.

I also had some ponzu sauce (a Japanese sauce made of soy sauce, rice cooking wine, and fragrant Yuzu lemons) on hand, so I made another Worcestershire sauce equivalent using ponzu and adding ume-boshi (Japanese pickled plums) for added tartness.

A tall cold glass of stock solution: shochu + tomato juice.

To make the stock solution, equal parts chilled tomato juice and shochu were mixed together. Each type of Bloody Mary was made by adding a tablespoon of the appropriate spices (Worcestershire sauce or the equivalent) and a dash of homemade tương ớt (chilli sauce, Vietnamese style) to a glass of stock solution

  1. The traditional preparation Bloody Mary with Worcestershire sauce was nice as expected. Hints of the wasabi and tương ớt made a small difference, but Worcestershire sauce and tomato flavors dominated.
  2. Bloody Mary made with ponzu sauce was missing umami and the fragrance of yuzu lemon was disproportionately strong.
  3. Bloody Mary made with nước mắm me tasted great, biting, savory and sweet. But it was missing the spicy edge of clove. Adding clove tea didn’t work as clove and nước mắm me were unhappy to share space together.

An East meets West meets East Bloody Mary

Ultimately, my favorite nontraditional Bloody Mary made with traditional Asian ingredients to replace Worcestershire sauce because Worcestershire sauce was originally inspired by Asian ingredients (see, head-spinning) was made with 3 teaspoons of nước mắm me and 1 teaspoon of ponzu/ume-boshi sauce. I never noticed it before, but the distinctive fragrance of yuzu lemons could almost be described as citrusy and clovey. Diluted in nước mắm me, that fragrance was more well-behaved and gave a distinctive Bloody Mary that hit most of the same spots as the traditional recipe. A garnish of rau răm completed the East to West back to East transformation.


Nước chấm chay (Vegan dipping sauce)

Making good fish sauce dipping sauce (nước mắm pha) is a very important skill in a Vietnamese kitchen. My mom didn’t believe that Lamp could cook until she saw that he could make good nước mắm. Likewise, making nước mắm is a nerve-wracking experience for me when we visit his family.

That strong emphasis on good dipping sauce was a major deterrence for me to venture into making vegan dishes. It seemed quite difficult to replace the distinctive taste of fish sauce in the dipping sauce that I am so used to. I finally got the chance to challenge myself when a vegan friend suggested that we get together to make Vietnamese food. Instead of my usual vegan stew, I decided to make vegan chả giò (Vietnamese crispy spring rolls), which of course required a good dipping sauce.

I was quite happy with the way the dipping sauce turned out: the color looked just right and the taste is more complex than simple soy sauce-based dipping sauce

vegan dipping sauce

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