Growing up, my family cooked cá kho/braised fish the Northern way and it was never a favorite dish until much later. Northern style cá kho is ascetically simple and intense. Southern style cá kho is easier to like – the fish is more softly presented and embellished with a more prominent sweetness. When we experimented with adding tea (a typically Northern touch) to Southern style cá kho, we found that the flavors of braised fish and the fragrance of tea were well matched companions still. Using Japanese or Korean barley tea made for an even more intriguing dish with a novel taste while the tea leaves themselves can be roasted to form a crust on the fish filet, adding a new textural element.
Wherever we’ve lived, we’ve become known among friends for elaborate, fancy dinners (but bring your own chairs). The shindigs serve multiple purposes: it’s fun to play restaurant and we love the occasions to cook together; they allow us to work out and organize into a menu the many random ideas we’ve collected; they let us hang out with our friends and provides us with, in the form of those selfsame friends, guinea pigs to test newest creations on.
This dinner was no different. Taking advantage of Lamp’s rare long visit to the bay area, we decided to hold a dinner with 4 originally planned courses that ballooned to 12 by the time our guests arrived. The menu was a mix of repeats of past successes (roasted salted kumquat quails, sake kasu marinated cod, forbidden rice amazake), brand new creations (bossam-inspired oysters, mackerel braised in green/barley tea, duck dishes, etc.), and cookbook recipe (tomato soup with yuba cream). The dishes were rooted in Vietnamese, Korean, and Japanese cuisines but each had a twist marking them as a product of our kitchen. We took care with each dish to provide a different view, one that incorporated new ingredients available in a modern multicultural society, without obscuring the unique characteristics that made the traditional version so appealing.