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Immigrant-chic bún riêu (paddy crab noodle soup) in London

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.

A yummy looking bowl of bún riêu

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Gỏi dưa hấu heo quay / Watermelon salad with roast pork belly

Summertime in North America is the season of heat, watermelon, and family gatherings, and the perfect time to make and enjoy this refreshing and festive salad. The recipe was an original creation of Fatty Crab‘s Zekary Pelaccio and was written up by The New York Times, where we found it. Sweet and fluffy watermelon cubes tossed in an aromatic ginger cilantro dressing and tangy pickled watermelon rinds were coolly delicious contrasts against juicy roast pork belly. Spicy scallion, rau răm / Vietnamese coriander, and Thai basil completed this unusual salad that in its own way provided all the textural and flavor elements of gỏi (Vietnamese salad). The original recipe combined elements of Southern United States cuisine with spices and techniques chef Pelaccio encountered in Malaysia. We substituted his crispy fried pork belly for a star anise marinated roast pork that was more reminiscent of heo quay (roast pork), an ingredient associated with celebrations in Vietnam. We had no idea how one would classify a dish in which so many lineages were mixed together, but we felt perfectly at home serving and enjoying this salad out in the backyard with the rest of our family.

Watermelon salad with roast pork belly

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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.


Bánh tét, pt. 3

Our bánh tét series continue… The entire process is quite a production, so we definitely have a lot to write about.

Don’t know if you notice something strange about the ingredients for bánh tét in this photo

bánh tét ingredients

Bedsides sticky rice, there are 2 types of meat and 2 pastes. Counter-clockwise, from the bottom right: pork marinaded with fish sauce and pepper, mung bean paste, lamb marinaded with tamarind and fish sauce, and chickpea paste.

Staying true to our motto of making Vietnamese food that you have always/never had, we experimented with new bánh tét fillings along with traditional ones. The pork in fish sauce and mung bean paste combination is traditional and familiar. For the new combination, we wanted to experiment with meat that has a more assertive flavor than pork, so we settled on lamb. Tamarind followed naturally, because I had always been thinking and wondering about that flavor combination for a while. The decision on chickpea was a little bit more random. We just wanted something other than mung beans and we’ve had and liked chickpeas in Spanish and Middle Eastern cuisine.

We ended up making 3 bánh tét with the experimental fillings (there were also some hybrid bánh tét where pork was paired with chickpeas). After trying the new bánh tét, we wished we had made more! :) Chickpea paste is definitely more savory than mung bean paste. On the other hand, it is similar enough to mung bean paste that most people who had the pork/chickpeas combination did not notice anything amiss, only that bánh tét was very tasty. We are glad this choice worked out wonderfully. We also loved tamarind lamb! Lamb added a very nice fragrance that permeated bánh tét. Of course, if you can’t stand lamb, you probably can’t stand this bánh tét.

Happy with our experiment and because Lamp just loves bánh tét, we are actually making another batch of bánh tét this weekend! We need to work out our new ideas for bánh tét, after all.

Stay tuned! :)


More on periwinkles (ốc gạo)

Lamp wrote about how excited he was when he saw fresh periwinkles at Monahan’s Seafood, so you can imagine my excitement when I saw bags and bags of fresh periwinkles at Đại Thành supermarket in San Jose. Not wanting to repeat the coconut milk flavor that Lamp used in his post, I decided to try out other flavors: once with tamarind and the other with lemongrass, ginger & lime leaf.

For tamarind, I strongly prefer the tamarind block over all the other forms of tamarind (powder, paste, liquid, etc.). I guess I am just old-school.

Tamarind block

A chunk of tamarind is put in hot water until it’s soft and can be broken apart. It can also be boiled to speed up the process. This is what it looks like after it’s mixed well with water:

Tamarind mixed with water

c xào me (tamarind periwinkles): Pass tamarind water through a sieve to strain out seeds. Season with fish sauce and sugar to taste. Stir fry garlic slices until they are fragrant, then add periwinkles and stir for 1-2 minute. Add tamarind water, stir and cook for another 6-7 minutes. Don’t cook periwinkles for too long because the meat will shrivel up and lose flavor. The periwinkles can be dipped in the same tamarind sauce when served.

Ốc hấp sả (lemongrass-steamed periwinkles): Another method I tried was to steam periwinkles with lemongrass, ginger & lime leaf. Lemongrass is cut into thin slices or mined. Ginger and lime leaf are cut into very thin strips. Garlic is minced. Fry garlic, lemongrass and ginger until fragrant, then add periwinkles and stir for 2 minutes. Then add fish sauce and a pinch of sugar and stir for 3 minutes. Cover and cook on low heat for 5 minutes.

Cháo ốc (periwinkle porridge): I had quite a bit of leftover lemongrass-steamed periwinkles last time (due to the over-abundance of food served at dinner, not because of the quality of this dish) and decided to make periwinkle porridge. Porridge is made the regular way (boil rice in a lot of water until rice softens and expands), then add periwinkle meat & rau răm (Vietnamese coriander) and cook for 5 minutes. Porridge is served hot with additional rau răm for garnish.

Lemongrass-steamed periwinkle meat

The porridge is hard to make in the sense that you’ll have to spend time digging out all the periwinkle meat while fighting the urge to eat it right away. I probably can only make this porridge with leftover periwinkles. However, this porridge is very delicious, as it’s hot and soupy and has an amazing texture that is a mix of crunchiness (periwinkle heads) and softness (periwinkle bodies). Even though the periwinkles & rau răm are only added to the porridge at the end, it’s still enough for the flavors of periwinkles, lemongrass, lime leaf & rau răm to permeate the soup and blend together. I’d definitely make this again because the delayed gratification is definitely worth it.