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Apr17

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.

Feb01

Preparations for Tết: Bánh Tét, pt. 2

At 2am, our timer alarms went off and we dragged ourselves into the kitchen to take our first batch bánh tét out of the boiling water to drain and dry overnight. This is how they looked the following morning:

cooked bánh tét

And the moment of truth – cutting into our bánh tét:

Hooray!

Here’s a closer look, with bánh tét cut into a ready to eat slice and the banana leaves peeled away:

Bánh tét slice close up

Aesthetically, the center should be more centered (I must have forgotten to massage this roll to distribute the rice more evenly after forming the initial cylinder) but functionally everything looked good: The banana leaves imparted their flavor and color onto the rice. The pork belly were tender and delicious. The rice themselves expanded during the cooking process and formed a solid shell around the beans and meat inside.

This is important: bánh tét and bánh chưng are associated with Tết because of their long shelf life, due in part to this rice shell. The 6 hours of intense boiling achieved sterilization and the thick shell of rice formed a hermetic seal around the nutrient dense, easily spoiled, and delicious center. Many other food associated with Tết such as dưa món (pickled vegetables) and thịt kho tầu (caramelized braised pork and eggs) – are similarly known for their resistance to spoilage. So after an intense day or so of cooking, we had food that would last for weeks, leaving us free to pay visits to family and friends, all of whom are also doing same.

A Tết care package: Bánh tét, bưởi, & tương ớt

Bánh tét/bánh chưng are also favored gift items during Tết visits, probably to replenish the ones eaten by previous waves of guests. Another common gift are grapefruits for the fruit tray on the ancestors’ altar. Just a single grapefruit can sometimes infuse the whole house with a lovely fragrance during the holidays. With that in mind, we put together a care package for parents and grandparents whom we sadly could not visit this year : our homemade bánh tét, a pair of Melogold pomelos, and a jar of our homemade tương ớt (chilli sauce.) Why Melogold specifically? It’s our favorite variety of the enormous citrus family. Our first encounter with it was a Toucan Sam like hunt for the source of that lovely scent that wafted across the produce section. In subsequent seasons the scent had not been as strong but the sweet, flavorful taste were still consistent. Why tương ớt? Just because we made some and we thought it was good.

Happy New Year, everyone!