Catch Up

I realize I’ve been fairly slack on blogging over the past couple of months. No excuses are ever sufficient, but it is largely because I have spent a lot of time with friends recently, and it is difficult to set aside enough time write, particularly when I’ve been doing a lot of off the cuff travel planning. As of last Friday, I finished up about five weeks in SE Asia. Believe it or not, I do things other than eat while I travel. SE Asia didn’t blow me away food wise (other than my eating exploits in Hoi An, which I documented sufficiently a couple of weeks ago), but what I found most rewarding about my time there was reeducating myself about the Cambodian civil war (if you can call annihilating a huge quantity of your own people who aren’t really fighting back a civil war) and the Vietnam war. Anyway, just wanted to write a quick catch up post.

Melbourne foodie posts on the way…

‘Nam No. 3: Three Recipes To Try At Home (yes, you!)

A couple of days ago, John and I attended a Vietnamese cooking class. We purposely chose some simple recipes that would be easy to make at home. Any of these would be a quick, easy dinner. Cook away —

Fresh Spring Roll

Meat of your choice (prawn, port, chicken, beef, etc.)
5 pieces thin, hard rice paper
1 cucumber grated in long strips
1/2 carrot grated in long strips
2 tablespoons of fresh mint
1 tablespoon rice vinegar
1 tablespoon of onion flakes
1/2 teaspoon of sugar
Pinch of salt
Pinch of pepper
Spring onions for garnish

Mix cucumber, carrot, salt, sugar, and vinegar, then place in a cloth (cotton, such as a tea towel) and squeeze well to drain all excess juice. Soften rice paper in cold water for one second and place on plate. Add small bunch of the cucumber/carrot mixture at one end of the rice paper, roll over, then fold in the sides. Add two pieces of the spring onion so they look like a tail, then roll once again. Add meat, then finish rolling. Repeat for as many spring rolls as you want.

Dipping sauce: 1 crushed fresh chili, 2 cloves crushed garlic, 1 tablespoon of sugar, 1/2 tablespoon of lemon or lime juice, 1 tablespoon of fish sauce. Combine ingredients and mix well.

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Chili and lemon grass with prawn, chicken, or fish (serves four)

400 grams of prawns, peeled (or other meat of your choice)
2 stems lemongrass, thinly sliced
1 stem of lemongrass lightly crushed for flavor visual appeal
2 cloves crushed garlic
2 teaspoons vegetable stock powder
1 teaspoon sugar
1 teaspoon sesame oil
1 tablespoon oyster sauce
1 teaspoon chili paste
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
2 tablespoons water

To make the sauce, blend lemongrass and garlic in food processor. Place in bowl and add oyster sauce and 1 tablespoon vegetable oil and mix (tip: if you fry this mixture for five minutes you can keep it in the refrigerator for up to three weeks). Marinate the meat of your choice in the vegetable stock, sugar, sesame oil, and chunky lemongrass for a minimum of 30 minutes, but overnight is even better. Heat 1 tablespoon of vegetable oil to medium heat. Add the marinated meat and cook for one minute. Then add lemongrass paste, chili paste, and water, and cook for two more minutes. Serve with steamed rice.

Sorry, my photos of this didn’t turn out, but you don’t need them.

Aubergine (Eggplant) in Clay Pot (serves four)

200 grams Aubergine (eggplant), peeled
1/2 liter of vegetable oil (for deep frying; you can use a wok)
1/2 liter of boiling water
2 tablespoons soy sauce
2 teaspoons sugar
1 teaspoon paprika
1/2 teaspoon pepper
50 grams spring onion, finely chopped

Cut aubergine into 3 inch sticks (about 1-2 cm in width — see pictures) and fry in hot oil until lightly browned. Drain oil. Place aubergine back into frying pan and add boiling water. Boil for ten seconds. Drain water (this makes the aubergine less oily and bitter). Marinate the aubergine in a clay pot with paprika, spring onion, pepper, sugar, and soy sauce for a minimum of thirty minutes. Cook in clay pot on stove for five minutes, stirring once when it starts to bubble. Serve with rice. Teacher’s orders — if you don’t have a clay pot, get one.

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‘Nam No. 2: Miss Ly’s Hoi An Specialties

Thanks to a tip, I discovered the best food I’ve had in Asia and enjoyed the best meals I have had since Italy and the steak dinner in Chamonix. Miss Ly Cafeteria 22 in Hoi An has been in business for almost two decades and serves unbelievable Vietnamese and local Hoi An cuisine. All of the dishes are made with fresh, organic, and local ingredients and are msg-free (a rarity in this part of the world). We visited the restaurant four (or five?) times in as many days. Admittedly, on each visit we reordered our favorites, but also managed to add in a few extra dishes. We probably won some sort of overeating award. Here is the honor roll:

Fried wontons (hoanh thanh chien): sautéed pork, prawns, tomato, and onion with sauce and served on a flat wonton. This one stole our hearts.

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White rose (banh bao): steamed prawns in rice dumplings with garlic, fried onion, and chili.

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Cao lau (mi cao lai): Hoi An specialty of thick noodles, sliced roast pork, herbs, fresh greens, and croutons.

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Grilled pork spring rolls (thit nuong): in rice paper with fresh herbs and peanuts. Another game changer.

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Grilled fish (ca nuong): steak wrapped in a banana leave with herbs and chili.

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Green papaya salad (goi du du): with onions, vegetables, herbs, and rice crackers. Of all the green-whatever salads I’ve had in south east Asia, this one is in a league of its own.

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Sweet and sour prawn soup with noodles.

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Stir fried morning glory (rao muong xao toi): with garlic and chili.

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Stir fried beef (bo xau trung): marinated beef with onion, tomato, and boiled egg.

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Sweet and sour squid (muc chua ngot): with vegetables.

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Fried rice: with squid, shrimp, onion, carrot, bean, garlic, and egg.

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Are you salivating yet? I am and I’m still full. If you come to Hoi An, you must visit Miss Ly. Here is how you can find her:

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‘Nam No. 1: Hanoi Street Grub

During an over night boat trip on Ha Long Bay, I was fortunate enough to meet Sofie and Donal who, unlike me, work on a legit food blog and write cook books in Ireland. Check out the website www.donalskehan.com/ (just click on the link) — it is great. As serious foodies, Donal and Sofie had arranged a tour of Hanoi street food with a local blogger, and they were very kind to invite me to join them the night we returned to Hanoi from Ha Long Bay. During the tour, we also ran into Mark Lowerson, the author/blogger who writes “stickyrice”, one of the first and most well known food blogs.

It is hard to describe some of the things I tried and I am going to include some links (click on anything in blue to link to reviews of the food made by the same street vendors we visited) and photos. We ate so much so that I can only write about a small sampling of dishes. If you want to know more, feel free to write a comment and ask.

Che. This is a completely bizarre Vietnamese dessert made with coconut cream, tapioca, and various jellies and fruits. My western palate didn’t really warm to this combination but the Vietnamese love it.

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Stir fried beef with deep fried rice noodles. The beef and veggies were very good but the noodles were a bit too greasy/rich for me.

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Banh Cuon. This was my favorite street food. It is a steamed rice pancake with minced pork. So light and delicious.

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Soup with tofu, crab paste, and pig ear. Enough said — I was not a huge fan.

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Fish cakes. We had a few different types of fish cakes. They were ok but generally too rubbery for me.

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The food tour was really fun, but we ate so many different types of food that my stomach wasn’t particularly pleased with me the next day. None of it made me sick; it was just a very crazy combination of things (there was a lot more that I didn’t write about, including more gelatinous sweets with coconut milk). I highly recommend you do this if you come to Hanoi. If you are interested, I can give you the contact information for our guide. It isn’t cheap, but it is worth doing as you would never be able to cover such a range of street food on your own in Hanoi and find clean, safe places to enjoy it.