Tag Archives: Vietnamese

French Vietnamese

The audio for my presentation with Fuchsia Dunlop at Asia House is June is up. Happily, it went well, with a lot of kind questions and comments from the audience, despite one of the menu items, lemongrass creme brûlée, having to be dropped at the last minute due to serving bowl supply issues.

Fuchsia was a very generous interviewer, and amongst my friends it was lovely to see Freya, who supported my project at Asia House last year, as well as my university tutor, Lara, and my editor at the F-word, Ania. It was also excellent to work with the very vital Betty Yao and Paul Bloomfield, an old friend of Yan Kit So’s, who donated his catering expertise on the night.

Since then I’ve been working on my book proposal, rooting and growing some of the herbs that I used at the event onto my new terrace, and planning another trip to Marseille at the end of August to visit some of my Vietnamese family (+ attending to life admin, of course).

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Vietnamese Bal, (Kinh giới) on the left, and Perilla ( Tía tô) on the right.

I’ve been thinking a lot about France since going to Vietnam last year. I spent 6 days in Paris in April, since a friend of a friend of a friend, Chloe, was kind enough to lend me and Luke her little student residence studio in Montreuil, while she was at home for the Easter holidays.

I’d never spent long in Paris, although my dad had told me stories of incredible Vietnamese restaurants he’d been taken to in Paris’ Chinatown by my mum’s taxi-driver brother, Gerard, tales of decadent feasts and the lightest shredded beef salads imaginable. We struggled to find Vietnamese restaurants that even served any Vegetarian dishes in Paris, which goes to show how much the French love their meat, more exclusively than the Vietnamese or the British.

We finally found a little place in Belleville called Cyclo that did a vegetarian version of Bun Cha Gio – spring rolls and fried tofu on a noodle salad bed. Although the spring rolls were a little bland, the tofu was soft and well coated in a thickened soy sauce, and the bowl was dressed with delicious shreds of soft, caramelised red onion. This was not the onion-free, vegan Buddhist cookery I encountered so often in Vietnam. The overall effect was richer, with deeper, more meat-like flavours and textures than in tofu you get in the UK and Vietnam, which tends to just be fried hard, not marinated and soft.

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On the dessert menu was further evidence of decadent style French/Vietnamese hybrid cooking: a luxuriant Mango Creme Brûlée. There was no mango flavour in the creme, it came simply as a piece of fresh mango grilled atop the sugar, and almost looked like a piece of caramelised Vietnamese style clapypot fish.

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The owner of Cyclo, hailing from the South of Vietnam, claimed his tofu dish was a regional speciality, a Cambodian hybrid. Since I’d eaten versions of this dish in parts of Northern Vietnam, I was quietly sceptical. Indeed, at another good Vietnamese restaurant we visited with Chloe in Paris – Au Vietnam going towards Chinatown – the owner also explained the origin of another innovative soft and fresh tofu dish, this one served in a light sauce with fresh mango and lychees. She explained why it was called ‘Imperial’ tofu: it was a family recipe, and her family had apparently been Vietnamese nobility, which is supposedly why I had never encountered it in Vietnam.

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It was interesting to hear these various origin myths, which Vietnamese restauranteurs in England don’t seem to be as bothered about sharing. I suppose French restaurant go-ers are more keen to hear romantic stories of their country’s colonial history. And it seems that French restaurant-goers also expect something a little more from their tofu, they expect it to be rendered, flavoured and textured as you would cook meat, which is a good lesson for any vegetarian gourmande.

The Vegetarian Vietnamese: Food From The Jade Cave

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I’m excited to be building up to my presentation on 17th June at Asia House, where I will be interviewed by the renown Sichuanese Food writer, Fuchsia Dunlop, accompanied by lots of Luke’s beautiful photographs from Vietnam. I’ll be discussing the findings from my research into Vegetarian cuisine over there, via pagodas, vegan restaurants and the kitchens of many an excellent home chef, all with the help of Vietnamese friends and the Vietnamese embassy in the UK. We’ll then be serving everyone up a small platter of taster veggie Vietnamese food, recipes picked up along the trail, including ginger caramelised tofu, coconut and kohlrabi salad, mushroom spring rolls on a noodle salad bed and a lemongrass Creme Brûlée. Luke’s even preparing a soundtrack of all the field recordings he made in Vietnam. I’ve been testing the recipes myself and with Paul Bloomfield, who has kindly offered to sponsor the event, being a great friend of Yan Kit’s.

For more information and tickets see here, Asia House will also be launching the next 2014 Yan Kit So bursary for the next lucky aspiring Asian food writer to go travelling http://asiahouse.org/events/yan-kit-memorial-award/

Ngon Chiswick: A Vegetarian Pho Review

I headed in here today, the sunniest day of the year so far, to pick up a bowl of their Vegetarian Pho, which I think is the best in Town. And I’ve had a few. When the place first opened in Autumn 2013, they held back on releasing a vegetarian version of their pho, unhappy with the flavour of the stock. And so we’d been happy to eat their summer rolls, zesty salads and delicious garlic marinated mushroom and tofu Banh Mi’s, until one day in January the hallowed vegetarian soup was ready.

I was told by the lovely staff at Ngon how the Saigon born owner had come up with a broth using pears and apples to add a slight, woody sweetness and depth to their meat-free stock that I haven’t tasted elsewhere in the UK. Add to this the lovely combination of marinated shiitake and oyster mushrooms, tender green beans, chives, chillies and you have a very addictive soup: both fresh and hearty.

Sadly it had been a quiet day at Ngon, because the increasingly bland chain Vietnamese restaurant, Pho, has just opened up the road on Chiswick High Street, offering 50% opening weekend discounts. But the staff are confident that once the novelty and discounts have worn off, people will be back at Ngon, which offers you so much more flavour and charm at a better price. I for one strolled out towing my sweet pho and ice coffee picnic into the spring sunshine.

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Sticky Rice and Mung Bean Breakfast Parcels and Vietnamese Supper Clubs

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The little package of yellow, turmeric infused steamed glutinous rice is topped by shavings of cream coloured mung beans and sunburnt crispy shallots. 

Taking a break the other day from my lovely green smoothie breakfasts a la Vedged Out, I decided to carb-out and make this popular Hanoian breakfast dish. For some months now it’s been sitting looking yellow and handsome in my copy of Tracey Lister and Andreas Pohl’s book, Vietnamese Street Food, and it was specifically recommended (and requested) by Hang, a new Vietnamese friend who took the time to google search all her favourite Hanoian food that she missed with me. When it got to this dish, the look in her eye was particularly sorrowful and longing – a good sign.

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Although the exact quantities can be found in the Street Food book, you make this dish by soaking glutinous rice and yellow mung beans overnight, steaming the glutinous rice in a kitchen cloth for about 30 minutes with (fresh) turmeric, salt and sugar, boiling the mung beans till soft then squeezing them into a ball and grating it over the top of the rice. You then top with fried shallots and shallot oil or sesame oil if you don’t have that. I hadn’t been able to sleep the night before making this and was worse for wear in the morning, ending up setting fire to the kitchen cloth and burning half of it off while trying to use it to steam the rice. So… be careful.

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I’m more than usual on the hunt for great vegetarian Vietnamese dishes at the moment, since a friend of mine and I are hoping to host our very first, one off Supper Club towards the end of the summer. This is pretty exciting news and I will keep posting with new developments. The Sticky Rice and Mung Bean breakfast parcels turned out to be a bit carby and mild to suit a dinner party menu, but it’s addictive and the rice is so dense that you can use your hands to eat it and it will all hold together! This is a breakfast fit for a workman with delicate flavour sensibilities.

photos by Luke Walker

Vegetarian Summer Rolls (Gỏi cuốn)

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The mint leaves are rolled into the last layer of the wrappers, so that the green shines brightly through the translucent rice. Strips of carrots give the summer rolls a pink hue.

Last week I was lucky enough to help out at my first Grub Club pop up event, hosted by the brilliant and energetic Sharon and Eliza at Miss Manchu. Sharon is Malaysian Australian and an expert in Pan Asian cooking, and she designed a 6 course menu ranging from a starter of deep fried son-in-law eggs and Vietnamese prawn summer rolls to Chinese style pork buns and Thai pandan pancakes with lychee ice cream and bubble tea. We were catering for 40, and so as soon as I arrived at 1pm I was put to chopping 40 chilies, gutting 40 prawns (a slightly uncomfortable new for me) and rolling 40 summer rolls.

As soon as that was done I set about making as many green pandan pancakes, which took about an hour and a half because the pancakes needed to be cooked slowly on each side to avoid them from browning, and then needed to be rolled with a sweet coconut filling just like the summer rolls. We finished cooking that night past 11pm! And I left happy and satisfied with a tub of Sharon’s delicious home-made lychee ice cream in tow.

So as you can see I have summer rolls and rolling in general on the mind, having picked up a tip or two from both Sharon as well as Nhu – a lovely and skilful fellow sous-cheffer. Urged on by the late onset of spring, since then I’ve been making batches of summer rolls at home, and so here’s my recipe using tofu, mushrooms and peanuts:

Recipe (makes 8 rolls):

20g rice vermicelli, soaked in boiling water for 4 minutes then refreshed under cold water.
3 dried shitake mushrooms, soaked in hot water for 20 minutes.
1 carrot, sliced into julienne strips
100g tofu
1/2 jicama (optional), julienne sliced and then fried gently for 3 minutes.
16 mint leaves plus extra for serving
8 Thai basil leaves
5g of coriander, coarsely chopped.
8 circular dried rice wrappers
Nuoc Cham Sauce (click here for recipe)

Slice the tofu into thin strips, about 1 cm thick and 5 cm long, and shallow fry them in a wok in hot oil until they begin to turn golden. Remove and place them on kitchen roll to absorb excess oil, then slice lengthways again to make them thinner. Set aside with other filling ingredients. Slice rehydrated mushrooms into thin strips, about 2 mm wide.

Soak a rice wrapper in a bowl hot water, turning the edges like a wheel so that the whole sheet becomes wet. As it starts to soften, place the wrapper carefully on a hard, moistened work surface. Then place 4 strips of tofu horizontally about 5cm away from the bottom edge. On top of this add two slices of mushrooms, about 5 batons of carrot, a couple of batons of jicama if using, a sprinkle of chopped peanuts, two mint leaves, a sprinkle of coriander and about half a tablespoon of vermicelli. The shape should be that of a small, horiztonal sausage.

Now, carefully roll up the bottom edge of the wrapper until it has covered the ingredients, and then do another half roll over the top. Then fold each side edge of the wrapper to the centre over the sides of the filling, trying to avoid any creases or folds. No carefully go back to rolling the filling towards the top of the remaining wrapper. Before the last roll of the filling, place a Thai basil leaf face down about 2 cm from the top edge of the wrapper, which will then be rolled in at the top of the summer roll as in the picture above.

Invite eaters to wrap the rolls in crispy lettuce to add a crunch to each bite, and dip in the nuoc cham sauce as they go.

(Photo by Luke Walker)

Yan Kit So Memorial Award for Asian Cookery Writers

During my month long hiatus from The Jade Cave involving a couple of rushed house moves, I am thrilled to announce that I was awarded Asia House’s Yan Kit So Memorial Award for budding Asian Food writers.

The award is a generous travel grant that will get me to Vietnam this Autumn, where I’ll continue my work on this blog, researching Vegetarian Vietnamese recipes, gathering enough material to develop a cook-book proposal when I’m back in the UK! The award was judged by an array of intimidatingly Michelin starred chefs specialising in Asian cooking. Thanks to the generous support at the Asia House team I’ve already had the chance to speak to one of them, Fuchsia Dunlop, who’s kind of The Queen of Sichuan and Sichuanese cooking.

Fuchsia’s basic advice to me was that the beauty of a cookbook is that it can be as weird as you like – it’s not a particularly rigid genre – as long as your research is thorough and your recipes excellent. And so just how Fuchsia discusses Maoist history in her books, I hope to write about Buddhist Vegetarian cookery, with winning food quotes from Vietnamese literature, as well as plenty of region-by region delicious vegetarian recipes.

In May I’ll be attending Atul Kochhar’s ‘Curries Of The World‘ demonstration at Asia House, which should give me a good idea of what to expect when I come to present my own findings there next year. And I’m also going to be working with Grub Club, helping other Asian cooks and hopefully leading to hosting my first public event. So watch this space…