Monday, February 4, 2013

Family cooking

As we traveled around we would pick up dishes to try with the family back in the village; my wife is very good at tasting and decoding a dish so she can reproduce it herself. We also would make dishes that they had not tried from other areas of Vietnam.

The following was a Duck and bamboo soup my wife made:

The duck

The yummy broth

Getting it assembled 

With all the veggy toppings

Bamboo goodness
Making of La lot leaf wrapped ground pork. It is a dish we had in Hanoi and of course my wife had to show she could make it better; she did. The house had two types of related La Lot plants, she used one we do not get to eat in Canada. It is more peppery than the other.

The plant we got the leaves from
Rolling it was not quite as easy as the other leaf 

We lost quite a few because the design of the holder we used

Nothing better than a open fire to increase the taste

My attempt at being artistic
 I did not take a photo of the finished product as it looked the same as any leaf rolled product and I was too busy eating it :)

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Duong Lam ancient village and the not wine

West of downtown Hanoi is the city of SonTay which use to be in another district but with the expansion of the Hanoi city limits is now in west Hanoi. Near Son Tay is the tourist site Duong Lam ancient village (map) which I would say is a great reason to take the time to leave down town Hanoi. 

The connection to this food blog is that this place does showcase they way village life was in the past including the raising of crops and production of food. The town has been mostly kept as it was before modernization and it allows a visitor get a feel for historic Vietnam. 

Of course I always look for food related pictures but I do want to showcase a few of my shots of this old village. 

Entrance to village

Planting schedule for village


A shop
Production of 'Wine' in the village

The fermentation 

distilling the wine
Ready for sale

Turns out it was actually rice moonshine; I bought a bottle of red and one of white and ended up only having a sip of both as the stuff was strong.

Stopped for tea too, could have had a quick smoke from the  metal pipe too if I was so inclined
Tried a different tea made of a leaf that is picked from a tree once a year. The leaf on the glass was an example  given by the lady that owned the place. Tasty tea.

Wet noodles on the street and happily not me too, Hanoi

Walking around at night you see a whole new series of little places to eat set up where ever there is a spot to cook something. During the day the building has a shop selling you something or just a bare piece of pavement but at night it is a restaurant. It can be as small as a single pot, a table and a few mini (for me) chairs. Hang a small sign and there you go, restaurateur to the masses.

I have taken many photos of such places over the years as I am impressed by the ability of people to find a way to survive by their own initiative. As a lot of the small restaurants I see in buildings are glorified holes-in-the-wall establishments; the street level restaurants literally are just working out of cracks-in the-pavement places.

My wife says that these places have usually been in their spots for years and normally are passed down as the person stops working. The places tend to serve one item or type of food but can approach a full service restaurant in the variety of dishes they have.  

Some places are open only during one part of the day, depending on the type of food some open for the early morning, others lunch and many at night. 

The little place we stopped at, no address to tell you as it was just on the side of the street, had a wet noodle dish that we decided to try.

I liked the dish once I poured the soup in as the sauce on the noodles was a bit sweet for me. It was a nice small bowl noodles served on the street. I had a interesting moment when I sat on the tiny chair as my squatting skills are poor. You lower your rear until you feel like your going to fall over, then quickly place the chair under you and hope it does not collapse as you rear comes crashing down. Once years ago the chair did collapse to the merriment of the other diners as I ended up sprawled on the dirty pavement. 

I love walking around the streets at night as there is always something good to eat.

Saturday, February 2, 2013

The modern invasion - Chain restaurants / coffee shops

As Vietnam grows and modernizes it also starts to have more and more chain restaurants / coffee shops. Yes that can be seen as a unwelcome invasion to all the people wanting a unspoiled country but to me it is a sign that the people are starting to enjoy some of the rewards of their labour. Yes it is more complicated than my simple explanation but I will leave that up to others to discuss.

When I go to Vietnam I also take time to taste the new tastes that the people are eating in the form of fast food and coffee shops. As these mainly foreign restaurant chains come into Vietnam they sometimes modify their menus and recipes to appeal to the Vietnamese market. Here are some I tried:

1) Lotteria a burger and chicken restaurant from Japan.

This was the first fast food chain I ever tasted in Vietnam and it was a life saver for a white guy who missed a  taste of a burger and the convenience of a fast food place. Yes it was a bit different than home but after a few months of eating Vietnamese food I needed a burger. You would think I would like their beef burger the most but it was their shrimp burger that I loved.

I have gravitated to another place for my shrimp burger but Lotteria was my first.

2) KFC  yes the chicken place we all know; I took my future wife here years ago to have a taste of North American food (yes not the best example). I have to say the chicken was better tasting than our fast grown variety but the rest of the meal was the same as in Canada. From that first location we saw years ago, I have seen the chain expand at a fantastic rate right across Vietnam.

3) Pizza Hut We took a few of our younger Family members to Pizza Hut to have a taste of home; of course they liked the non North American tasting pizza rather than the one we liked. The place had some different appies and salads but mostly the same as here. The big thing I noticed that a large pizza there would be considered a small here; we ended up ordering a lot of appies to fill the gap.

4) BBQ chicken a Korean place with great chicken and shrimp burgers; had to go there twice for the unique taste. The bbq chicken was great tasting but my wife thought it was not as good as their smoked chicken; tangy and slightly spicy.

   And they had a great shrimp burger that is now my favorite one in Vietnam.

5) Trung Nguyen coffee shops, a Vietnamese company that makes kick ass coffee that would walk the dead. I love the taste and the shops. I use to frequent Highlands coffee but agree with my relatives that highlands coffee is a weak version of the strong brew Vietnamese like to drink. This is not to say that Highlands coffee is not a good place to go as they have a wide assortment of delicious drinks and food besides the coffee. The perfect mix of Trung Nguyen coffee (as formulated by my brother-in-laws' wife) is number 5 coffee (a blend) with the S type (strong flavour).  As we had some weight restrictions I brought back some of their G7 instant coffee that is pretty good. I should have tried the weasel coffee but never got around to it as it was expensive.

6) Burger King  saw it but did not go there.  

7) Mochi Sweets  a Japanese sweets company with to die for sweets. 

I had this good

8) Laughing cow cheese (yes not a restaurant) this has been a staple of mine since I first traveled through Vietnam as it is everywhere and keeps without refrigeration. It is also a favorite of the Vietnamese and their children. For a cheese lover like myself it was a welcome treat when I craved a bit of cheese and crackers before bed time. 

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Fried soup I have lost

You come across dishes that stick with you forever even if you never eat them again; fried soup (what I call it) is one of those dishes I for me. I came across it in Hanoi in 2008. I searched for the restaurant this time but it had changed owners; also lost was a great little snail soup place across the street. We stayed at a hotel on the same street at the time so we knew we had to go back and find it. The pictures I have here are from 2010. The name I give it is half true as the meat and vegetables are the only fried part of the dish; the rest is a beef broth Pho.

I should have taken more photos when I was there as I only have a few of a dish I really liked. I have pushed to get this dish included in our menu but there are a few hurtles to get over first. I am the only one really into this dish as yet but I will try to find a way to get it on the menu someday.

The soup is special as the frying of the beef and vegetable gave an added flavour that you do not get with the other Pho. The taste of caramelization of the meat juices and sugars present in the ingredients gave it a special taste. Now the problem for us is it also gave a good measure of fat to the dish that is kind of counter to what we normally do. I also suspect that the soup may not be a traditional Vietnamese recipe rather a new or invented dish. 

A roll in the rice

Banh Cuon Gia Truyen Thanh Van restaurant

Across from our Hotel in Hanoi is a nice small restaurant specializing in rice rolls, It seems to be well known as it has had a couple of positive foreign reviews (proudly displayed on the wall) that are well deserved. The place has been updated and is very clean; the woman assembling the rolls even wears plastic gloves. While retaining its authentic taste they have made the food more approachable to the tourist market.

Like most establishments the food is cooked in the front where passersby can see the whole delicious process. The rice roll batter is cooked on a linen covered streaming pot of water. This allows the steam to cook the rice roll batter when it spread thinly on top of the linen. The container is covered and the batter cooked. At the end the roll is either covered with the fried ground pork and cloud mushroom then rolled or taken off the pot then dressed. It depends on the place which way they do it. Lastly the crispy onions are placed on top along at this place pork fluff. 

They also added fresh cilantro but one customer who complained explained that it should have been fresh basil as it tastes better. There was a slightly salty dipping sauce based on soya sauce rather than on the sweet fish sauce based one we find in Vancouver. I liked their sauce better but once I started eating the rolls I found the sauce was not needed. The onions, pork filling and pork fluff (salty) were more than enough taste for me.

There was also pork roll to eat along with the rolls, both types very good.

Have to say their positive reviews were well deserved and I would recommend this place to even the less adventurous travelers.

Pho Gia Truyen at 49 Bat Dan

My wife’s uncle (our restaurant manager and taste guru) visited this place when he was in Hanoi ( He tasted six different places in one morning) and said this is the best he tasted that day. We had to try it and after two attempts to go there; it was closed, we finally sat down and had a bowl.

Now this place is busy and a bit different than most of the other restaurants around; you stand in a line (or what passes for a line in a non-queuing country) to get your order and carry it yourself to an available table. There are no available tables, rather spots at tables you have to hunt for and squeeze into with other customers. So if you’re by yourself you have to carry a steaming and overflowing bowl of Pho around looking for a spot to open up. It must be worth it as the place was packed.

The bowl came with a plate of (chinese) donuts for dipping and a nice mound of beef that was cut from the handy hanging piece next to the cook. This place has one person getting the soup, one getting the meat and one doing the final assembly; it is crazy busy. 

I'll have the mound of meat on the right

Must go through gallons every hour

The taste was fabulous and the best Hanoi style Pho I have had yet; beefy goodness in a bowl. The other prominent taste was the added Vietnamese green onions. Again I qualify this as Hanoi style Pho as it was not what would be called Pho in the south or at home. This is the original taste of what our Pho was when it started its evolution into the Pho we recognise in Vancouver.

My belief is that food evolves along with the people and their environment. Traditional dishes and a cuisine like the people are a product of their environment. Vietnam is rapidly evolving as is  the cuisine that is part of that changing society. Ideas, like people are moving and changing at an amazing pace as such the food is being influenced by that change. Food and the ways to prepare it is moving around the country and changing the menus in even the smallest village.

The Pho we serve at Mui Ngo Gai is a result of people moving around Vietnam and during the Diasporas have occurred 1) during the separation of North and South in the early 1950s 2) after the end of the Vietnam War with its the mass movement of people overseas. You can taste the influence of this change of environments on the taste of the soup and on what we expect it to taste like. The north serves up a bowl of Pho that is beefy but has very little spicing (not spice as in hot rather in strength of added spices) of the broth. It is a good satisfying bowl of soup with the right noodles and beef but lacks the aroma we expect. In the south the soup takes on a bit of a more spicy tone but not as much as in Vancouver. The broth in Vancouver is much more aroma and better quality of beef.

In each place we have had Pho over the years (North, South and at home) we have found each taste authentic to the place and each bowl satisfying in its own way. When you look at the journey this soup has taken with the people who have made it, I am very appreciative at evolution of various tastes of this soup and of the strength of the people who took it with them to their new homes. There is no one right taste of Pho, there is just the taste you know to be Pho.

Another blog about this restaurant

Youtube video

Chicken Pho (Check mark)

Com 40 Cau Go

By check mark I mean our soup has an authentic Hanoi taste (we knew that when we developed it) as found on the streets of Hanoi. We have a favorite place we go and have a few bowls of Pho Ga every time we stay in Hanoi; it is in the old town close to Com Que restaurant. When we first went there it was an impressive little restaurant that had tables right up to the street, but the rules have changed and they have to keep the tables off the side walk. Amazing when you see most of the one pot restaurants set up on the side walk and they never have an issue with the police.


2013 showing prep area


The one thing that has not changed is the Pho Ga, it is near perfect as a chicken soup can be made. There are couple of  different variations at this restaurant and other dishes too. We tried some of the ready to eat food but were not very impressed so we will stick with the soup we love.

The soup base is like ours and the meat they served us was cut from the breast; except for the skin on the meat the soup tasted like ours. I was impressed with the work of the family in keeping our taste so close to the real street taste of Hanoi. The soup was a reminder of home and the many bowls of chicken soup I have eaten at the restaurant. All I needed was our satay oil to add at the end to spice it up and blast my senses into overdrive. Of course if I had did that I could not have tasted the other bowls we ordered to eat too. In Vietnam the portions are much smaller than ours so we normally have a couple of bowls if all we are eating is soup.

Regular pho ga

Bun Thang
Chicken soup with Vietnamese ham, egg, white radish, onion, cilantro. New to me and I think could be easily reproduced at the restaurant. I will discuss it with the actual masters of our cooking and advocate for a trial of the soup. 

Duck soup

Duck soup with bamboo, pork blood and duck meat

Of the two chicken soups we ate that time one was new to me and I think could be easily reproduced at the restaurant. I will discuss it with the actual masters of our cooking and advocate for a trial of the soup.