Monday, 30 June 2008
Monday, 23 June 2008
Pho, is with out doubt the national dish of Vietnam. It is a bowl of white noodles served in a clear beef stock. In Hanoi, it seemed to have taken on obsessional status. They seem to have it for breakfast, lunch and dinner. I am sure there are people who eat it 3 times a day, everyday. It comes in many different variants, the most popular is Pho Bo, or Beef Pho. thin cuts of beef, like brisket, flank or steak. Although Pho Ga, Chicken Pho is pretty good also. You can make it with anything really, intestines and other offal are popular.
The stock is made in the usual way of simmering beef bones, with roasted veg and spices for several hours till you have a stock to die for. This is really the backbone of a good Pho. Without a good stock it would be just a beef noodle soup, as you get in some Chinese restaurants. The noodles people use are always fresh white ones. No self respecting Pho seller would use anything else.
The noodles are put in the bowl first, then the stock is added, and finally before it is served a garnish is added. This seems to differ from shop to shop, maker to maker. This is what sets some apart from others. Mostly spring onions, coriander leaves, basil, bean sprouts are used. We had one today off a lady who sprinkled crushed peanuts on top. Yummy. Depending on the shop you will also get served a dish of other herbs to add at your will, like mint, and a few I have never seen before. You always get a bowl of lime wedges, chilli sauce, chilli slices and fish sauce to add as well. I am in favour of a little more heat to my Pho, but only after I have tasted a bit already. I like to see how good their stock is before I pep it up a bit. Phở is pronounced with a falling-rising tone in Vietnamese, as if asking a question in English. It is therefore pronounced as FUH? But I try my best to say it properly, I think I am generally understood though. Especially when asking for Pho in a Pho shop. Kinda obvious what I want.
Pho originated in Northern Vietnam, and only spread to the rest of Vietnam in the mid 1950's, after the division of the country. The Northerners who did not want to be under communist rule headed South and took Pho with them. Noone is sure how it came about, maybe from the French and their stock making skills, or it was created out of the scraps that the people could afford. Similar to all good peasant dishes. Their are also those who say it was came from China, but the Vietnamese, I am sure would kill anyone who said it was that. They still hate the Chinese. Not surprising after 1,000 years of rule.
Some of the best Pho I have had here in Vietnam, has actually came from a chain. Pho 24. It's a clean, trendy place, but lacks atmosphere of your smaller family run business. Other good ones have been at Pho 2000 in Saigon. In Hanoi, the best Pho is where the crowds are, and these places are small family run. They do not look much, you sit on small plastic chairs at small tables. You have to wipe the chopstix and spoon before using them. So if I see a shop with a lot of local people, then 99 times out of a 100 it has to be good Pho. and until now, this has never failed me.
Pho connesueurs, will say that the best Pho is from the north, and the southern style from Saigon, is somewhat sweeter. Pho Hue style contains bits of offal, like steamed blood. Yum, yum. This what Lina was eating in Saigon, when that chilli tried to kill me, but as it was Pho, I forgave it.
To say wether Ramen noodles are better than Pho is a question I am avoiding. Lets just say I am addicted to both, and lets leave it at that shall we.
Friday, 20 June 2008
Saturday, 14 June 2008
Saturday, 7 June 2008
This is not so much about great food, but more about sharing food with good people on a good day. It's about the moment, the place, the time.
We were in Dalat, a small hill station in the Central Highlands. It's a nice quiet town with loads of old French colonial buildings. The respite from the heat of the plains below, makes it a welcoming place. It's about 1500 metres above sea level, so a wider assortment of fruit n veg can be grown here, as we saw in the central market. Which probably made it more attractive to the French. It really made me wish that we had a kitchen, so I could buy a few ingredients and cook a little.
Many years ago, a few locals got together and decided to become tour guides with a difference. They would do tours on their motorbikes of the local area and beyond if you wanted. They called themselves The Easy Riders. Obviously they had just been watching the said film. So, many years later there are now about 80 of them, touring the local area and taking people as far away as Hanoi.
The one day tour we did, took us to a silk worm farm and factory, coffee & tea plantations, flower farms, and some local sights like the elephant waterfalls. I could not see the elephant. All with full explanations from either Son or Mr Ho.
It's really amazing how the land around Dalat, reminded us of the area around where we have our land outside Medellin. The scenery was identical. Pine trees as far as the eye could see. That hint of pine in the air took me right back to our land. Even the temperature and the heat of the sun took me back there. This made us both feel very excited for our future in Colombia.
After a hard morning of sight seeing we stopped at a small place, overlooking a fish pond and miles of fields. It was so peaceful. Son had phoned ahead to get a set menu ready for us when we arrived.
The table was covered with small plates of food. Sesame pork, crispy fish, stir fried vegetables, chicken, noodles, spring rolls, soup and rice. It was a feast. We all shared the food. Taking a bit off a plate at a time and eating it, then going back for more off a different plate.
We all chatted whilst we ate, telling a few stories and jokes. Some more funnier than others.
It was a great day and the food just made it better. Sometimes the food does not have to be perfect to be great. It's all about the time, the place, the company. This was a perfect meal on a perfect day. It's one day I will never forget.
If any of you go to Dalat, do the Easy Rider tour, and I hope you will enjoy as much as we did.
Sunday, 1 June 2008
I had always had high expectations of Vietnam, especially its food. I suppose this has come about from so many people I know coming here and raving about it so much.
I have passed through Bangkok so many times over the years, and it is quite baffling that it has taken me so long to come to Vietnam. But as they say, good things come to those who wait.
We entered Vietnam from Cambodia. So Saigon or Ho Chi Minh City was our first stop. It is a really busy city, lots of life, great vibes. Shame there are 5,000,000 moto's ploughing the roads at high speeds. Makes crossing the road an interesting past time.
After a delayed check in to our hotel, and my first taste of Vietnamese Coffee and several bananas, we ventured onto the streets of Saigon.
After seeing a lot of places catering for tourists, doing western food we were in need of something filling, but not too heavy.
We wandered down a small alleyway and came across a small restaurant with an open kitchen on one side of the alley and the tables on the other side. Now if a restaurant is brave enough to let you stand there and watch your food being cooked, then it can't be all bad.
So we took a table and ordered 2 bottles of Bia Saigon. Much needed refreshment.
We ordered some fresh Salad Rolls, Lotus Root Salad and Pork with Lemongrass and chilli (which I have eaten now several times and is fast becoming a personal favourite.)
When we bit into the Salad Rolls, the first thing we tasted were the fresh herbs. This is how I expected them to be, and we were not let down.
The Lotus Root Salad was similar to Green Papaya Salad, but without the heat. of its Thai cousin. Really really good.
The Pork and Lemongrass & Chilli, as I said before is fast becoming a favourite of mine. Seem to be having it everywhere. It's the combination of minced lemongrass and chilli that drives my taste buds mad. Simply Delicious.
Walking around the markets, you can see the amazing fresh produce, this for me is what makes Vietnam such an exciting culinary destination. I for one and going to eat my way through it.