Doreen Prei and Kathryn Joel of Get Cooking discover their favourite flavours of Vietnam

Getting a Taste for Vietnam

Recipes and photos by Doreen Prei and Kathryn Joel

Traque Village

Last July, Doreen Prei and Kathryn Joel of Get Cooking travelled to Vietnam to explore the food and culture.

They were on a quest to experience the techniques and flavours first hand in order to bring back to their cooking classes.

“The first thing that we noticed was how street food happens on the actual street,” said Kathryn. “Some of the vendors cook squatted on the pavement, preparing their dishes, and others in small store fronts with miniature tables and chairs.”

“On our first night in Vietnam we were in Hanoi and took a street food tour with Van Cong Tu (the Vietnamese God on Twitter)” said Doreen. “It was an immersive experience. We were terribly jet lagged but Tu was determined we would eat everything, even duck egg embryo. Kathryn tried it, I didn’t.”

“Everything was so fresh, especially the greens” said Kathryn. “People shop at local markets twice a day. And each stand has an overflowing dish of herbs and greens (like mesclun) that you help yourself to, as an accompaniment. In everything we ate, we encountered lime, fish sauce, pepper and lots of sugar, in balance with the aromatics and herbs.

“We discovered that pho is served in the early morning until noon; bun cha is delicious, and it’s served all day; you dunk everything in nuoc mam cham and much of the cooking is done by women.

“Hoi An is a Unesco World Heritage site, really picturesque although quite touristy,” said Kathryn. “We stayed nearby in Tra Que, a small organic farming village. A chef named Vy Trinh Diem (aka Ms. Vy), seems to own half of Hoi An. She has even built her own version of a street market in her impressive cooking school, where we took a private full day class with her sous chef, Lou. Food tourism is a huge part of the tourism industry throughout Vietnam.”

“We toured a fish market outside of Hoi An, about a half hour by boat,” said Doreen. “And we visited a fish sauce factory. It was extraordinary and pungent. According to our guide only a few have the right hands to make good fish sauce.

“The right fish sauce is very important. When we got back to Edmonton Kathryn went to Lucky 97, T&T and the Vien Dong Market to find a fish sauce that tasted like the ones we sampled in Vietnam. We ended up with two favourites—Red Boat from Vien Dong, which we use for seasoning, and Hai Yen X.O. from Lucky 97, used in our nuoc mam cham.”

Get Cooking offers several Vietnamese and other SE Asian cooking classes

Bánh Xèo Shrimp and Pork Pancake

Bánh Xèo Shrimp and Pork Pancake
We learned how to make this dish from a rice farmer near Hoi An. In a small field he takes tourists through the whole process of growing rice. He also demonstrated how to grind rice and make rice milk. He cooked bánh xèo for us—it was crisp, aromatic and delicious, and became Doreen’s favourite Vietnamese dish. Our adaption of the recipe includes ground mung beans for colour and a nutty flavour.

½ c jasmine rice, soaked overnight in 2 cups water
½ c mung beans, soaked overnight in 2 cups water
1½ c water
¼ t ground turmeric
2 green onions, thinly sliced
¼ c coconut milk
16 slices pork belly, sliced widthwise
8 shrimp, peeled and halved lengthwise (we use Argentinian wild shrimp from Ocean Odyssey)
200 g bean sprouts
8 sheets rice paper, softened
2 c mixed herbs (mint, Vietnamese mint, cilantro, Thai basil, perilla or buy a pack of mixed Vietnamese herbs)
nuoc mam cham dipping sauce (recipe follows)
grapeseed or peanut oil
salt and pepper

Rinse and drain the rice, add 1 cup of water and blitz until smooth in your blender. Pass through a fine sieve. Rinse and drain the mung beans, add ½ cup of water and blitz until smooth in your blender. Pass through a fine sieve. Combine the rice and the mung bean purées; add the turmeric, green onions and coconut milk. Season to taste with salt. Reserve.

In a 6-inch non-stick pan, heat 1T oil over a high heat. Season the pork with salt and pepper; season the shrimp with fish sauce.

Place 2 slices of pork in one side of the pan, turning to cook, for about 3 minutes until golden on both sides. Ladle in enough of the bean mixture to cover and form a thin layer, tilting the pan to distribute evenly and cook for a minute or so before adding two shrimp halves on the other side of the pan (the side without the pork).

Reduce the heat to medium, cover with a lid and cook for a couple of minutes, until the crepe is pulling away from the sides of the pan. Uncover. Using a spatula, gently lift one side of the crêpe, adding a little more oil to the pan if necessary, and continue cooking until the crepe is golden and crispy. Add a handful of bean sprouts on one side of the crêpe. Using a spatula, gently fold the crêpe so that the side with the pork is folded over the side with the shrimp. Transfer to a plate. Serve crisp and hot, wrapped in a softened rice paper together with a handful of Vietnamese herbs, with the dipping sauce on the side.

Makes 8 crepes.

Pomelo and Crab Salad

We had a pomelo and squid salad in Hoi An, really delicious, it was Kathryn’s favourite dish. At home we like to make it with crab, which makes it a bit lighter and fresher. Adapted from a recipe by Luke Nguyen.

50 g dried shrimp, soaked in water for 1 hour then drained
2 T unscented oil, or peanut oil
1 clove garlic, finely chopped
1 lg or 2 sm pomelos (similar to grapefruit, find at most grocery stores)
200 g crab meat (we use canned crab meat from Ocean Odyssey, or freshly-cooked Dungeness crab, meat picked)
lg handful mint, perilla, Vietnamese mint and Thai basil leaves, in equal quantities, leaves picked, or used a packet of mixed Vietnamese Herbs
2 T fried shallots (recipe follows)
3 T nuoc mam cham dipping sauce (recipe follows)
1 long red chili, sliced
peanuts, dry roasted and crushed for garnish
additional herbs for garnish

Add the oil to a hot frying pan, then cook the garlic very briefly until it is fragrant. Add the dried shrimp and cook until crisp and golden. Remove from the pan and allow to cool.

Peel and segment the pomelo, and tear into bite-sized pieces. Place the pomelo in a large bowl.

Add the dried shrimp, the crabmeat, the herbs, 1 T fried shallots and the dipping sauce to the pomelo and stir to combine. Serve, garnished with the remaining fried shallots, chilies and peanuts and additional herbs.

Serves 4-6.

Bun Cha Pork Two Ways with Vermicelli Noodles

Bun Cha Pork Two Ways with Vermicelli Noodles

We had an amazing day sightseeing with Nguyen Kim Long, another Hanoi tour guide. Long introduced us to his favourite bun cha which we learned to make in a cooking class. We fell in love with bun cha; it was our favourite flavour in Hanoi. Adapted from a recipe by Tracey Lister.

300 g pork belly, thinly sliced
350 g ground pork
25 ml Vietnamese fish sauce
3 cloves garlic, chopped
3 shallots, chopped
1 T sugar
1 egg
10 garlic chives, sliced
600 g dried rice vermicelli
150 g bean sprouts
1 head butter lettuce, leaves separated
1 handful cilantro sprigs
1 handful perilla
bamboo skewers, soaked (optional)
nuoc mam cham dipping sauce (recipe below)

In a bowl, combine the fish sauce, garlic, shallots and sugar, stirring to dissolve the sugar. Use half of this mixture to marinate the sliced pork belly, setting aside at room temperature for an hour, or in your fridge for up to four hours. Combine the remaining fish sauce mixture together with the egg and garlic chives with the ground pork, massaging well with your hands. Allow to marinate at room temperature for an hour, or in your fridge for up to four hours. To finish, soak the vermicelli noodles in boiling water for 4-5 minutes, stirring to separate. Drain the noodles, then refresh in ice water. Use scissors to cut into shorter pieces.

Heat your grill to medium high. Form the ground pork into meatballs about 3 cm in diameter. Use bamboo skewers or a grill basket to grill the meats for 3-5 minutes, until cooked through. To serve, arrange dipping sauce in 6 bowls, then add 3 meatballs and 4 slices of pork belly. Serve the noodles, remaining pork and greens and herbs separately, allowing your guests to dip the noodles and greens in the dipping sauce to eat with the grilled pork.

Serves 6.

Arctic Char in a Caramel Sauce

Arctic Char in a Caramel Sauce
This is our take on a Vietnamese classic, using a fish we love (and that is readily available) and local squash.

4 150 g skin-on arctic char fillets
1 acorn or butternut squash, peeled, seeded and sliced into bite-sized pieces
1 stalk lemongrass, cut into 2” lengths and smashed
¾ c light brown sugar
2 T Vietnamese fish sauce
1 T lime juice or to taste
1½ T soy sauce
80 ml shellfish stock, or vegetable stock
1 t grated ginger
2 bird’s eye chilies, whole
sliced green onions, as needed
thinly sliced chilies (optional)
fresh cilantro, as needed
unscented or peanut oil
steamed jasmine rice (optional)

Cook the squash in salted boiling water until just al dente.

Meanwhile, caramelize the sugar in a pan, then add the lemongrass, sugar, fish sauce, soy sauce, lime juice, stock, ginger and chilies and bring up to a simmer. Continue to simmer until thickened, then remove from the heat, strain and set aside. Heat a pan with some oil. Add the char, skin side down. Add the squash. When the char is almost cooked, add the sauce and baste the char and the squash with the sauce, until the char is cooked. Serve the char with steamed jasmine rice, if using, finished with the sauce and garnished with green onion, cilantro and sliced chilies if using.

Serves 4.

Nuoc Mam Cham Dipping Sauce
Adapted from a recipe by Luke Nguyen.

3 T Vietnamese fish sauce
3 T rice vinegar
2 T lime juice, freshly squeezed
125 ml water
2 T sugar
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 red bird’s eye chili, thinly sliced

In a small pan, combine the fish sauce, vinegar and sugar with the water.

Place over a medium heat and heat gently stirring until the sugar is dissolved. Turn up the heat and bring just to a boil. Add the garlic, chili and lime juice to taste, simmering gently for a few minutes to allow the flavours to infuse.

Fried Shallots

6 red shallots, peeled, thinly sliced lengthways
oil for frying

Place oil in a pan and add the shallots. Fry on medium heat for about 15 minutes until brown – adjust the heat if they are browning too quickly. Remove with a slotted spoon and drain well.

Egg Coffee
This treat was our first taste in Vietnam, served to us by Tu, in a charismatic Hanoi coffee shop off a hidden back alley, then up some rickety stairs. It’s like a custard-topped coffee, very sweet and best eaten with a spoon.

4 egg yolks
150 ml condensed milk
1 t vanilla extract
200 ml strong espresso
dark chocolate, grated

In a bowl combine the egg yolks then place over a bain-marie and drizzle in the condensed milk, whisking until you have a thick creamy egg custard. Pour coffee into 4 glasses, reserving some, then top with the egg mixture. Drizzle on the remaining coffee and finish with grated dark chocolate. Serve with spoons.

Makes 4.