I can now see what all the fuss is about with the street food in Vietnam! Experiencing this must be on a foodie’s bucket list! Many say it is one of world’s most interesting cuisines, and yes their specialties certainly hold a party in your mouth in terms of flavour! I have spent a life time eating in westernised countries so this was the education my palate needed! The freshness can not be achieved in many restaurants in Oz and yet these people are cooking on the polluted streets with only a gas burner and chopsticks as their tools.
My friend and I were hesitant at first, however we had advice that it is quite safe to eat street food, so that’s all I needed to hear. It was an eye opener to watch them prepare food, especially washing plucked ducks on the pavement, and I didn’t see many fridges…
One southern Vietnamese speciality, Banh mi is their version of a sandwich. The bread roll was this amazingly moreish crunchiness, which had the freshness of just being baked (but not a bakery to be seen.) On our walks around the streets, we would see the same bread rolls time and time again, they seemed to be another specialty in Hanoi. The fillings were such things as pork or a boiled egg with tomato and cucumber. These little snacks would be insanely cheap, costing around $AU1.50 and although when I ordered, I found myself thinking – is that all they are putting into the roll? It was a perfect amount and didn’t need another thing. A good lesson for when I’m back home and piling 100 different things onto a sandwich…
Another classic specialty which is also their staple is Pho, or noodle soup, and seemed to be Vietnam’s national dish. I really loved the Pho bo or beef noodle soup. the flavours are so clean, packed with punch and is a very satisfying meal. We had a chance to do a cooking class at the resort we were staying at in Hue called the Pilgrimage Resort and Spa (I highly recommend this place by the way.) Learning how to make Pho bo was a simple but careful process, I noticed in Vietnamese cooking, all the dishes are carefully prepared without haste and with much pride. It is a real pleasure to cook like that, rather than rushed chaos which usually my style! I must say that this soup recipe has been a fabulous addition to my soup repertoire back home, and will be even more so in winter.
One of contrasts I loved about this Vietnamese adventure was that our different accomodation’s were always a calm and luxurious retreat away from the crazy bikes and pollution. Once we had finished traipsing the city, going back to these beautiful places at the end of the day was a welcome relief and a great way to recharge for the next day’s adventure. This kind of accomodation is cheap in Vietnam, so in my opinion it is well worth to find that little bit of luxury at the end of the day. So getting back to the Pho bo, the recipe that we used in our cooking class at Pilgrimage Resort and Spa is below:
Pho bo (Beef Noodle Soup) 2 servings
To Make the Chicken Stock
500g chicken bones
1.5 litres cold water
1 brown onion, chopped
3cm piece ginger, peeled, sliced
3 whole star anise
1 cinnamon sticks
1 tsp black peppercorns
2 whole cloves
1/2 tbs coriander seeds
Step 1. Place the chicken bones, water, onion, ginger, star anise, cinnamon, peppercorns, cloves and coriander seeds in a large saucepan over high heat. Bring to the boil. Reduce heat to very low and cook, skimming surface occasionally of any fat with a metal spoon, for 3 hours or until liquid reduces by half. Remove from heat and set aside to cool. Strain through a fine sieve into a clean saucepan.
Rest of Ingredients
500g rice noodles
200g beef fillet sliced paper thin with a sharp knife
3 onion bulbs, smashed in mortar and pestle
knob of ginger, smashed in mortar and pestle
1 birds eye chilli finely sliced on diagonal
1 tbsp of fish sauce
1 tsp salt
1 tsp sugar
a handful of bean sprouts, mint, basil and mixed lettuce (for garnish)
Step 2. Re-heat stock and add salt, sugar, mashed ginger and star anise and bring to boil. Add fish sauce, smashed onion and chilli and simmer for 5 minutes. Taste and season to your taste with more fish sauce of sugar.
Step 3. Meanwhile cook noodles for 7 minutes in boiling water, then pour on cold water and drain. Blanch bean sprouts in stock briefly using a slotted spoon then remove.
Step 4. Divide noodles among serving bowls and top with sliced beef. Pour the hot soup evenly among each serving bowl. The broth will cook the beef instantly. Top with bean sprouts, mint and basil. Serve immediately with lime wedges, if desired.
Please Note: Serve soup with a side of mixed lettuce leaves, Vietnamese mint and banana flower.
Also… this can be made with beef stock, however I like the lightness in flavour that the chicken stock creates.