Wednesday, May 29, 2024

Vietnamese Cuisine: The Quintessential Tastes

Are you a fan of Vietnamese cuisine? I certainly am. These days, Vietnamese restaurants are not rare anymore in Malaysia (DING XIANG), and you can even find Vietnamese food stalls in Chinese coffee shops. My former neighbor, who lived just two doors down, was a Vietnamese lady married to a local Chinese man. Thanks to her, I gained valuable insights into cooking authentic Vietnamese dishes.

Furthermore, my travels in Vietnam (HANOI) provided me with the opportunity to fully immerse myself in the local cuisine. Here are some of the delightful Vietnamese dishes I had the pleasure of enjoying during my time there.

I believe you can see where I'm leading you now: to the Vietnamese recipes. However, it's quite a challenge to replicate a Vietnamese recipe exactly as it’s supposed to be because sometimes the ingredients aren't available in my pantry, and I don’t want to buy them just for a single use. Often, these ingredients end up sitting in my pantry until they expire and need to be thrown away.

However, there are Vietnamese ingredients that I frequently use in my Thai cooking and other recipes, such as fish sauce and soy sauce. I also grow herbs commonly used in Vietnamese cooking, like Thai basil, mint, lemongrass, and spring onions. Additionally, I keep other staples commonly used across Asian cuisines in my fridge and pantry. Pork is a favorite meat in Vietnamese cuisine, and since I love pork, it’s another reason I connect well with Vietnamese food.

As I mentioned, the recipes I’m sharing may not be authentically Vietnamese, but they definitely embody the quintessential Vietnamese flavors. They are certainly worth trying and are sure to delight your taste buds.

Vietnamese Steamed Fish (Cá Hấp) - (STEAMED FISH VARIETIES
1 medium-sized sea bass/siakap, cleaned and scored with 2 or 3 incisions on both sides
Lime or lemon wedges
Cucumber slices
Spring onion for garnish

For the Sauce (blended/ground) 
1-inch piece of ginger
5 cloves of garlic
3-4 bird's eye chilies (can be substituted with red or green chilies)
1 small bunch of coriander, roots removed
1 teaspoon of sugar
1/2 tablespoon of fish sauce
1 tablespoon of light soy sauce
Salt (if needed)
1/2 cup of water

Place the cleaned fish on a steaming tray.
Prepare the sauce by blending or grinding ginger, garlic, chilies, coriander, sugar, fish sauce, soy sauce, and water until smooth.
Pour the sauce over the fish.
Steam the fish until cooked through.
Garnish with spring onion, and serve with cucumber slices and lime/lemon wedges.

Vietnamese Lemongrass Chili Fish (Cá Chiên Sả Ớt)
1/2 black pomfret, scored on both sides
1 teaspoon turmeric powder
1 teaspoon corn flour
1 teaspoon rice flour
Salt, to taste
A splash of water

For the Marinade
1 tablespoon dried chili paste
1/2 tablespoon minced garlic
1/2 tablespoon minced ginger
1 stalk minced lemongrass
1 tablespoon fish sauce
1 tablespoon soy sauce
A small piece of palm sugar
Herbs: spring onion, coriander leaves, and Thai basil leaves
Oil, as needed
Salt, to taste

In a bowl, combine turmeric powder, corn flour, rice flour, salt, and a splash of water. 
Mix well to form a paste.
Coat the pomfret with the paste mixture evenly.
Heat oil in a wok and fry the fish on both sides until golden brown. 
Remove from the wok and set aside.
In the same wok, keep about 4 tablespoons of oil and add dried chilli paste, minced garlic, minced ginger, and minced lemongrass.
Cook until aromatic and the oil starts to separate.
Add fish sauce, soy sauce, palm sugar, and salt. 
Stir well to combine.
Turn off the heat and pour the sauce over the fried fish placed on a serving plate.
Garnish with spring onion, coriander leaves, and Thai basil leaves.

Lamb Pho ("Phở Cừu)
For the broth 
1/2 kg lamb bones
1 inch ginger, sliced

For Minced Lamb 
300g minced lamb
1 teaspoon minced garlic
1 tablespoon oil
Salt, to taste

Other ingredients 
3-4 sprigs basil leaves
2-3 sprigs spring onion, sliced
2-3 sprigs coriander leaves, sliced
1/2 cup bean sprouts, cleaned and blanched in hot water to soften
Rice noodles, as needed, blanched in hot water to soften
Black pepper and salt, for taste
Salt, to taste

For the Dipping Sauce 
3-4 red chilies
3 garlic cloves, chopped
2 tablespoons soy sauce
1/2 teaspoon sugar
Juice of 1 lime

For the Broth 
In a pot, add lamb bones and sliced ginger.
Pour about 2 litres of water over the bones.
Simmer over low heat for at least 1 hour to extract the broth.
If needed, add more water and continue simmering.
Drain the broth and transfer it to a pot.
Season with salt and pepper.

For the Minced Lamb
Mix minced lamb with minced garlic.
Heat oil in a pan and fry the lamb until crispy.
Season with a bit of salt and transfer to a bowl, including the oil.

To Serve 
Assemble rice noodles with crispy minced lamb, bean sprouts, and herbs.
Ladle the broth over the noodles.
Serve with the chili garlic dipping sauce on the side.

"For a truly authentic Vietnamese chili dip, the attached video will guide you."


Shrimp Pho


For the Broth

2 cups shrimp heads and shells

1 lemongrass stalk, smashed

1 tablespoon fish sauce

1 slice fresh ginger

5 cloves garlic

Some coriander leaves

2 tablespoons oil

1 teaspoon anchovies granules (optional)

1 litter of water (or as needed for the amount of broth)

Salt, to taste

Other Ingredients

Fresh shrimp, deveined and rinsed

Mee hoon, soaked to soften

Bak choy or any other green leafy vegetable, rinsed and cut into pieces

Chinese black fungus, soaked to soften and sliced into long pieces

Spring onion, shredded

Calamansi lime

For the Chili Dip

1-2 tablespoons dried chili paste

2 shallots, chopped

2 cloves garlic, chopped

1/2 teaspoon roasted shrimp paste or belacan powder

Salt, to taste

2 tablespoons oil


For the Broth

In a heated pot, fry shrimp heads and shells until crispy.

Add lemongrass, fish sauce, ginger, garlic, coriander leaves, and anchovies granules. Stir well.

Pour in water and simmer over low heat for about an hour.

Drain the stock and return it to the pot.

Add anchovies granules and salt. 

Stir and continue simmering over very low heat.

For the Chili Dip

In a pan, fry dried chili paste, shallots, garlic, and shrimp paste in oil until aromatic and the oil separates. 

Remove from heat and set aside.

To Serve

Blanch fresh shrimp, bak choy, and Chinese black fungus in the prepared broth. 

Place mee hoon in a bowl and top with the blanched ingredients.

Pour the hot broth over the noodles, garnish with shredded spring onion, and serve with chili dip and calamansi lime on the side.

Vegetarian Vietnamese Fried Rice (Cơm Chiên Chay)
2 cups of cooked leftover white rice
4 cloves garlic, sliced into thin strips
1/2 inch ginger, sliced into thin strips
1 stalk lemongrass, sliced into thin strips
4 shallots, thinly sliced
1 tablespoon soy sauce
Some spring onions, thinly sliced
5 tablespoons oil
Some romaine salad leaves
Some sliced red chilies
Salt, to taste

Heat oil in a pan.
Add garlic, ginger, lemongrass, and shallots, and sauté until fragrant.
Add cooked rice, soy sauce, and salt. 
Stir well to combine all the ingredients.
Add romaine salad leaves and spring onions, and stir to incorporate.
Turn off the heat and stir in the salad leaves and spring onions.
Add red chilies atop before serving.

Vegetarian Vietnamese Tomato Soup (Canh Chua Chay)
5 tomatoes
1 inch ginger
1 lemongrass stalk
3 shallots
Water, as needed
1 teaspoon coriander powder
Some coriander leaves
Salt, to taste

In a pot, combine tomatoes, ginger, lemongrass, shallots, and water. 
Simmer until the ingredients are soft.
Once soft, blend the ingredients into a smooth mixture.
Strain the tomato mixture to remove any solids.
Pour the strained mixture back into the pot.
Simmer the mixture again and add coriander powder and salt.
Turn off the heat and stir in the coriander leaves.

Vietnamese Spicy Lemongrass Chicken (Ga Chien Sa Ot)
1 medium-sized chicken, cut into bite-sized pieces
Palm sugar, to taste
1 1/2 tablespoons fish sauce
7 cloves garlic, minced
1 1/2 tablespoons curry powder
Salt, to taste 
5 shallots, sliced
1 lemongrass stalk, minced
Bird's eye chilies, to taste
Some spring onions for garnishing
2 tablespoons oil
Salt, to taste

In a bowl, mix together the chicken pieces, palm sugar, fish sauce, minced garlic, curry powder, and salt. 
Allow the chicken to marinate in this mixture for 1/2 an hour. 
Heat oil in a pan and sauté the sliced shallots, minced lemongrass, and bird's eye chilies until fragrant.
Add the marinated chicken to the pan and stir-fry until the chicken is soft and tender. 
Add water if needed to prevent sticking.
Once the chicken is cooked, remove from heat.

Garnish with spring onions before serving.

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