After an unusually warm and dry year, the cold and rain have finally arrived…which means it is perfect weather for bo kho, Vietnamese beef stew. When I was a kid, I hated cooked carrots, so I would always pick them out and only eat the beef and potatoes. I LOVED dipping the french bread into the broth. Luckily, my very hungry almost 1-year-old LOVES to eat, especially cooked carrots, so I figured this would be a good way to introduce her to more Vietnamese flavors.
My mom used to make this with a combination of stew beef and oxtails, which the butchers at the grocery would give to us for free because nobody ate that stuff back then. I set out to do the same, but I guess people have finally realized oxtails are delicious and the one store I went to wanted $10.99/lb. I opted for 2 lbs short ribs instead for less than half the price. The end result was delicious but lacked some of the gelatinous variance in texture that oxtail would have added. I highly recommend doing half ox tails and half stew beef or short ribs. Read more…
I have been craving this dish for months…impatiently waiting for crab season to start. Since my brother and I wouldn’t be together for Thanksgiving, we celebrated early with Crabsgiving! (exclamation points required). I purposefully bought a few extra crabs so that I’d have enough left over to make mien xao cua, a dish my mom used to make for special occasions.
Growing up, my mom’s version was loaded with chewy noodles, crunchy wood ear mushrooms, sweet sauteed onions, cilantro and tons of pepper. She probably used white pepper but my black pepper grinder works a lot better so I used black. I don’t have her recipe but a Google search gave me a rough idea of what to do. Read more…
I’ve finally started cooking the foods I grew up with. For the longest time, I never bothered to learn because my mom took such joy in feeding us. After she passed away, I didn’t have her to advise me. Everyone has a slightly different way of making things (and also a different way they adapted to the products available in a new country) and really, I just wanted to make mom’s version of things. Even my mom’s five sisters had different spins on the same dishes.
Luckily, I have my mom’s recipe notebook. It was always in our kitchen growing up. She loved recording recipes from friends and neighbors and somehow she never ran out of pages: Read more…
Growing up, my mom often made this for us, especially on hot days. Summer generally doesn’t arrive in San Francisco until September, when I get home from work and don’t want to turn on the oven.
I often order these bowls when eating at Vietnamese restaurants and thought it would be a pain to put together at home. Turns out it really isn’t that hard, especially when you already have the marinated meat in the freezer (left over from an undocumented dinner party several months ago), the peanuts and noodles in the pantry, and pickled veggies in the fridge. You can easily put together the nuoc mam pha earlier in the week so that when you get home, all you have to do is boil the noodles, grill the meat and put everything together. Read more…
I rarely cook Vietnamese food. It is usually cheaper to go to a restaurant and its a good excuse for me to visit my dad. However, some things (such as this) aren’t available at Vietnamese restaurants and the reality is that my dad won’t be around forever. I figured its time to figure things out for myself while I still have my dad and aunts around to advise me.
My favorite soup is Canh Rau Day but it involves a level of sliminess that many people don’t appreciate (similar to okra). I wanted to make something both the boy and I would eat. Canh Mong Toi involves a type of Vietnamese spinach that isn’t slimy, which my mom cooked often for my family growing up.
The soup is very simple, fresh and light. Growing up, it was served with sides such as braised fish, salted eggs, fried fish, pickled eggplants, or braised pork belly. This soup certainly isn’t for everyone but its a comfort food for me and am happy that I’ve figured it out.
I served mine with some claypot braised fish and fried tofu. I’d never done claypot braised fried tofu before but will definitely do it again! Read more…
My family is from a rural, Catholic enclave in northern Vietnam (they fled south to Saigon in 1954) so many of the foods I grew up eating are from that region. My accent is northern and the terms I use are generally northern (e.g., gio vs. cha lua for steamed pork cake). I thought the food I ate growing up was typical Vietnamese fare until I asked my mom why I could never find any of the dishes I was craving at Vietnamese restaurants. Most Vietnamese in the U.S. seem to be from the South so the food from that region is better represented.
Bun thang is one of the northern dishes I grew up eating and rarely find in restaurants. In fact, the only place I know of in San Francisco that serves bun thang is Turtle Tower. Their version is pretty good (had it for the first time last week) but it is fairly simple to make if you have the right ingredients. I call mine kinda bun thang because I didn’t have all the right ingredients but did the best I could with the ingredients I had on hand. For a traditional bun thang recipe, visit The Ravenous Couple.
Last week, we were both feeling a little under the weather, it was chilly out and I had enough ingredients to make a recognizable bastardization of bun thang. I had boiled chicken, chicken broth and cilantro chiffonade left over from a batch of khao man gai, Three Ladies brand rice stick noodles and eggs.
First, the eggs. Growing up, I saw my mom do this all the time but had never tried it myself. I scrambled 3 eggs with a couple slugs of nuoc mam and fried a thin layer in a small non-stick pan. I flipped it when it looked ready. Next time, I will try to make it a little thinner.
The broth normally has some mam tom in it, but I didn’t have any at the time (now I do). Instead, I used some Thai shrimp paste (it didn’t dissolve very well) and dressed it up with a few more glugs of nuoc mam. Assemble pre-boiled noodles and everything else in a soup bowl, pour hot broth over it and you’ve got dinner!
A more authentic version would have had gio / cha lua (Vietnamese steamed pork cake), some lime and rau ram (Vietnamese coriander)…but it was good enough for me. I figured it out and don’t have to ask my dad to make the same dishes over and over when I see him. My mom used to get a little annoyed when I requested the same 2-3 simple dishes from her vast repertoire and my dad is probably no different.
It has been years since I’ve made canh chua though I have never made it with traditional Vietnamese ingredients. When I first moved to SF from the East Bay, I had Filipino roommates who made a similar tamarind soup (sinigang) with the same Knorr tamarind soup base packets. Sourcing ingredients for their version was a whole lot easier than my mom’s version.
Last week I was craving soupy rice during a trip to 99 Ranch and picked up everything I needed for a “traditional” Vietnamese canh chua (at least in my household):
- Bac ha – a spongy celery-like vegetable I’ve never cooked with before; thinly sliced 3 pieces
- Ngo om – a green that I’ve also never cooked with before
- Okra – about a dozen sliced in half
- Tomatoes – 2 large tomatoes quartered
- Catfish – 2 steaks…definitely would use more next time
- Shrimp – 1/2 lb…put it in later next time
- Bean Sprouts – 2 fistfuls
- 1/2 can of pineapple (I’m too lazy to cut a fresh one myself)
Thanks to Wandering Chopsticks for the inspiration and guidance. I used the Knorr packet but used the recipe to understand which ingredients I needed. Normally, I would have called my mom to ask her. Sadly, she’s not around anymore so I have to rely on the internet.
I served this over white rice with a side of our first batch of overly-salted Thai chicken sausage (next post coming soon). The picture isn’t the best because I was hungry!