Every summer when I was young, my mum would send me to Hanoi to stay with my grandma for a month. I remember reading lots of manga borrowed from my cousin, and playing card games with my childhood friend. It was simply too hot and humid to play outside for long. Every morning at 7, I would go and knock on my friend’s door hoping that she was up so that we could go down to the alley way to have breakfast. She was never up, opting to sleep in every single day. In my defence, the sun rises around at 5am in Summer so it was impossible for me to sleep in. After a lot of yelling and knocking she would finally wake and we would go down to get the last few bowls of bún on offer. The seller usually packed her stall around 8-8.30am. My friend would go for bún ốc (snail noodle soup) while I would always go with bún riêu cua (crab noodle soup) since I found (and still find) the former a tad sandy.
Bún riêu of my childhood is a simple affair and much different to its southern counterpart. It was made out of freshwater crab paste with lots of tomatoes and the secret ingredient of giấm bổng (a kind of vinegar) which gives the broth a subtle sourness. It was eaten with chopped salad leaves, purple perrila and the usual spring onion and coriander. Admittedly the seller (she also lived in the apartment block) was heavy handed with the MSG but I found this version the most wholesome of all. I tried another seller in Hanoi but the taste didn’t match and I was too snobby to ever eat it in Saigon being put off by the red colouring, fried tofu, and even pork blood cubes.
Even with the abundance of Vietnamese restaurants in Melbourne, it was impossible to find a good bowl of bún riêu since we don’t have freshwater crabs here. I once bought a frozen bag from the grocery store but couldn’t make it coagulate to form the crab cake. The version listed here is what I make with the available ingredients to satisfy my craving but it’s nowhere near as good as what the real bowl of bun rieu was in my mind.
Ingredients (serves 4)
Q: Can chicken stock be substituted with beef/pork stock? Can I use stock from a can or stock cube?
A: I wouldn’t think so since we want a milk flavoured stock here. You can make the stock by boiling chicken cases with a knob of ginger, 1 tbsp of salt for about an hour.
Q: Can I use live crab instead of the one from the can?
A: You can add boiled live crab meat to the mixture but using it alone wont result in crab cake.
Q: Can I use a different brand of crab paste?
A: You could try but this one is my favourite.
Q: Can I not use mince pork?
A: Yes, in that case double the crab paste and make sure that the stock is not on high heat. Otherwise it will over boil and you won’t get any crab cake.
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Bun bo hue is my favourite childhood dish. I and the neighbour kids used to religiously go to this bun bo hue stall at the market every day during the summer holidays. A bowl set us back a mere 3000 dong back then. Last time I went home, the stall was still there but the food was disappointing. The bowl was small and there was hardly any meat. I guess I’m used to the big bowl we get in Australia. We also had Bun Bo Hue in Hue but were not impressed. It could have been a tourist trap restaurant but the bun bo was so different from what we had been accustomed to. The bun was thin, there wasn’t any sliced meat, only big chunk of pork hogs which I’m not a big fan of.
Having said that, a good bowl of Bun Bo Hue is harder to come across in Melbourne than Pho. Our top choices would be Co Do and Ninh Kieu in Richmond, and Dong Ba in Footscray. While the bowl at Dong Ba is slightly too oily for my taste, Ninh Kieu offers the deepest, most flavourful version of all.
True that it uses mainly beef stock but what sets it apart from its more famous cousin Pho is the liberal use of lemongrass, the spiciness of sate and the deep flavour of Hue shrimp paste. Making Bun Bo Hue does require a fair amount of ingredients and some plan-aheads. I attempted to make this dish a few times before but was too lazy so some steps were skipped and the stock never came out as good as at the shop.
Ingredients: (yields about 9 bowls)
1/2 kg of beef bones
1 kg of beef shin
1 large pork hock
4 stalks of lemongrass
1 knob of ginger
Mam ruoc Hue (Hue shrimp paste)
Rice noodles (Bun Bo Hue type which is round and a bit bigger than the normal bun)
Lettuce (could be cos lettuce, shredded water spinach, shredded banana blossom)
1 stalk of lemongrass
3 cloves of garlic
dried + fresh chilli
annatto seed or powder
Mix 2 table spoons of mam ruoc with 1 cup of water. Use a glass or small container. Cover and let it sit overnight.
Parboil the bones, beef shin and pork hock for 5 mins. Discard the water and wash the meat and bones thoroughly.
Chargrill onion and ginger until brown. Peel the onion.
Bruise the lemongrass.
Add the meats, bones, onion, ginger, lemongrass, clear part of the mam ruoc to a large stock pot and add about 5 litres of cold water.
Add 2 tbpspn of salt
Bring to the boil and start skimming the scum.
Lower to simmer.
After an hour, remove the pork hock and submerge in a bowl of cold water.
After another half an hour remove the beef shin and submerge in water. Continue to simmer the stock for another hour or two.
Chop lemongrass, shallot, garlic and chilli.
In a small saucepan, add 2 tbsp of veg oil. When the oil is hot, add the lemongrass and stir for 2 mins.
Add shallot and garlic and stir for another 2 mins
Add chilli and quickly stir for another 30 sec and add it to the stock
Slice the pork and beef thinly.
Cook the noodle and run it through cold water to prevent further cooking.
In a bowl, add the noodle, some meat, garnish and ladle the stock.
What could go wrong?
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Hey this site is going to become a foodie blog before long at this rate, but any way, this week we went to Piqueos in Carlton north on Rathdowne St, it is some kind of a take on Argentinean and Peruvian cuisine. Having been to both of those countries I was of course excited to give it a try, hoping for some delicious flavoursome ceviche, chimichurri, and yummy hunks of meat. So it turns out that they have two sittings for dinner, the early one at six, and the later one at eight (which I’m not sure exactly what that means apart from if you have a six o’clock sitting, you need to be out by eight). Being three of us we decided against the tasting menu which provides a varierty across the board (but for me had some items that I wasn’t particularly interested in) and went for three mains, two sides, one salad, and an empanada for myself.
First the empanada, having not had a cheese empanada since those heady days back in Buenos Aires, I was pretty excited to try this one out, the options for empanadas are a bit limited, beef, chicken, and cheese, I went for the cheese (I wish there was a ham and cheese or tomato and cheese) and potato, it’s quite small, and to be honest, while it is good, it didn’t have that melted flowing cheese inside that I was hoping for. Personally I think the potato to cheese ratio was too far in favour of the starch, did I mention it was
quite small? It was $4.50 (Cumanas how I miss you and your $2.70 peso empanadas in a million flavours), okay, don’t give me a massive Salteña, but give me something for my money.
On to the sides and salad, we ordered the grilled beef heart (had this one while studying Spanish in Sucre, Bolivia, didn’t know what it was then, jus thought it was yummy, street food ftw!), ceviche (to be honest I first tried this in Mexico where it was super, then had it in Arequipa, Peru where it was only so-so, probably would have been better had I tried it in Lima) also had this at Mamasita (very good, so maybe I’m a Mexican ceviche fan), and the palm heart salad based on the recommendation of the waitress.
I didn’t get a picture of the beef heart as it wasn’t very photogenic, but it was well cooked and tasty.
The ceviche I did like, it was refreshing and had a beautiful lemon-y zest, the fish (kingfish I think) was perfect, actually, there was something really spicy in there that would only kick in after swallowing the fish and the sourness of the lemon juice wore off, that was a great kick. The salad was good although I’m still now sure what the palm hearts were and what they were for, the tomatoes in the salad were very good though, as were the olives.
On to the mains, and I know what you’re thinking, jeez dtra, those sides don’t look very substantial, and you’d be right, they were quite insignificant as far as portion size is concerned. So do we have much hope for the mains (which are not served with any sides), it would be a strange restaurant to provide small sides and then have gargantuan mains, and this is not a strange restaurant. For mains we ordered baby chicken, churrasco (some kind of steak), and fish of the day. I didn’t get any pictures because visually they weren’t anything special, and it was quite dark in there so they’d just be black blobs on the screen. I had the steak which was well cooked, very tender, and had a huge slathering of chimichurri on top, can’t really go wrong there, good job. I had a bite of the fish (which also was covered in chimichurri), but I think my meat was better. I didn’t get to try the baby chicken (seems a bit cruel, but maybe it is actually a small chicken or some other kind of fowl), but it seemed to be juicy. Now I don’t have the most sophisticated palette (is that how you spell it?) in the world, but I want to talk about the chimichurri, cos they also place a small dish of it on the table as a condiment, my guess is olive oil, parsley, coriander, garlic, and something else, possibly a tiny bit of lemon juice or something similar, quite good, nice and simple that’s for sure.
Unfortunately, this was not the nostalgiac Argentinean meal that I had hoped for when I planned the dinner, when I think of Argentina, I think of vast quantities of grilled meat, chimichurri, and bread, yummy bread. While the food was tasty, the portions turned out to be wanky and not enough for me, I ad to go and get some wedges somewhere else to appease my rumbly tummy, I needed carbs, or at least more meat, I’m pretty sure I could have eaten twice as much as I did which was a bit disappointing. Maybe if I had my time again I would have gone for the tasting plate, but in the end, fancy pants dining probably doesn’t do it for me, and I think for future endeavours I will push the scale down a bit if it will give me a fuller belly. I couldn’t say I didn’t like the food (what we had was delicious), but I couldn’t say that I was happy with the meal either, we’re talking $160+ for three people (two drinks including a pisco sour that I couldn’t taste :`( ) and I was still hungry.
Apologies for the orientation of the photos, wordpress still being hopeless.
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After over thirty years of eating others’ delicious pho cooking, I finally got off my arse and with the guidance and assistance of my lovely girlfriend managed to cook my own pho, and I must say, it tasted quite reasonable for a first go, and certainly can only be improved upon. For my reference and for you to steal if you like, but please, if you somehow make money from this recipe please send me some royalties! You know all the sides/garnishes, and if you don’t, rice noodles, beef sliced thinly (eye fillet is best), spring onion and coriander chopped, onion sliced thinly, bean sprouts, chopped chilli, lemon juice, and some thai basil. Use fish sauce for seasoning, and if you have some hoisin sauce for dipping the beef in, all the better.
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