A Vietnam Odyssey

Vietnam is a real foodies destination and nowhere is the food more vibrant than on the streets and in the market places. On almost every street corner you will see people cooking and eating. The food is fresh, fragrant and vibrant in its diversity and availability. With a real love of Vietnamese food what better way to spend a holiday than on a cultural and food tour of this fascinating country?

We arrived in Hanoi just in time for western New Year's Eve - and yes, the Vietnamese love an opportunity to celebrate so Christmas trees and decorations were in evidence everywhere - as were 'Happy New Year 2014' banners. These were mixed with 'Chuc Mung nam Moi' banners for Chinese new Year to be celebrated in a big way at the end of January!

Vietnam is a long, narrow country that divides distinctly into northern, central and southern regions, so we wanted to check out the cullinary styles of each. Before setting off on our cultural exploration of the north, we hit the Hanoi Cooking Centre for a day course on new Year's eve. Chef Link took us first on a tour of the huge local 'wet' market' - bustling with activity and full of the most wonderful fresh and perfectly ripe vegetbles and fruits, together with seafood, poultry (duck being a particular favourite) and meat. Not a place for the squeamish or sensitive souls - but all the senses were engaged by the rich colours, exotic ingredients, and heady aromas. Some of the more exotic ingredients on offer - silk worm pupae and 10 day old duck eggs - caught our attention, so Link purchased some of these in addition to what was needed for the recipes we were about to prepare.

Back in the kitchens, under Link's expert guidance, we set to making seafood spring rolls, banana flower salad, typically northern caramel pork in a clay pot, and a delicious local dessert based on black sesame seeds, peanuts, brown sugar and coconut milk. To satisfy our curiosity, Link meanwhile flash 'woked' the silkworm pupae for us to taste with chillies and garlic - beautifully crunchy outside, but with a centre too gelatinuous for our taste! The 10-day old duck eggs were also boiled, carefully dissected with chopsticks for us to see the embryo well developed, and then all chopped together for us to sample - actually delicious if you didn't think about what you were eating!

Following the tragic period between the end of the Vietnam war and the opening up of the country to the outside world in the 1990's, Vietnam has rapidly moved from being a net importer of rice to becoming the number one world exporter. While rice production is the major agriculture of all three major regions, the diverse climate dictates that the north produce two crops per year, the centre three crops, and the south four crops - all off the same family sized plots of land ... this, together with ethnic and cultural influences, also determines the different styles of cuisine as you move from north to south. More Chinese noodle-based dishes in the north, to a much greater use of rice in the south - but the flavours of spring onions, coriander, mint, holi basil, lemongrass, ginger, chilli and lime are omnipresent and give all the dishes a very distinctive (but delightfully delicate) Vietnamese taste.

 

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Demonstration

Demonstration

silk worms

silk worms

vietnamese egg

vietnamese egg