Monday, August 20, 2012

Hanoi Street Food - Bánh xèo

A few weeks ago on the occasion of our last class with her, my Vietnamese teacher took us out for Bánh xèo, otherwise known as Vietnamese pancake.

You may recall that when I had the Vietnamese girls from the staff class I was teaching, we attempted to make bánh xèo, but although it tasted good, it still wasn't right. (Check out that post here) Well I can't tell you that I've succeeded in making it, but now I know a place I can have it that's only about a 15 minute walk from home! Yay!

This place is on a fairly major, crowded, crazy road, but is tucked up inside a house so you're away from the madness. It starts with a sign outside that looks like this...

....and this guy beneath the sign cooking the bánh xèo. Notice that he has several pans so he can cook five at a time!

He starts by pouring a TON of oil into the pan and waiting until it's really hot, then pours in some batter and swirls it around to spread it throughout the pan. (The xèo part of the name has something to do with the sizzling sound the batter makes when it hits the hot oil!) After it's cooked a bit, he adds bean sprouts.

When it's cooked a bit more, he adds slivers of pork and little shrimp, cooks it some more, then folds it over a couple of times.

It then gets put onto a plastic plate, carried through this dodgy looking hallway and up the even more dodgy stairwell....

....and into this little room.

The curtain hanging at the top of the photo hides a sort of loft, which is where the owners live. Yes, we were eating in their living room, complete with pictures of the grandbabies on the wall!

You then cut the bánh xèo into pieces with a pair of scissors, and wrap a chunk of it in a piece of rice paper with some greens.

You can also order nem lụi to go with your bánh xèo. Nem lụi is minced pork mixed with spices and grilled on bamboo skewers (or sometimes lemongrass, but not here), which they then cut off the skewers for you.

So when you've got your rice paper loaded up with greens, bánh xèo, and nem lụi, you roll it up and dip it in nước chấm, a sauce made from lime, sugar, fish sauce, and chili.

The soft meat, the fresh greens, the tangy sauce, and especially the crunch of the crispy pancake is absolutely irresistible! Yum!

My teacher Lena and my classmate Yoshi enjoying some bánh xèo and beer.
 For anyone in Hanoi who wants to try this place out, it's at 125 Đội Cấn. Enjoy!

Friday, August 17, 2012

Fruity Fridays - Pear Melon

This Friday's Fruit: Pear Melon (literal translation)

Vietnamese name: Dưa Lê

Cost in the market outside my house: 30,000 VND/kilogram (roughly $1.50 - I think. I really should start writing down the prices when I buy fruit!)

Season in Northern Vietnam: June - July

Interesting fact: In Vietnamese when we say to someone "buôn dưa lê" (literally means trade in pear melon), it doesn't mean any business here, it means "talkative","chit-chatted"! (Info courtesy of Viet Street Food)

These green melons are about the size of a large apple and have a flavour much like a honeydew melon, in varying degrees of sweetness.

When you cut them open, they have seeds inside that look like this, but whereas I usually scrape the seeds out of melons, these ones are entirely edible like a cucumber's seeds. I still scraped them out. Call it habit, I guess. I also peeled the melons, although I'm not sure I needed to. The skin was very thin!

I used this melon in a salad with cucumber, green pepper, grated carrot, bean sprouts, green onion, and red radish with a lime vinaigrette. The melon added a nice sweetness.

Then I made it into a shake with yogurt, apple juice, and ice. It was refreshing, yet a bit weird!

I also used it as the fruit in my usual fruit, muesli, and yogurt breakfast for a few days, where it fit in quite nicely!

Overall, I'm not really a big fan of the Pear Melon, but it was everywhere for a while so I had to try it!

Monday, August 13, 2012

Old Family Favourites - Scalloped Potatoes

Back when I was a kid, I wouldn't eat potatoes. I hated them, unless they were in the form of french fries or potato chips (crisps, for you Brits). My parents would always put them on my plate, and night after night I'd leave them there. Finally, they decided that maybe I'd eat them raw, so every night they'd save a bit before cooking them, and I'd get a bit of raw potato on my plate. I ate that for a while, but then decided it was pretty disgusting and started leaving it on my plate until my parents went off to watch the news, then I'd bury it in the garbage can. It was when they discovered that little trick that they stopped trying to force it and let me just not have any!

Even now, I'm not much of a potato eater. If I'm going to have them they must be coated in some kind of fatty deliciousness such as gravy, sour cream, or cheese. Obviously that makes them less than healthy, so mostly I just don't bother.

PhotobucketWhen I was visiting home, my Dad mentioned scalloped potatoes, which has been one of his favourite dishes for about as long as I can remember. Mom used to make them for him regularly, so when they split up he got the recipe from her and now makes his them himself. I do like scalloped potatoes, so I got the recipe from him and made some for myself. However, as I said above, I cover them with cheese, which Dad says is sacrilege! I say it's delicious.

I started by peeling two potatoes and slicing them nice and thin like this...

...then layered them in my bowl until it was about 1/3 full.

Then I added some diced onion (don't worry Dad, I didn't skimp!), sprinkled on about 1 tsp of flour, dolloped a bit of butter on top, and added salt, pepper, and paprika.

I did this two more times, until the bowl was mostly full, then added milk almost to the top.

I then put it in the oven at 350°F for about 75 minutes. I added some grated cheese after about an hour, just enough for it to melt and get a bit crispy on top. I have to say though, that even before I did that, it smelled divine.

Ok, I'll be the first to admit that these photos aren't the most appetizing. But believe me when I say that these were delicious. And pretty easy to make!

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Wine Tasting at Vine Cellar Door

One of the best things about the French occupation of Vietnam is the legacy they left behind - cheese, baguettes, and wine! There's a much larger selection of such things here than there was where I lived in Korea, which is kind of nice!

Happy wine drinkers!

There's one wine shop, the Vine Cellar Door, that has wine tastings once a week, so a few weeks ago a few friends and I decided to go. It's an ok deal, you pay 250,000 VND (about $13) and you get 8 tastings of wine, snack food, and a voucher for 250,000 VND off wine purchases over 500,000. I've been before and it was a much better deal, which I guess is why it wasn't nearly as busy this time as it used to be! However, it still makes for a fun evening out.

Wine makes Ron sing!

We started with dinner nearby at Dieu's Cuisine (I'll post about that place sometime - it's amazing!) because based on past experience the food you get at Vine isn't enough to sustain you through an evening of wine drinking! By the time we finally moved on to Vine we figured we had to have a new wine every 10 minutes, which is doable considering they're only tastings, but we were still trying to figure out which staff member was the most generous pourer!

Vine has two floors, the main floor and the cellar, which is, of course, mostly full of bottles of wine. It's fun to go down there and poke around the shelves, and to check out the discount table!

It's tough when it comes time to decide what bottle to buy!

Hmmm, which one do I want to take home with me?

As you can imagine, as more wine is consumed, things start to go a little crazy...

After the wine tasting we decided to move on to 21° North, which has a great location right next to the lake. Many beers were had there, the silliness continued, and Kay found an adorable puppy to play with!

So that's it! A good fun night, and a nice alternative to the usual bar we go to!