It’s been more than two months since my Vietnam trip, and I still can’t get over how good the food is (and how cheap!). Yes, we have plenty of Vietnamese restaurants here in Melbourne, and many of them are considered to be authentic. However, nothing beats being in the motherland of pho and enjoying a steaming bowl of Viet yumness for the low, low price of $2. Reality hits really hard when you go for a meal here in Melbourne and a bowl of noodles is at least $10. Ten big buckaroos! And that’s just the minimum at the best of times.
It doesn’t make it any easier having moved from London where most of the time a simple takeaway cooked meal is about 6 quid. I know with conversion, that’s about $9.00 but it’s still a single-digit number!! I’m really bad with numbers (i’m sure my dearest hubby is nodding vigorously now) so when it’s single-digit, it’s good. Anyway, I digress – back to dreaming about Vietnamese food.
My brother-in-law (S) and his then fiancee, now loving wife (M) took us to this restaurant called Rat Huế (which means truly Huế). We were not in Huế then, still in Ho Chi Minh City. However S & M swore that this is THE place for Huế cuisine. We would never have found the place if not for their local knowledge. Tucked away in a back alleyway, Truly Huế is where locals go for their dose of central vietnamese fare.
We started off with this wonderful little steamed rice bites. They’re little – the size of a chinese sauce dish. Topped with what I think is minced smoked fish of some sort. The steamed rice cake part is rather bland but the fishy bits and the sauce that you drizzle over is what makes the dish so amazing. The flavours are clean and the texture of the rice cake is soft with a slight chewiness to it. What a perfect little starter.
Aside from the steamed rice cakes, we had a couple other starter dishes. Another version of the rice cakes, except it comes wrapped in banana leaves. Also yummy, but I kinda preferred the novelty of scooping the rice cake out of the tiny dishes. And also, a Viet meal isn’t quite complete without rice paper rolls.
Now comes Bun Bo Huế (Huế style beef vermicelli). The stock is made from cooking beef bones for a long time with aromatics like lemongrass, chilli and shrimp paste. It’s usually spicy and always delicious. The power packed soup base is what makes the dish so amazing. I could slurp on this all day long. We also tried a crab meat version of the noodles, also with a very tasty stock, and crab balls. Yum!
Accompanying the noodle dishes were the usual suspects – fresh bean shoots, basil leaves and mint leaves. What was new to me was the brown noodle-like pile next to the bean shoots. Apparently they are shredded banana flowers. I never knew you could eat banana flowers. (Actually, how does a banana flower look like? Time to google it!) They didn’t have much flavour but added much fibre and texture to the noodle dish. Ah…such wonderful memories….Truly Huế.
4E Le Loi, District 1
Ho Chi Minh City
It was Election Day while we were in Ho Chi Minh City last month. Bright red flags were proudly displayed along the streets, but that was about it. No other electoral activities were evident. Ah well. Couldn’t expect very much to begin with right? It was also that very day that we found out that Facebook is banned in Vietnam. Really. Uncool.
As I mentioned in my previous post, Ho Chi Minh City is uber busy. Traffic is never-ending, the shops and stalls are bustling and even in the hidden back alleys, you’ll find the locals cleaning up, taking a nap or just going about their business. It was very interesting to watch the locals manoeuvre their way through the busy streets, or find space for more goods and belongings in tight spaces. The people are innovative, very business savvy and friendly. They work hard, and they play hard. There’s often people cooling off from the heat with iced drinks by the roadside drinks stall. The parks are filled in the mornings and evenings with people exercising, playing games or just hanging out with friends and family. Talk about work-life-balance!
Now on to the wonderful food of Vietnam. There were cooked food stalls at Ben Thanh Market (mentioned in my previous post) but I was too much of a chicken to sit by the stalls on day one of my visit to try them out. I really wanted some pho, but I was not going to risk it as the stalls were…ahem…way too “authentic”. Instead, we went to a shop near the market called Pho 2000 – the President’s Pho. Not kidding. Apparently Bill Clinton was there – complete with a faded framed photograph of Billy enjoying his pho, adorning the wall.
I was excited to experience my very first bowl of pho in the land of pho. Melbourne has a huge Vietnamese community and we are definitely spoilt for choice when it comes to Vietnamese cuisine. Like many others, I’ve had many bowls of pho before, but just the idea that I was in Vietnam and having pho took me to a whole new high. The ‘president’s pho’ did not disappoint. We ordered a bowl of beef pho and a plate of grilled chicken on broken rice.
The pho was light and fragrant with a delicious, clear soup and served with a generous helping of herbs (basil, mint, sprouts). The rice noodles had a wonderful springiness to it in contrast to the super tender wafers of beef brisket.
The marinated grilled pork served on rice was an eye-opener. The ones that I have tried in Australia tend to be a dryer version in comparison to this. The grilled pork was very tasty, evidence of hours of in marinade I’m sure, but the kicker was that it was succulent and tender. Accompanied with a quick stir fry of spring onions and bean sprouts and their spicy dipping sauce, nuoc cham. It looked really simple but oh, so yummy.
Each dish costs us about 35,000 dong which was about two Aussie dollars. Delicious and CHEAP! What more could a girl want eh?
Maybe to eat lots and still be svelte and slim like most vietnamese women in their traditional dress. Sigh…one can only dream…
Udon is a thick, wheat based Japanese noodle, popular cooked in a soup or stir fried. It’s one of those noodles that is rather fool-proof to cook. It’s springy and easy to handle – there’s low risk of overcooking or turning it to mush. On its own, the udon noodle is pretty tasteless but it is great for handling all sorts of sauces and flavours.
Like the soba, the udon can pretty much be cooked with anything. Vegetables, meat, fish – whatever you fancy. In short, use your creativity. This is the best kind of cooking I reckon!
This version of yaki udon is made with veggies, chicken and loads of yummy sauce for the noodles to soak it all in.
2 chicken breasts, sliced and marinated in light soy
4 heads of bok choy
1/2 a small napa cabbage
fresh minced garlic
thinly sliced and julienned ginger
2 tbsp light soy
1 tbsp dark soy
1 tbsp mirin
cornflour for thickening sauce
Fry ginger and garlic till fragrant before adding in marinated chicken. Stir fry the chicken till almost cooked then add in noodles, vegetables and all the sauces. Mix it well in the wok. Add in about 1/4 cup chicken stock, cover and simmer for 10 mins. Mix 1.5 teaspoons of cornflour with a tiny bit of water, stir it in the noodles to thicken the sauce before serving.
A quick and delicious weeknight dinner – oh, do be careful of sauce splash action if you’re a noodle slurper!!