Goi la, a dish that consists primarily of different kinds of leaves, proves that some of the simplest combinations can taste sublime. Goi is originally a dish of raw meat or fish accompanied by vegetables and herbs. Phuong Dong reports. From The Vietnam News. Photo by Truong Vi.
Archives for February 2005
I seem to remember Marks & Sparks (purveyors of quality cotton undies, potted plants and executive sandwiches) would start flogging off left over Christmas puddings before the nation had had time to hit James Bond, crack open the Cognac and gobble down half a hundredweight of Brazil nuts. No-one in the retail trade wants a warehouse full of Christmas puddings on their plate first thing in the new year. Not so Vietnam. Yer average Joe Nguyen wouldn’t thank you for brandy snaps and cream on a traditional Brit pud – their loss, our heart attack. But they probably wouldn’t snort at a stray, seasonal Banh Tet if they cornered one that had somehow survived Vietnamese new year plump, live and fast running out of escape routes. This morning I found two sellers shipping the left over leaden rice bricks. And folk were buying, myself included. At 13,000VD a slab, they’re a steal.
I hope this ongoing tour of my local market is helping illustrate just how much nosh there is in this city. This market isn’t special, it isn’t big. It’s just like a squillion others in town, but I’m still not done exploring it. The thing is barely 100 metres long and I’m as tall as it is wide. So, you know, it’s small, it’s good and there are more, a lot more just like it all over Saigon. Go explore.
This stallholder sells Bun thit nuong (Grilled pork with vermicelli noodles) for 7,000VD and her stall is about midway down the alley. This is my first time stoolside at her perch. I’m a regular at the other thit nuong seller and I must admit I felt a bit of a slag sloping off to her rival four stalls and weasel’s burp up my back passage, but there are noticeable differences between the two. This seller doesn’t do the kebab numbers and she doesn’t do those freakin’ top rice roll rockers.
She’s a straight up ‘n’ down thit woman. Vermicelli noodles, chopped up cha gio (spring rolls), veggies and scissored, marinated, grilled pork in a bowl, mish-mash-mosh, slurp of nuoc mam (fish sauce) and whallop, you’re done.
I think old reliable four hops and a beetle’s scrurry to her right is better. This was a bit bland and I do like my rolls, big time and OK, I’ll admit I did stop by her rival for a nibble and a gulp on the way back to Pieman Towers. Whaddya think? Those cha gio above look a bit munchtastic ehhh?
The excellent Online section of The Guardian newspaper in the UK run a column I wrote on food bloggers. Take a look or read the cut ‘n’ paste below. Thanks to everyone I talked to for this 😉 When you’ve finished reading, go gander at Bobbie Johnson’s Posting for Profit feature about blogging for lolly, rather good.
Foodies aim for a slice of the pie
With the launch this week of a new award site, Graham Holliday argues that food blogs are not a flash in the pan.
Foodies are ditching Delia, turning off TV chefs and blogging their own shows. The food blog brigade’s typical serving comes with a dash of passion, a dollop of honesty and half a pound of humour.
Is My Blog Burning? (IMBB?) is a monthly event where food bloggers from around the world cook a dish using a specified ingredient or style on a designated day. About 50 bloggers post at each event Some are food professionals, but most are amateurs.
Alberto, a trained sommelier who publishes the Il Forno baking blog from Germany, came up with the idea. "I noticed that often a post on one blog would inspire a few others to try or modify the same recipe and discuss it. I thought it might be interesting to put those people together." He posted his suggestion at Il Forno in January last year. The response was ravenous. The event is now in its 12th edition and has a full schedule for the year.
Individual bloggers act as hosts and a dedicated website coordinates each event. Past IMBB? days have included fish, rice, terrine and barbecue dishes. The idea has spawned other popular events: "Wine Blogging Wednesday", "Sugar High Fridays" and a food photo competition called "Does my blog look good in this?" The events are rounded up as a list of hyperlinks at the host’s blog with added commentary.
"I find it fascinating to see how each of us culturally interprets a single ingredient or cooking technique," says Kate Hopkins, of The Accidental Hedonist blog in Seattle. However, some bloggers have trouble finding time for the plethora of events. There are tentative plans to introduce a PDF version of each event.
Food blogs don’t appear to be a flash in the cyberpan. Foodpornwatch, a food blog tracking site, monitors 206 blogs and gets up to five requests a day for new blogs to be added. Blogads, the blog advertising company, has 28 food and drink blogs on its books with a combined monthly traffic of almost 1m readers. Paris-based Chocolate & Zucchini gets 100,000 site hits and 7,000 readers each day.
Jay Rayner, The Observer’s food critic, is a member of several online food forums, but reads just one food blog, Chez Pim – "She’s very funny, has exquisite taste and she’s a friend of mine" – and he doesn’t see food bloggers as a threat to professional food writers. "I am writing in a different way, specifically to attract as broad an audience as possible," he explains. "The bloggers can offer up the quirky and the individual; we have to add value, by offering authority and consistency."
Kate Hopkins was miffed that the 2005 Blog Oscars – The Bloggies – hadn’t considered a best food blog category in the nominations stage, so created her own food blog awards. Nearly 8,000 votes were cast. Soon after, a food blog category appeared at the Bloggies. "I like to think they discovered the quality of writing and decided these food bloggers needed to be lauded," says Hopkins.
Others are taking matters further. Taste Everything is a collaborative food award site that launched on Tuesday. It aims to "give credit to people and organisations creating exceptional food". A blog jury made up of 30 of the most popular food bloggers each has one award to define and give. "There’s so much to celebrate about the growing independent food voice on the net," says Taste Everything organiser Hillel Cooperman. "This year, we have approximately 25 awards."
Most food bloggers are in it for fun. For others, the combination of passion and free or inexpensive blog publishing tools bring unexpected benefits. "I’m starting to get offers to write for magazines and newspapers," says wannabe food writer Clotilde Dusoulier, of Chocolate & Zucchini. "All these opportunities stem from my blog." She has an agent in New York and a potential book deal. She’s not alone. Heidi Swanson, who blogs at 101 Cookbooks, published a vegetarian book in October. Many others are eager for a slice of the action. Jay Rayner watch out.
The ‘Best Noodle Soup in Saigon’ Taste Everything Award goes to a 7,000VD (US$0.45) bowl of Bun Mam and the lady
chef who simply goes by the name of Ba Sau (Number 36). She’s been serving this one noodle soup from her small six-seater stall in an alleyway market in District
10 for the last 25 years. Bun Mam is just one of a
swarm of native vermicelli noodle soups on offer throughout Vietnam, but in
my opinion, it is Vietnam’s soup star and Ba Sau serves the
best I’ve found in Saigon.
So what is it? Pictured above we have part of the assembly line; bun
(vermicelli noodles), soup, aubergine and that green end of spring
onion-alike on your right, which is not a spring onion at all, but something called
he – a kind of garlic chive. Inside the table top glass cabinet are
pre-cooked prawns and fatty, roasted pork complete with a crispy fat trim. Some Bun mam sellers also
throw in squid and fish, but not here. The dish originates from Soc Trang Province in Vietnam’s Mekong Delta.
The soup stock is the key.
It’s a pork bone/fish combo number rammed full of goodies. Ba Sau throws in a no nonsense, roughly chopped up bag of fresh lemon grass and there’s a healthy splosh or ten of Mam tom, that’s the purple prawn paste
monster pictured above and the one providing the punch
and the pong here. Bun mam does whiff.
Next up is the shrubbery pictured above. It comes on a side plate or ready blanched in your soup – your choice, but for the record I keep my hedgerow raw, add a squeeze of lemon and go easy on the yellow chilli slivers. This amazing bush is
peculiar to Bun mam. The wee green chap to the top right, rau dang (a
variety of cress), has the strongest flavour and is often served with
Chao ca (Rice porridge with fish). According to local food lore, rau dang is
very useful if you’re suffering from a stinking cold. The purple fella
is bong sung (water lilly root). We also have raw beansprouts, raw rau
muong (stripped morning glory) and the green leaf trio of rau thom
(sorrel), rau que (basil) and one sprig of sour rau ca which is a
powerful and unusual ‘fish mint’.
Moving on to the taste. The soup is a slightly sweet, complex, muddy Mekong flood
of fermented prawn paste and chilli lavered into a thick earthy stock. The aubergine has had time to soak the soup up and each velvet bite squeezes soup juice from the veggie core. It’s an unlikely sounding hit, but a hit it undoubtedly is.
It tastes blinkin’ marvellous which is why I have given it, and Ba Sau, the ‘Best Noodle Soup in Saigon’ award for the 2005 Taste Everything Food Awards. NB: I must thank Noodlepie readers, Ecr and Vickie for helping me with hedgerow herb translation work. See full list of awards.
Blogger Mojtaba Saminejad "has been charged by the Tehran prosecutor’s office and is due to be tried soon". Arash Sigarchi "was arrested on 17 January 2005, after responding to a summons from the intelligence ministry in Rashat. He had been updating a weblog that has been banned by the authorities, Panhjareh Eltehab (The window of Anguish), in which he had spoken out against recent arrests of cyberjournalists and bloggers."
It’s not that I’ve been off the Pho of late, I’ve just been eating at pho shacks I’ve already blogged, but I’m back on the case today. There’s a pho seller who occasionally pops her head above the parapet down the alleyway market. Not a firm fixture on my manor, but firm enough. Her stall merges into the adjacent Bun rieu. I only tried her pho a month or two back and I’ll admit I wasn’t expecting much from it. So I was pleasantly surprised to discover this local provider serving up a stonker.
Sweeter than yer average pho with mucho meatiness to boot. The only downer is the beef itself. I ordered the Pho chin variety (Pre-cooked beef noodle soup) for 6,000VD only to find myself entering the gates of chewdom – which is never a fun place to hang. OK – it’s not that chewy, but it’s a gum workout too far for my tender jaw. Herb selection is healthy and there’s the regular condiment crew of Hoisin and chilli sauce on hand. Some of the noodles were surprisingly wide.
This is often the case with pho noodles for some reason – must be a noodle compression outage at the noodle factory or maybe she goes to ‘Madame Nguyen’s Bumper Budget Noodle Store’ to buy her noodles. Whatever it is she’s doing, there are quite clear quality assurance issues within this bowl. However, like finding a stray, mutant three-headed chocko covered peanut inside a bag of M&M’s, it’s strangely pleasing to recieve a noodle oddity once in a while. Putting aside any disputes over carcass and noodle production, this is my new fave pho. Slurp, dribble, slurp.
Back down the local market scoping out new blood when I bump into crab girl. She has one of those nifty twin basket, over the shoulder numbers. She cruises the district looking for folk to ladle her soup out to. In one basket is a piping hot fusion of crabmeat, pork and quail eggs in a glutinous stock, Sup cua. The other contains a mish-mash of condiments and coriander. The wee plastic buckets in the middle contain takeaway plastic cups. A bit like a Starbucks drinks container, only transparent and sans straw. At 3,000VD it’s not a thriller and no filler, none the less it’s worth a gander if you bump into someone selling this globby broth.
Some of these soups can result in MSG OD, which gives a mild buzz up the spine. So long as you don’t suffer from the MSG headaches, it’s actually quite nice. Worse versions of this always appear as starters at Vietnamese weddings, that’s every single Vietnamese wedding. One note for overseas readers, Quail eggs are bargainsville in Vietnam. Loved by Chelsea toffs (probably?), they’re streetnosh in Saigon. The price did take a walk north with bird flu, but they’re around 4,000VD for 20 on the market. Smashin’ hard boiled with a salt/pepper combo side dip. Classy, yet common too – which is unusual in an egg.
With 4m-high pink plaster shrimps, jugs of rice wine, tables of merry revelers, and the freshest seafood in town, Sam Son Seafood Market makes a great catch. Aviva West reports. From The Vietnam News. Photo by Aviva West.