Reader GNN very kindly took the time to translate an online Vietnamese verion of the Cao lau recipe. This dish, for those of you who don’t know, is normally only found in Hoi An in central Vietnam. I have only ever encountered one (inferior) version in Saigon. This, I think, is quite possibly the first English language version of the recipe. If there is another one, I’ve yet to find it…
The cook who wrote this
recipe is Cẩm Tuyết, a VN television chef. For English readers, just
ignore the marks that are used in Vietnamese here. I include the marks
because without them, they lose the meanings, and often confuse a lot
of Vietnamese readers. So here it is:
Recipe: Cao Lầu
1. Water source: In Hội An (Faifo) and surroundings such as Cẩm Khê,
there still remain old square wells that the Cham people dug from
hundreds of years ago. Water from these wells is used for drinking and
cooking, and it has a unique flavor. The most famous well is Well Bá Lễ.
2. Lye solution: Lye is made from ashes of trees. Different trees give
different lye solutions. This particular lye solution that is used to
make cao lầu’s noodle is from “tro” tree grown in Cham Island nearby.
3. Rice: The rice to make cao lầu’s noodle is of a local rice variety.
The rice used is neither freshly harvested nor too aged. The rice is
washed, soaked in Hội An’s well water and lye solution. After that the
soaked rice is ground into a thick paste, poured into cotton bags to
drain excess water. The paste becomes dough, and is kneaded. The thin
dough is briefly steamed, cut into strings, and steamed again until the
noodle becomes completely cooked. The noodle is left in open air for
its surface to dry. When used, the noodle is blanched briefly in hot
water. Cao lầu’s noodle has more texture and doesn’t have a sour flavor
of regular rice noodle.
4. Xá xíu (Translator: This is Vietnamese pronunciation of Chinese
barbecue pork, char siu): About 500g lean pork butt, cut to about 5cm
thick. Mixture: 5g Chinese five-spice powder + 1/2 teaspoon salt + 1/4
teaspoon ground pepper + 1 tablespoon minced garlic + 2 tablespoons soy
sauce. Marinate the pork in the mixture for 40 minutes. Heat a small
pot in low heat, add 2 tablespoons cooking oil, and pan fry the pork a
little, then add boiling water to cover the meat. You can also use
coconut juice instead of water. Simmer until the liquid is reduced to
little remaining. The pork should now be tender. When used, slice it
into thin pieces.
5. Stock: Cook 500g pork bones in 3 liters of water and 100 (typo
error?) dried shallots. Simmer and skim the fat often until about 2.5
liters stock is left. Remove the bones and shallot from the stock.
Season the stock with salt and MSG (Oriental food, of course!) to taste.
6. Pork rind: Select the thinnest pork skin, and remove all the fat.
Cut the skin to small pieces of about 2 cm wide, and marinate for 30
minutes in the same kind of mixture you use to make xá xíu. Deep fry
(in high heat?) the pork rind until crispy. Let the pork rind drain.
7. Herb: Húng lủi (Mentha aquatica L.; water mint), cut to short stems. Chive, minced. Cilantro also.
8. Presentation: Put noodle and water mint in a bowl. Place slices of
xá xíu on top. Throw in some pork rind and minced chive. Pour just a
litte of the stock into the bowl. Also throw in some cilantro on top.
Put a dash of pepper.
9. New modifications: Some people now add dry shrimp, dry squid in the
soup stock to add more flavor with a ratio of 10g dry squid or shrimp
and 1/2 liter of water. Some also use chicken stock instead, but this
gives different flavor. Some add more varieties of herb, minced.
Uncooked bean sprout, roasted peanut, rice crackers that are broken in
small pieces…are also used. Some even use (boiled) chicken meat cut
into squares, sauteed shrimp. Some cao lầu noodle has a deep yellow
color of tumeric, and is only seen in Saigon.
Translator note: Lye solution is widely used in Chinese yellow (wheat) noodle to make tougher texture.
Many thanks again to GNN. As usual, comments, tweaks etc. in the comment box.