Fellow Vietnam foodhead Cathy at Gastronomyblog features in the latest series of food ventures of Padstow’s finest TV chef Rick Stein in Vietnam. I’ve been a fan of his for a while myself. Vietnam is just one episode in a series that takes in other parts of south east Asia. I watched the whole Vietnam episode today and just discovered it on YouTube. It’s a good broadbrush, although I noticed a few wee errors – at least errors to me – and why did he go to the old, tired and grumpy Cha Ca La Vong??? They really do not deserve the press. It’s similar to the Anthony Bourdain show in Vietnam recently, with a bit more depth, a lot more “how you can do this at home” and a few more sites. After all it’s a longer show. All in all, a very enjoyable reminder of life on the streets in Vietnam (if you ignore the posh junks, boats, cars and hotels…) Watch the clip above. Our Cathy appears at 2 minutes in on Ben Thanh market.
Is this the sourest scoff in Saigon? Unripe or Green mangoes. These specimens are from Ben Thanh Market. I’m a fan of them in salads, but raw…??? Nah… Noodlegirl’s mad for ’em, but I’m not. But, but, but… I’m learning of a whole new raft of uses for these sour, crunchy oriental fruits: Curry, salad, chutney, marmalade, salsa, juice, Mamidikaya pachi pulusu and In Jaggery syrup What an intriguing unripe fruit. Anymore for anymore?
I was grumbling my way around Ben Thanh market this morning when I paused at this stall. This is one of the two main offal sellers on Ben Thanh. The two stalls meet you as you enter from the Le Thanh Ton side. I remembered learning about the delights of offal on the excellent BBC Radio Food Programme. I eat it, I sometimes cook with it, but I don’t really know my pipes from my tubes. Maybe you can help? Introducing The Offal Quiz.
There are no prizes in this quiz, but it’s a fantastic opportunity to show the world how well you know your way around the interior landscape of farm animals. 14 pictures to name at The Offal Quiz. Answers in the comments on Flickr probably works best. I recommend the slideshow view to get yourself tuned in.
Popped down Ben Thanh market in District 1 this morning to cadge a sprat or two for dinner. I coughed up 70,000VD (£2.50) for the fine specimen above.
I think it’s a kind of Tilapia, but I don’t know for sure. It’s a red snapper (see comments). This particular seller always seems to have the scoop on exotic, fresh fish. I intend to steam it tonight. I think I’ll wrap it in a banana leaf with some lemongrass, garlic, shallots, coriander and shredded coconut. This recipe for Banana leaf steamed fish sounds solid, but I’ll have to chop and change it and ditch the heavy spices if the toad is to get his fill too.
If you have any fab, simple(ish), baby friendly, steamed fish recipes
involving banana leaves and you can tempt me with it in the comment box
some time this afternoon, I may well give it a go. I’ll also update this post tomorrow if the thing is a success. More on buying a fish at this market here. More pics from this morning here and here’s a wee film
of my fish getting filleted.
UPDATE: I decided to take Robyn‘s advice – see the comments below – and go the oven route. the above (crappy) picture is the post-cooked fish. Inside, incase you didn’t read the comments, are the two fish fillets, chopped fresh coriander, finely chopped lemongrass, minced garlic, sesame oil, a dollop of coconut cream, salt and lemon (zest and juice). Actually that’s a lie. I forgot to add the juice… idiot.
Open her up and it does look a bit like someone dropped a bottle of milk and a couple of fish fillets on a big green leaf. And in a way, that’s exactly what I did do. But it tasted great served over rice with a side of greens. Firm, fresh fish is never a loser, is it? It’s coriandery, lemony and coconuty, the three e’s. Fab. Will try again. Definitely baby friendly too. The toad never left a scrap. The little hoglet.
I’m no photographer, but there’s maybe four photos at noodlepie that I really like and this is the latest. I took it yesterday at the Banh cuon stall (no. 1006) on Ben Thanh market. It’s just one of the many spots I dropped by on a zappy tour around town with Brooklyn based hack Brett Martin this week. Brett writes for some seriously fancy
titles; Vanity Fair, The New Yorker, GQ, Esquire, Food & Wine etc. He’s in town for Bon Appetit Magazine to put together a feature about the Saigon scoffscene. We’ve been having alotta fun
eating alotta food. Respect to Brett – he got stuck straight into the streetscene, no messin’, and has ducked out on nothing thus far with three days left to go. Whenever his feature hits the newsagents, I’m sure it’ll be a riproaring
yarn. If you want a very small preview of a very small part of what’s been digested, take a peek at this photostream. I’ll add more as and when.
This is the first time I’ve eaten something new on Ben Thanh market for quite a while. I do have a misguided ambition to eat from every single stall here. However, if I’m to conquer the food hall I better get my skates on, my arse in gear and my stomach pins removed. There’s much work to be done. This is stall 1168. It serves Bun mang vit (Duck noodle soup) and this is the first time I’ve ever had it. I arrive just as they’re about to cook a fresh batch. I get the last bowl and watch as they prepare the next vat.
There’s a slab of chicken in there I swear. The soup is nothing much more than a pork stock and not as classy as a Banh canh at that. The duck is very tender and cut into mini-mouth morsels. The only real bit of mystery for me is the veggie at the top of the bowl. Dunno what that thing is, do you?
Bun mang vit comes with a side dish of banana flower, hedgerow and a sweet nuoc mam (fish sauce) dip. It’s not the most adventurous noodle soup on the block. In fact it’s pretty dull, if not totally overcast with thunder and lightning expected later.
The stallholder tells me it takes just one hour to rustle up a fresh batch. After hacking up a sheaf of spring onions and a quartered duck, she sets to work on the cooked pig’s stomach. This gets sliced into bitesized chunks before following everything else into the vat. I don’t get any stomach in my soup. I feel cheated.
A clenched right cheek to one side of the bun mang vit counter is stall 1170. She sells banh beo and she hogs one corner of the food hall. She’s massively popular.
Particularly with women. Shame I don’t really go a bundle on Banh beo.
Fruit’s great innit? It looks cool. It tastes fab, gives your intestine a decent bit of fruitcerise and helps flush out any stubborn internal cobwebs. What’s also super-top-nice about fruit in Vietnam is that the stuff’s seasonal. What with the availability of all kindsa fruit year round in the west, I wouldn’t be too surprised if there’s some study somewhere showing that British and American kids don’t actually know that fruit is seasonal. Whereas I’m fairly sure your average Vietnamese kid knows exactly when to find longans and litchis for sale.
I am British and as seasonally clueless as most of my compatriots. However, in Vietnam there’s a nifty way of finding out what’s a la mode at any given time. Take a walk down the street and see what’s on offer. If it’s on sale, it means it’s ‘in’ and it didn’t come from some Israeli kibbutz, a Californian growth hormone farm or the Windward Islands. These here grapes be in season right now and’ll set you back 12,000VD/kg.
This guy’s got a basket full of hairy, red chom chom (rambutan). You only find them during the rainy season – May to October(ish). They just recently started to appear on the streets. Binh Hoa, near Saigon, is where many of these fellas are grown. Crack open the hairy outer and there’s a sweet, white blob inside. 10,000VD/kg
Sau rieng (Durian) is the legendary stinker. Can’t quite see what all the fuss is about to be honest. It smells, but it’s really not that bad. I’m not a big fan of this gunky, creamy fruit. It’s the texture that freaks me out. However, noodlegirl is keen and so we normally buy at least one per week. It’ll cost you around 12,000VD for one from a street cart like this. The skin is a jagged bitch and I’ve cut myself more than once on one of these things.
It’s best to ask the seller to open your durian for you. They then stick the fruit meat in a polystyrene box.
The durian seller on my local market can be seen above hacking up a durian for us. She’s not taking any chances and wears something of a falconry glove to protect her paws.
On Ben Thanh market (see pic above) the durian are larger, but cost about three times the price of the street deal. Noodlegirl says the taste from the Ben Thanh babes is in another league.
The durian seller on my local market also sells the centrefold of the fruitarian galaxy, the dragonfruit. But, I guess much like many centrefold models, there’s not a lot going on inside. Under the gorgeous skin is an equally stunning night sky in negative effect – white flesh, dotted with wee black seeds – but it tastes of nothing, watery and unintersting.
Five days ago I set what was only the second competition in this blog’s lifetime. Spot the broth wasn’t easy by any stretch of the most elastic of imaginations, but the response was tremendous. I spent the best part of the last two days wading through the emails, bribes and weeding out any suspected vote riggers. Finally we have a winner… well nearly. Lifegoeson got the dish right after first coming up with three possible culprits, but didn’t get the price or the location.
Stroll the perimeter of Ben Thanh market in District 1 and you’ll find a selection of street sellers and makeshift scoffshacks. I’m here to find a goi cuon seller I spotted a few weeks back, but it seems she’s split Saigon and in her place I find this bun rieu merchant. She tells me her river crabmeat, tofu, tomato and blood noodle soup is really very ngon (delicious) and not a little dac biet (special). She’s hardly likely to tell me it’s a heap of shit, but I like the look of her stall, clean, nice display of condiments, rustic bamboo effect and tourist wet dream conehead hat.
Take a delve inside her pot and things only get better. Check out that whalloping great hunk of minced crabmeat top left and the acres of fried tofu cubes in among that thick red slurpworthy swamp. I can’t afford the sniffablog add on tool here at noodlepie, but believe me when I say the fab stench emanating from this vat will blow your nose clean off As bun rieu goes this isn’t cheap – a staggering 8,000VD to be exact. The cheapest I’ve scored in Saigon is 3,000VD. 3-4,000VD seems to be the regular price around town.
However, my limited Vietnamese vocabulary and less than ropey listening ability tells me (I think) that what ratchets up the price at this deluxe dual basket pavement level outfit is some wee dried shrimp she adds to the broth which others commonly do not. Location could also have something to do with it. Downtown prices are often double the deal in the ‘burbs. But, this is killer bun rieu, not in the literal sense – it won’t actually kill you, but in the, "Yummo, that really is a jolly fine broth" kinda way. Highly recommended, this is top soup. Oh…and well done to lifegoeson. I’ll make the next competition a real toughie.
Here we are at the butcher. One of many on Ben Thanh Market in District 1. Around 20 to be imprecise, that’s not including those flogging fowl. I’m here to snag an oxtail before ruining a perfectly good recipe back at Pieman towers. I pick my tail from the attractive selection hanging above. Only three or four of the butchers down here sell oxtail. It costs roughly 70,000VD for a kilo and is hacked up on the wooden chopping board you can just see in the snap above.
The reason I’m on an oxtail trip at the moment is because two weeks ago I dropped by the Lion Brewery for a ‘loosener’ when I spotted Oxtail soup on their menu going for 35,000VD a shout. I decided to give it a crack and found myself enjoying it immensely. I’m a big oxtail fan, but have never cooked it. Actually I can’t really cook, but I thought there was a slim chance I might just be able to do something better than the Lion Brewery. Spying tail on the market was the perfect excuse to create some kitchen chaos. On a deadly serious note, I’m hosting a dinner party in a week or so when there’ll be a disturbingly large French contingent in attendance. There’s nothing worse than the sight of an upturned French nose at the dining table. I’m hoping a dry run or two might just raise my game high enough to avoid any unsightly gallic nasal erections.
I won’t get into all the winkery-wankery of what I did with my tail as this isn’t really a cooking blog, but for the record I arsed around with this Basque Oxtail recipe, cooked it for over six hours and got the shock of my life when the thing came out the other side not just edible, but stonkingly scoffworthy. Also, on an intellectual level, I like to think of noodlepie as a pseudo east meets west, noodle meets pie, bangers ‘n’ mash meets bun mam kinda blog. So this is the not so oft seen pie bit in noodlepie, which is also a real pie from Russia by the way. For three other quality oxtail deals try Oslofoodie, hers looks well nice. Gary Rhodes has that back to traditional-Brit scoff thing going on and Delia ‘the grunt’ Smith can braise my oxtail in Guinness with Cannellini beans anytime she likes.