Zazulete Ynn Anuca Romanta Ion
Thanks to my beloved friend and co-blogger Uyen and her recipes, I am so lucky to try first hand, original, homemade Vietnamese dishes. This is going to be my first experience ever with both cooking and tasting Vietnamese cuisine!
This is my gift of thoughts for this special day, Uyen's birthday! Together with a few friends, we gathered to enjoy Uyen's legacy and to celebrate her. For each one of us, it was the first time to taste Vietnamese dishes, a true initiation.
Out of her recipes that you can enjoy on our blog, I conceived a meal of three courses, I cooked Pork and shrimp salad, Nem, the traditional Vietnamese crispy rolls and Traditional Vietnamese beef curry.
PORK AND SHRIMP SALAD
I followed Uyen's recipe by the book, and the result...well, you will see (better yet, you should try). I found the onion preparation unusual for our local techniques, and a revelation: you get to keep the onion crispiness, sweetness, but enjoy a much more delicate taste, by rubbing it with brown sugar, lemon, salt and pepper, as the recipe shows.
Preparing the fish sauce, for both recipes, was one of my favorite parts, there is something alive and deeply alchemical in its preparation, and ultimately, its taste. My fish sauce turned out lighter than Uyen's in her presentation photos, but I think it is a normal effect of having different qualities/sources of fish sauce, and brown sugar as well. I used lemon (being such a favorite of mine) in both recipes.
My slight deviation from the recipe for traditional Nem crispy rolls was eliminating the meat and keeping them vegetarian, since we were already supposed to enjoy pork meat in the salad. It was delightful and magical to prepare each ingredient, it almost felt like everything is alive. The result, the Nems, although deeply fried two times haha somehow kept a fresh look and feel, which was unusual and wondrous to me. I made spring rolls before, but never used the double-fry technique. They came out quite crispy, I think, I hope Uyen would be proud of me!
VIETNAMESE BEEF CURRY
I got more inventive with the curry. First of all, I chose to use beef knuckle, with bone (osso buco) and marrow. For its preparation, I first soaked it in boiling water for about 6 minutes, until foaming, skimmed the foam, then removed the knuckle from the water, cut out the meat around the bone and then put the bone with marrow back in to boil. I cut the beef into small chunks, let it cool a little and rub it all over with grounded lemongrass and salt for a while, as Uyen instructed. Since I only had dry lemongrass (which was extremely hard to find anyway), the marinade was a little dry, so I also added drops of fish sauce and soy sauce to massage the meat with the spice and the salt.
I then was a good girl and followed the recipe :) Another slight difference was the amount of coconut milk, which should have been more for the desired milky texture, since I used larger quantities of vegetables, but it still got to be so creamy, sweet and flavorful in the end.
With the bones, I made the beef stock to be added in the curry, and I also added the boiled marrow to the final mixture.
My experience: these dishes are amazing. The pork and shrimp salad was a unique, unexpected, I dare say mystical experience to me: light, summery, explosive, crunchy, so different than anything I tasted before, out of this world! As my sister said: this food is magical. The Nem was sweet, hot, crispy and I am delighted by the way rice paper and vegetables combined manage to preserve freshness and various flavors, despite the cooking process, and by their elevation with Vietnamese fish sauce. I loved the light, sweet curry, so creamy and melting in my mouth, perfectly complimented by the cilantro, all of them surprising gifts from my friend, traveling to me from a place far from home that feels so much like another home! You remember our story, we never meet and we get to know each other through the tastes of our lives, together cooking our way towards our first meeting.
What the guests say:
DIANA: Overall, the dishes were full of flavor and texture. The salad was crunchy and delicious. The Nems were easy and fun to make; they were interesting, every ingredient was noticeable, and the combination of flavors really worked. The beef curry was a revelation - soft and sweet, consistent, beautiful colors and great condiments.
ALEXANDRU: The Vietnamese soirée was superb. So was the company. We talked, we had fun, we played and everything was accompanied by exquisite food. Nem: as fun and as intricate they were to make, so was their deliciousness, standing out through a variation of textures and flavors. Beef curry: DELICIOS!!! Harmonious taste, every spice was telling a story, I felt like it synchronizes all my senses, it was something that took me out of my comfort zone, yet relaxed me at the same time, in a way that allowed me to savor the moment completely. Vietnam cooking seems to bring an additional zest of life through food.
GIACOMINA: The Vietnamese dinner, the dishes were wonderful. The shrimp and pork salad is very crunchy and fragrant. Nem are light as feathers. Beef curry with coconut milk...la pièce de résistance. Excellent! Sweet, light and spicy at the same time. Very gourmet. I loved all the dishes, it was a marvelous experience that I wish to repeat with the first occasion. Moreover, I am tempted to try new recipes myself. The cook is very skilled and devoted :D
LAVINIA: First time for me when I even saw a Vietnamese dish: The salad: So crunchy and tasty. Such unusual combination with the pork and shrimps. So veggy and surprising! It's the kind of dish I could eat every day. Nem: Nice feeling, you could see each ingredient. The curry: Well, this was the masterpiece. Creamy, soft, tasty, it gives you a sad feeling when it is disappearing from the plate. Looking forward for other surprises like this. And the friends, with this kind of people you can eat anything, you can give us an empty room and still have fun with them!
Dear Uyen, we thank you so much and we wish to you THE HAPPIEST BIRTHDAY! Happy happy birthday, my amazing, most beloved friend!
Cover photo: Thao Uyen
A melting pot experience, in more than one way. Welcome to our Epicurean adventure!