Yummy Yum from Around the World

Be it a quick sandwich, a yummy soup, a vegetarian lunch or an artfully prepared elaborate King’s meal, Ha’s home cuisine seems to have it all. From rice and noodles to stir fry and sandwich, this cuisine would undoubtedly be one of the lightest, tastiest and, of course, healthiest cuisines in the world. Welcome to the world of Vietnamese cuisine!! The short chat I had with Ha Cao (OA) about her home cuisine was an interesting journey into the culture and life of this country and its people.

Vietnamese cuisine, now very popular in the United States too, is famous for its fresh flavors and artfully created meals. Influenced by French and Southern Chinese cuisines, Vietnamese cuisine is mainly divided into three categories – northern, southern and central. As Ha puts it, the northern cuisine is more traditional and less diverse in using spices. Southern cuisine has Chinese and Thai influence and uses a lot of seafood and is known for its sweet taste. Central Vietnamese cuisine seemed most interesting. Known for its very elaborate cooking techniques and dishes, central Vietnam once catered to the Kings and Queens of the country. This cuisine is therefore known for its focus on quality and quantity, with every meal including several dishes served in small portions.

Rice is the staple diet of Vietnam and is even used to make noodles. Other main ingredients include chicken, pork, beef, seafood and vegetables. Vietnamese cuisine is known to use a lot of different varieties of herbs, including lemongrass, mint, coriander and basil. Seasonings such as fish sauce, nuoc mam and soy sauce are widely used too, with fish sauce being almost as much a part of the cuisine as rice itself. Typical cooking techniques in Vietnam are boiling, steaming and frying, and a typical Vietnamese meal would include meat and vegetables eaten with rice and a Vietnamese-style soup.

Also interesting to know was the Vietnamese fondness for their sandwiches. Considered part of the French influence, Ha says sandwiches are very popular in Vietnam and claims that the Vietnamese sandwiches are one of the tastiest and healthiest meal options. A Vietnamese sandwich is usually a French baguette with Vietnamese filling, which could be anything from their famous tofu and Vietnamese salami, to grilled beef or even fresh herbs and vegetables. Also interesting was the Vietnamese love for late-night snacking, or “night eating,” as Ha calls it. She explains it to be a very popular night activity with natives choosing street vendors for a late-night/after-party snack.

Ha says the Vietnamese are a very meticulous people and put a lot of effort into their cooking, right from the cutting and chopping. She claims that to make the dishes perfectly, one needs to put one’s heart into it. Ha has, over the years, developed her own easy-to-make versions of these famous dishes and was happy to share with us her favorite recipe
– Bun Bo Nam Bo.

Bun Bo Nam Bo
(Stir-fried Beef Noodles)

1 lb of rice vermicelli
1 ¬ lb of rump steak
1 clove of garlic
1 large cucumber, peeled, sliced thin
8 romaine lettuce leaves, sliced thin
2 carrots, peeled, sliced thin
4 oz peanut
Mixed fish sauce (1 cup cold water, 4 tbs sugar, 1 lime, fish sauce)

Bring a large saucepan of water to a boil. Add vermicelli, boil 5 min. Drain. Slice steak thinly. In a wok, heat a small amount of oil. Add garlic and beef. Season with salt & pepper. Set aside.

Bring all ingredients to the table. Allow each diner to arrange vermicelli in a bowl, top with stir-fried beef, cucumbers, carrots, lettuce, cilantro and peanuts. Pour 1 small bowl of mixed fish sauce over vermicelli and serve.

Thank you, Ha, for sharing the stories of a wonderful cuisine. True to the nature of your cuisine, this journey too has been truly fresh and flavorful.

From Vietnam, we take off again. Not to a new destination, but to bring you the very best of all the cuisines we tasted and explored. The delicious and the delectable, the exotic and the bizarre. We go back to the many countries we visited, the many dishes we tasted, the many people we met and their many experiences we shared. But this time as we say Hello, we say Goodbye too. To the beginning of a season of farewells and goodbyes, yummy yum joins in too. Join us soon from around the world for our last feature of “Yummy Yum from Around the World”!!!

Niranjana Neelakantan Gupta is an EC Partner. A home-maker, Niranjana is enjoying exploring the cuisines of the world and introducing friends and family to some of the yummiest dishes from across the globe.