I’m writing this months’ recipe on a train whilst travelling in Vietnam. We are swinging along, jammed into Vietnamese sized seats, elbows tucked in. There’s a telly belting out a Vietnamese drama and the carriage is full of different nationalities. It’s also pretty cold due to full on air conditioning, which is quite a contrast to the outside temperature — I’m wearing a jumper for the first time since I arrived.
The landscape is varied, part jungle and misty mountains, part paddy fields and fields of veggies. It’s similar to Ireland in that it’s very green but there’s not a cow in sight. The reason it’s green is probably because it rains a lot. We have been in thick cloud since we arrived and every now and then the skies open up. What puzzles me is the fact that Malaysia is the same this time of the year, but in between, where Thailand sits, the sun is shining. I obviously need to do more research!
The people are very friendly. They are also very small and I feel a bit like a giant whereas at home I think I’m pretty average.
We began our trip in Ho Chi Min City, which everyone still seems to call Saigon. It’s a big busy city. Lots of highrise buildings sandwiching old houses. More insane traffic but this time the traffic is mainly scooters. Zillions of them. Crossing the road is quite an art but we are getting the hang of it. Basically no one really wants to run you over and they are masters of avoidance so you just take a deep breath and launch yourself into the traffic and hope no ones driving the wrong way because you can’t look in two directions at once!
We came here to investigate the food and so far have not been disappointed. Everything is very fresh and although quite a lot is fried it’s wrapped in salad leaves to eat. There are lots of rice paper spring rolls and oodles of noodles and rice. Noodles are the breakfast of choice served by street vendors everywhere. In fact noodles are served all day long in various guises.
We travelled from Saigon to Hue. I had this notion that we would take the train but when we mentioned this to a Vietnamese lady she was horrified. She said the train was filthy and took fifteen hours and that it was also cheaper to fly so we took the plane, which means that there’s another tree to plant when we get home.
We fell in love with Hue. It was smaller and therefore much easier to negotiate and we stayed at the sweetest guesthouse where the people couldn’t do enough for you.
Yesterday they took us to the market to buy ingredients to make a ‘family lunch’, which they then showed us how to make. We all cooked together in the miniscule kitchen where Con and I were nearly decapitated several times by the cooker hood. The resulting dishes were delicious. We made Nem – Vietnamese spring rolls, vegetarian noodle soup, prawns with tamarind sauce and morning glory with garlic and ginger.
Here’s the recipe for noodle soup. I’ve adapted it a little bit to use ingredients easily available in Ireland.
Vegetable Noodle Soup Serves 4-5
300g rice noodle sticks
200g fresh pineapple
1.5 litres vegetable stock
250g mixed mushrooms
4 stems lemongrass
2-3 shallots or 1 red onion
half tsp ground black pepper
Nam choc – Vietnamese fish sauce or use Thai fish sauce
Mixed salad leaves, fresh chillies and limes to serve
Soak the noodles in warm water for five minutes then drain and set aside.
Remove the skin from the pineapple and cut into thin slices. Cut the tomato into small chunks.
Tidy up the lemongrass and bash two of the stems with a rolling pin or something similar.
Put the pineapple, tomato and bashed lemongrass into a saucepan together with the vegetable stock and bring to the boil. Turn the heat down and simmer for about 20 minutes
Cut 350g tofu into 1cm slices. Heat about 1cm of vegetable oil into a frying pan and gently slip in the tofu. Fry on a medium heat for 4-5 minutes then carefully turn it over and cook the otherside until golden.
Remove from the pan and put aside.
Peel and chop the shallots or red onion, 2-3 fresh chillies and finely chop the remaining stems of lemongrass.
Heat a small frying pan then add a little oil – enough to barely cover the bottom of the pan and fry the onion/shallots, chillies and lemongrass gently for a few minutes to soften. Tip them into the soup.
Sort out the mushrooms and chop them into medium sized pieces. Fry in a little oil for a few minutes then add to the soup.
Chop all of the tofu, fresh and fried into 2cm pieces and add to the soup.
Season with 1tsp sugar, half tsp ground black pepper about 1 tbs fish sauce. Taste and add a little more fish sauce if you think you need it.
Bring a large pot of water to the boil and dunk the drained noodles in for 30 seconds. Drain and divide between 4-5 bowls.
Ladle the soup over the noodles and serve with mixed baby salad leaves, sliced chilli and lime wedges
Our spring cooking class programme begins in February. The classes cost €95 including recipes, tastings and a large lunch.
If you are interested or would like to book a class pop into our shop, Lettercollum Kitchen Project, 22 Connolly Street Clonakilty to see us or drop us an firstname.lastname@example.org.