Archive for the 'Central Vietnam' Category

Vegetation Profile: Winter Melon

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The winter melon (Chinese: 冬瓜; pinyin: dōngguā, Japanese 冬瓜(とうがん)tougan, also called white gourd or ash gourd, is a vine grown for its very large fruit, eaten as a vegetable. The fruit is fuzzy when young. By maturity, the fruit loses its hairs and develops a waxy coating, giving rise to the name wax gourd, and providing a long shelf life. The melon may grow as large as 1-2 meters in length. The word “melon” in the name is somewhat misleading, as the fruit is not sweet.

Originally cultivated in Southeast Asia, the winter melon is now widely grown in East Asia and South Asia as well. The shoots, tendrils, and leaves of the plant may also be eaten as greens.

I saw these lovely winter melons or bí đao at the market in Vinh Long during my trip to the Mekong Delta a month or so ago. My favorite bí đao preparation is canh bí, which consists of minced shrimp and pork in a sweet broth that is eaten with steamed rice. The soup’s color is a translucent, but brilliant orange that is a result of bloody shrimp heads.

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Pass the Chè on the Left Hand Side

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Che is evidence that with enough sugar and coconut milk, just about any characteristically savory food can be transformed into dessert. I’ve consumed a lot of che during my stay in Saigon and thought it was high time I recounted the good, the bad and the ugly.

Che Tap Cam

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A little bit of column A and a little bit of column B—that’s the gist of che tap cam. Whatever the dealer is selling, she’ll spoon in a smidgen of each. You’ll most likely receive layers of beans, jellies, tapioca, coconut milk, shaved ice and more beans. This tall glass came from Che My in District 1.

Che Dau Hu

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My current favorite! The Astronomer and I each had a bowl of che dau hu for dessert today—his with coconut milk and mine without. I love che dau hu because its spicy, sweet and maybe even a little healthy. This pretty bowl was from our visit to Hoi An.

Che Troi Nuoc

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I was obsessed with che troi nuoc when I first arrived in Saigon. The tapioca orb is filled with mung bean paste and served soaked in coconut milk with a sprinkling of toasted sesame seeds. Too chewy for The Astronomer, the texture is lovely in my eyes. Each individual ball goes for 1,000-2,000 VND. The dealer up top sold this bowl to me at her shed in District 1.

By the way, while I was enjoying my che, The Astronomer spied a huge rat scurrying under me! I didn’t see the rodent, but The Astronomer reported that it was a big one and inches away from touching my feet.

Che Bap

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I ordered The Astronomer a bowl of che bap (corn) while I had the che troi nuoc. Although corn is one of his favorite vegetables, he was not much of a che bap fan. My grandma makes this che often for my grandpa, but never employs coconut milk. I may have to give Saigon che dealers a citation for coconut milk abuse.

Che Chuoi

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After I finished the che troi nuoc, I still wasn’t ready to give up my stool at the che shed. I ordered a bowl of che chuoi, which consisted of caramelized bananas, sesame seeds, tiny tapioca peals, salt and coconut milk. Sweet plus salty equals magic.

Che Thach Dau Xanh

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Also from Che My, this tall glass is filled with mung bean paste (dau xanh) and Vietnamese Jello (thach). Not much to say about it except that it was simple, straightforward and good. Without the thach and shaved ice, the che’s texture would have been reminiscent of mashed potatoes and gravy.

Che Buoi

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Easily the most disappointing che I’ve consumed in Vietnam. With a name like che buoi, I was expecting some sort of pomelo and citrus creation. Instead I received a cup of boring featuring layers upon layers of more boring topped with peanuts.

Che Troi Nuoc Mang

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This was my first bowl of che in Vietnam. The che troi nuoc mang was part of a set lunch from a very pretty restaurant in District 1 called Sen. Unlike the the che troi nuoc above, this one was filled with a savory mung bean paste and a bit of meat. The tapioca spheres sat in a clear, sweet, ginger broth. An interesting departure from the original, but I prefer the sweet version.

Che Dau Tran

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Although it’s difficult to make out from the picture, this che features black eyed peas and glutinous rice. The usual suspects (coconut milk and tapioca pearls) are also present. I bought this bowl of che dau trang from an alleyway dealer in District 4. Perhaps the most pudding-like che, its mushy texture is a treat. Trust me.

Thạch

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This my friends, is what I call Vietnamese Jello. The technical name is thạch, which doesn’t quite roll off the tongue like J-E-L-L-O. It’s a light dessert made of water, sugar, agar and a variety of flavorings including coconut milk, coffee and pandan leaves.

This particular version was made by the Golden Sea Hotel (a fantastic place to stay if you’re ever in Da Nang). The thạch was served at the hotel’s sumptuous breakfast buffet, which was prepared each morning for guests. What’s most notable about the Golden Sea’s thạch is the number of layers it contains—eight!

My Aunt Phuong and I made some thạch this past summer and encountered difficulty with the layers not adhering properly due to poor timing. Since we had trouble working with only three layers, I was quite impressed with the hotel’s eight layer execution.

Look at those beautiful layers—the white ones are coconut, the lime green one is pandan, the tan ones are condensed milk and coffee, the dark brown one is plain coffee and the orange one is gac fruit (I think). Eaten together, I find it impossible to differentiate between each individual flavor; it just tastes sweet, refreshing and gelatin-y!

Mì Quảng

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November 2, 2007
Cuisine: Vietnamese

1A Hai Phong Street
Da Nang, Vietnam

Phone: 0511827936
Website: none

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Mi Quang Thit (11,000 VND)

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Mi Quang Tom (11,000 VND)

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Mi Quang Ga (15,000 VND)

Mi quang is to Da Nang as deep-dish pizza is to Chicago.

If the SAT’s had more analogies like the one above, I would have scored much higher than 1170. Somehow, even with the boring analogies, The Astronomer managed to score a cool 1570. Genius!

The Astronomer and I were only in Da Nang for a day the other week, but we made sure to pencil in a little mi quang action. We dined at Mi Quang 1A based on a recommendation from our friend Cathy before catching our flight back to Saigon. The restaurant was large, lit in fluorescent lights and laid-back. Pajamas? Check. Kung Fu movie? Check.

The eatery offers three different types of mi quang—shrimp, pork, and chicken. We ordered a bowl of each; I had the shrimp, while The Astronomer went for a bowl of pork and a bowl of chicken.

I’ve covered the ins and outs of this dish before and was really impressed with 1A’s execution. Even though they replaced my beloved sesame cracker with a shrimp chip, the mi quang tom was a fabulous bowl of noodles. Whereas the mi quang in Saigon and San Diego contain a plethora of meats mixed together, 1A compartmentalizes each one. However, the broth is the same regardless of the meat of choice.

This was The Astronomer’s first time sampling the classic Da Nang dish and he had a look of utter bliss on his face as he polished off his two bowls. He commented that the broth was perfectly subtle and yet flavorful, kind of like Hue’s com hen dish. He preferred the pork rendition over the chicken because bones are difficult to deal with in a noodle soup.

Since our return home to Saigon, The Astronomer has eaten a number of bowls of mi quang from a few different establishments to see how they measure up to Da Nang’s. Thus far, he has yet to encounter a product as fine as Mi Quang 1A’s.

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Vegetation Profile: Bitter Melon

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Momordica charantia is a tropical and subtropical vine of the family Cucurbitaceae, widely grown for edible fruit, which is among the most bitter of all vegetables. English names for the plant and its fruit include bitter melon or bitter gourd (translated from Chinese: 苦瓜; pinyin: kǔguā), in Jamaica it is generally known as cerasse. The original home of the species is not known, other than that it is a native of the tropics. It is widely grown in South and Southeast Asia, China, Africa, and the Caribbean.

The fruit has a distinct warty looking exterior and an oblong shape. It is hollow in cross-section, with a relatively thin layer of flesh surrounding a central seed cavity filled with large flat seeds and pith. Bitter melon comes in a variety of shapes and sizes. The typical Chinese phenotype is 20 to 30 cm long, oblong with bluntly tapering ends and pale green in color, with a gently undulating, warty surface.

Bitter melon or khổ qua is a staple in down home Vietnamese cooking. I have encountered it stuffed with ground meat at com binh dan establishments and simmered in a soup at my grandma’s sister’s house. I’ve even seen it stuffed with meat and simmering in a soup simultaneously. Regardless of the style of preparation, bitter melon seems to be an acquired taste that just doesn’t vibe well with me. The melon’s texture is pleasant, but its flavor is way too harsh.