This street vendor was one of many we saw in Dalat, Vietnam, cooking this snack over a charcoal grill.
First she heated a rice paper wrapper, then broke some quail eggs on top, scrambling them with some chopped chives or scallion tops.
Next came dried shrimp, sausage slices and other seasonings including chili sauce. After everything was cooked, she folded it over, wrapped the end in scrap paper and presented it to the waiting customer.
It was fast, inexpensive ($1) and delicious.
It's too hard working on my iPhone with this so I'll update with more info and links later.
Dalat, Vietnam, is famous for its strawberries, presenting Gary and me with a dilemna.
Strawberries are one of those foods I won't eat overseas because of the water that goes into the production and cleaning the fruit. Just too much alien bacteria for my body to handle (heck, even French strawberries got me sick once.). This from a person who eats lots and lots of street food, too.
Anyway, we ended up buying a box of delightful smelling berries. We picked out one. I submerged it in a class of purified water and agitated that poor berry until all its little pips had fallen off the outside of the fruit and the water turned cloudy. We dried it off and had a taste. A bit sweet, a bit tart, but not as compelling as our in season California strawberries or those Parisan wild ones whose siren call ended up with me being sick all those years ago.
The local Dalat strawberries were also featured in a scrumptious local jam, with lots of large pieces of fruit and a nice balance of sweet and acid. I slathered the jam on my breakfast baguette every morning we were there. The rest of the fresh strawberries we gave to the helpful young woman who worked the hotel's front desk.
In every country I visited I signed up for a cooking class, looking for ones that were hands on, a bit beyond basic and with a mix of dishes familiar and unfamiliar.
In Hanoi, I had a half day class (with market tour) at Hanoi Cooking Centre. It turns out I was the only student who signed up for the Central Coast Seafood class so I got one-on-one instruction.
Here we are making lacy fried spring rolls with taro, pork and shrimp. I'll post with a recipe when I test it out with American ingredients when I get back to my kitchen.
This style of spring roll uses two types of rice wrappers -- a lacy outer and a rectangular inner.
Here the instructor is rolling one up. His hands were quicker than my camera.
These are fresh wrappers rather than dried so they needed no soaking. The rolls are fried twice but were still not greasy.
Since there were no other students and we made a lot of food, the centre invited Gary to come join me for a dinner featuring the foods I made. It was the first time he had been able to eat my cooking in weeks
Piles of ripe, unprocessed cashews in the market in Nam Cat Dien, Vietnam.
These nuts (technically seeds) grow beneath a dupe or false fruit. The false fruit falls off and the cashews are harvested, the skins and shells mechanically removed due to toxins and then the seed itself undergoes some heat treatment to get rid of the poison ivy-like chemicals (yes, even the ones sold as raw.)
In some countries the cashew apple is used as a fruit (it is astringent and can irritate some folks). In others it is fermented into a wine or made into a liquor. I saw it as a fruit in Vietnam and tasted some vile liquor made from it when I was in southern India.
Vietnam was the world's largest grower of cashews in 2012. I also show plantations of the plants with their colorful cashew apples in northern Cambodia, where they (and rubber trees) were being planted to reforest the deforested jungle and forest areas.
A note: due to Google Blogger mobile inadequacies photos aren't laid out exactly how I'd like them and you, the raeader, are used to, but once I return home I'll clean everything up.
The north of Laos has a different look and feel than the rest of the country, you definitely feel the presence of its giant neighbor, China. Its presence is felt in the look of some of the people, the food, and in the ever present signs and symbols of SinoPower, the Chinese power agency that is building hydroelectric dams throughout the area.
It was the food that concerns me here. Phongsaly had a style of restaurant I really enjoyed. Pick your protein and key vegetables from a refrigerator case and the chef, usually a woman, cooks them up for you as she desires.
We found pointing at what others were eating was a good technique for ordering and we did find that chicken, for example, was always prepared the same way.
Above is a kitchen from one of these restaurants. Once again I was amazed to see who well food can be prepared without all the conveniences of our Western modern kitchens.
Roses are the traditional symbol of love. This Valentine's Day continue the theme with this rich, dense (and gluten-free) chocolate cake featuring rose water. Brands vary in strength so you'll need to taste as you go. Rose water adds a subtle floral taste, but If it is not available the recipe works fine without it.
Chocolate Rose Berry Cake
1/2 cup butter plus extra for pan
10 oz. semi-sweet chocolate
6 eggs, divided
1 1/4 cup sugar
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1/2 cup cocoa
1 cup ground almond flour
1 cup raspberry jam
1/2 to 1 tsp. rose water
3 tbs. confectioners sugar
Whipped cream topping, optional (see below)
Raspberries for garnish, optional
Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Grease an 9" springform pan with butter. Line bottom with parchment and grease. Cut 1/2 cup butter and chocolate into pieces and melt, stirring occasionally until smooth. Separate four of the eggs and whip whites until stiff peaks form. In a separate bowl beat yolks and remaining eggs with sugar, vanilla, cocoa and almond flour until smooth. Working in batches fold in chocolate. Gently fold in egg whites in batches. Pour into pan. Bake for 35-40 minutes until top is firm and springs back to the touch. (Cake will be wet inside). Let cool in pan, remove sides, invert on plate and remove bottom of pan and paper.
Stir jam with 1/2 tsp. of rose water. Taste. Add additional as needed. Once cake is completely cool, use a serrated knife to horizontally cut in half. Spread top of bottom layer with jam, place second layer on top cut side down. Sprinkle with confectioners sugar. Spread with whipped cream topping and decorate with raspberries.
Whipped Cream Topping: Whip 1/2 pint heavy cream with 2 Tbs. sugar and 1/2 tsp. (or to taste) rose water until soft peaks form.
These racks hold drying river weed from the River Ou. All throughout Laos, women and children collect the weed from the Mekong, its tributaries and other rivers, sort it, shape, press and dry it with sesame seeds and thin slices of tomato. The dried squares are broken into sections and eaten as a snack or used with traditional Laotian fish or vegetable pastes or dips.
The texture is much like the dried seaweed snack sheets and that product would make a good substitute.
Here is a local Nong Khiew woman preparing the weed for drying.
This stew features water buffalo meat and chips of what the Laotians call "spicy wood." I think it is called mai sakahn and is a peppery tasting vine that is just for flavoring. The chips are not eaten. The stew also contained water buffalo skin and Mekong river weed.
It was strong flavored but good with lots of smoky overtones.
The availability of snack food, or processed ones in general, varies throughout Southeast Asia. But one junk food seen almost everywhere is the potato chip (called crisps in much of the world). While they have the standard salt, salt and vinegar and barbecue flavors the ones in SE Asia also feature lots of seafood seasoning such as shrimp, squid, and lobster (shown above).
Other flavors I've seen are chili, seaweed, and rosemary. Friends tell me of one in Thailand with two flavors mixed in one bag -- lobster and cheese.
Leave a comment below with any exotic chip flavors you may have spotted on your travels.
Anywhere a river runs through it, near it or within motorcycle driving distance there is freshwater fish in Southeast Asia. Often served grilled (sometimes with a salt and or herb crust) trussed in bamboo splints, it was always good. Usually the fish was wild-caught tilapia, although sometimes in stews or braises it would be wild or farmed catfish.
At many markets, the fish would swim in a pan or tank of water until it was chosen for someone's lunch or dinner. Then it would be killed, gutted and filleted as desire by the fishmonger, usually a woman sitting on the ground or a low stool with a round wooden butcher block in front of her.
This fish awaits a hungry customer in Luang Probang, Laos.
As regular readers of this blog and my Facebook feed know, we eat a lot of soup. This one was different than any other we had in Laos. For under $2 (15,000 kip), Gary got a big bowl of noodles laced with a slightly spicy red curry sauce, chicken and coconut milk. The menu at the restaurant called it Lao Noodle Soup. The restaurant had no sign out front, so if you are in Laos and want a bracing bowlful, it is right across from Wonderful Tours (which we also recommend) in Vang Vieng, a town once known for "happy shakes" that has been cleaned up and made a center for slightly adventurous tourism and natural beauty. Plus it had some of the best inner tubing I've ever done.
I keep getting press releases that announce sirarcha (chili paste sauce) with mayonnaise is the new taste sensation of 2015. While I don't disagree that sirarcha mayonnaise (or wasabi mayo or chipotle mayo) is seriously good, my new love is ketchup mixed with the chili sauce.
I first tried this as a dip for fries in Banlung, Cambodia, and I've been mixing globs of ketchup and the sauce on the side of my plate to accompany all kinds of dishes from noodles to sandwiches to fried rice since.
Sometimes I make it spicy, sometimes the chili is just a hint but the combo's sassy sweet-hot-acid taste is always a nice addition.
Try it yourself. Always practice safe condiments and don't double dip if you are sharing.
These fried dough treats are from the market in Banlung, Cambodia. The provincial and commercial capital of Ratanakiri Province, a remote region near the Vietnamese and Laotian borders with a large ethnic minority population and beautiful jungle and nature preserves, it is also where guest houses, hostels, hotels and restaurants cluster for the locals and the increasing number of foreign visitors who mostly come to trek and see a wild area before more deforestation takes place and the once mighty mahogany forest is totally replaced by cashew and rubber tree plantations.
To get back to the fritters, these are made of rice four as near as I could ascertain and covered in sugar. The ones with the sticky brown topping are frosted with palm sugar syrup, which is sweet without being cloying and has a strong taste of its own, perhaps a bit vegetal, that I found very pleasant.
Conveniently, these pastries were located right next to my favorite coffee vendor in Southeast Asia, but that's a post for another day.