Practice makes perfect
When it comes to honing your Vietnamese cooking skills, Geoff Lindsay says hands-on learning is the way to go. “Travel to Vietnam, eat, ask questions and go on a guided food or market tour. When you return buy Tracey Lister’s wonderful cookbooks on Vietnamese food and go shopping in your local Vietnamese community. And cook!”
You can find a trio of Tracey’s recipes here.
“The five key spices are cassia bark – not cinnamon as is often incorrectly translated – black cardamom, star anise, clove, coriander seeds. These are the key spices in pho and represent the five fundamental taste and senses or ngũ vị: spicy (metal), sour (wood), bitter (fire), salty (water) and sweet (earth).”
“Herbs are by far the most revered and essential ingredients in Vietnamese cuisine,” says Geoff. “The amount of herbs served and offered by a Vietnamese chef are a direct indication for the level of respected and love for the diner.” So if you cook for those you love, herbs should be aplenty!
Making this Vietnamese coconut pancake can be tricky as you have to spread the mixture around the wok before it sets. Practice, but even if it doesn’t come out perfect the first time, it will still taste delicious.
Bánh xèo is a Saigon-style party pancake. It’s a festive dish, with lots of different fillings. The pancake is large and shared. You break off a piece of the pancake with its filling, wrap it in some lettuce with some fragrant herbs and dip it in nước chấm. It's so named for the sizzling sound it makes when the pancake batter hits the wok - "sssow".
This phở is a combination of many tips from family and friends. I use gravy beef – my dad’s touch – for sweetness. The shrimp paste and lemongrass are the X-factor additions, and the red dates and daikon reflect my Chinese heritage, and also enhance the soup’s sweetness.
Phở varies dramatically from the north of Vietnam to the south. Every family and every street vendor has a unique understanding of what phở should taste like, what it should be garnished with and how it should be eaten. There is no right or wrong.