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Yes, yes kimchi is amazing, but did you know that there are other funky foods out there for the eating?
By
Tammi Kwok

14 May 2018 - 10:57 AM  UPDATED 17 May 2018 - 11:33 AM

Shrimp paste (虾酱)

Not to be confused with belacan (see below), this shrimp paste (har cheong) is used more widely in Chinese cuisine and ranges from a purplish lilac colour to a light muddy brown. Either way, it provides a funky way to salt your poultry and is used in the ubiquitous "prawn paste chicken (har cheong kai)" that you can find in practically every Southeast Asian "sze char" hawker stall. 

Natto

This Japanese breakfast food is polarising - even to the Japanese! Soybeans are fermented, resulting in al-dente beans covered in a slimy film. Eaten with rice, this dish is touted to have many health benefits, but the taste is best described as well, acquired. Give it a try and let us know your thoughts! Find it in the frozen section of your local Japanese grocer. 

Why Japan’s ancient natto could be a key to a healthy life
It's not the prettiest dish, but natto has some powerful health benefits.

Salted mustard greens (do chua)

Every culture has their pickles, but this Vietnamese version ferments mustard greens, lotus roots, bamboo shoots and various other crunchy vegetables for just a week to create a salty-sour accompaniment to other meals. 

Vietnamese pickled vegetables (do chua)

You're just a week away from sour-salty-sweet pickles with your meal! 

Fermented bean curd

Also known as "fuyu" and "namyue", this Chinese fermented tofu is so versatile, it's used as both a condiment and seasoning! Blocks of tofu are fermented in salt and rice wine, and these cubes then break down in a salty, umami-laden paste that can be eaten in smears (like Vegemite!) with your congee, or rubbed all over your poultry and pork to brine it before roasting. You pick. Either way, the results are delicious! 

Vegetarian feast (Buddha’s feast)

This vegetarian dish is traditionally served on the first day of the Chinese New Year. The inclusion of red fermented bean curd lends a salty, pungent flavour to the sauce. This ingredient is available from Asian food shops.

Roasted duck in fermented bean curd (vit nuong chao)

Crispy on the outside, succulent on the inside. Luke Nguyen's recipe for charcoal roasted duck Vietnamese-style will have you wanting more.

Fish sauce

This amber liquid is to the Vietnamese what soy sauce is to the Chinese. Fish is coated in salt, and left to ferment, creating this salty, if a little funky, seasoning powerhouse. Other Asian cuisines have come to appreciate its unique aroma too - Indonesian, Malaysian and Korean recipes have been known to use fish sauce to give the food a tangy edge. 

Đừng để nước mắm truyền thống phải lui vào bóng tối
Mud crab in tamarind and chilli sauce

Crab - the only dinner showstopper you can cook in 30 minutes or less!

Lombok spicy fried chicen (ayam taliwang )

 Deep-fried chicken lollipops get coated in a moreish spicy sauce. 

Vegetarian tofu and vermicelli (ketoprak)

Move over, satay! Ketoprak also features a beautiful peanut sauce, with accompaniments like tofu and egg!

Fried whole barramundi with green papaya salad

Serve a whole fried fish as part of a dinner centrepiece, or replace with firm white fish fillets for individual serves. 

Wok-tossed snakebeans in oyster sauce

The high heat of the wok is a fantastic and quick way to preserve the crunch and subtle flavour of crisp vegetables like snake beans. 

Fermented bean sauce 

To call this an ingredient is quite misleading: it's really more like a category of ingredients. In different parts of China, a variety of beans - broad beans, soy beans, black beans - have been fermented (usually with rice and salt in deep earthenware vats) to create a sauce/paste that, like the fermented bean curd, is used as both ingredient and condiment. This practice has permeated different Asian cultures as well - the Korean doenjang and Japanese miso also came from the same fermented ancestor! 

Vegetables stuffed with fish paste (yong tau foo)

This Southeast Asian delicacy features various vegetables stuffed with fish paste, steamed, and then fried and topped with a thick yellow bean sauce. 

Sichuan twice-cooked pork (hui guo rou)

Traditionally, the recipe calls for tender Chinese leeks, but you can use red and green capsicums as well. 

Pork and cucumber noodle salad

Quick, delicious and easy to prepare, it's sure to become a midweek favourite.

Spicy pork noodles (Beijing zha jiang mian)

Stir-fried pork in a rich sauce is the highlight of this classic dish. 

 

Rice wine

Where there is starch, there will be alcohol! Rice-based cultures - Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Vietnamese, Thai etc - have been making rice wine for centuries, and the resulting product is enjoyed both as a drink, and as a way to add another layer to their stir-fries and stews. Many Chinese-descended families still make their own rice wine: glutinous rice is fermented in a cool dark place to make the essential ingredient in a chicken dish that is served as a tonic to mothers who have recently given birth.

Dashi-poached beef with rice (gyudon)

“It’s no wonder this warming combination of dashi, soy sauce, sake, ginger and beef is a popular lunchtime snack in Japan. Gyudon is true to its name – gyu means beef and don, short for donburi, means rice bowl dish - and takes just minutes to prepare. Don't be fooled, though, this dish is full of flavour!” Ainsley Harriott, Ainsley Harriott’s Street Food

Red-cooked pork pot pies

These are East-meets-West pot pie love babies. The pie crust hides finely sliced scallions [spring onions] and a touch of Shaoxing rice wine in its flakes, which results in the best pie crust I have maybe ever made.

Watermelon soju punch

At Ho Lee Fook, we serve this as a drink for one in baby hollowed-out watermelons. Here, we’ve scaled up the recipe to serve for a large gathering. We prefer to use Korean soju, but you can also use sake – something neutral, such as Tokubetsu. For the ginger liqueur, we use The King's Ginger.

Deep-fried shaoxing chicken

Chickens pecking about the countryside is a common sight in China, and their free-range flavour is coveted by home cooks and restaurant kitchens alike. Darker cuts of chicken and cooking on the bone are favoured in Chinese cuisine – the bone imparts great flavour and the flesh remains succulent. The jiao liu (deep-fried) style of cooking is popular in Cantonese-speaking regions, and these crispy, bite-sized chicken pieces are delicious. Seasoned with a sprinkling of fresh ginger and finely sliced spring onions, with sizzling sesame oil poured over the top, the chicken is marinated in shaoxing wine prior to cooking.

Lotus root in soy broth (renkon no netsuke)

The soy broth or renkon no netsuke is made from dashi stock and dried fish like bonito flakes to form a sea flavoured stock. You can find lotus root, sake and mirin from Asian food shops.

Belacan

The cornerstone of many Southeast Asian dishes, this brick of funk signals to all your neighbours down the street that you're cooking something savoury and delicious. The texture ranges from fudge-paste to powder-dry, but the convention is that you always toast it (charcoal preferred, but a dry pan is okay, too) before using to bring out the depth of flavour. A pinch of this elevates everything from stir-fried veggies, to laksa and especially your sambal! You do have a bottle of sambal at every dinner table, don't you? 

Sambal belachan is very useful to have around because you can create a huge amount of instant flavour by adding it to noodle, soup or rice dishes. Make your own and then serve it in Poh Ling Yeow's nasi lemak recipe here.

East Javanese beef soup (rawon nguling)

A hearty beef soup made rich with keluak paste. 

Baccala mantecato (salt cod paste)

This creamy, salty spread is enjoyed over special holidays in Italy, such as Easter or Christmas. It's labour and time intensive, but the deep, rustic flavours you get at the end are worth it. Serve baccala mantecato with a good crusty bread, crackers, crostini or vegetables. 

Spiced barramundi in banana leaf with pickled radish

Cooking whole fish that has been rubbed in a spice paste is very traditional around all of Africa. My spice paste is very floral from the lemongrass, rich from the coconut and has a slight chilli kick.

Think you know laksa? Think again.
A slurp-worthy staple across Southeast Asia, laksa isn’t some one-size-fits-all dish. Each region is known for their special twist, be it the coconut-y richness of curry laksa, the tamarind tang of assam or the spaghetti and sambal belacan found in laksa johor.
Belacan sambal

Belacan sambal is traditionally a condiment but can also be used as a ready-made sauce to stir through seafood or served on the side of fish curries. It can also be eaten with plain rice.

Katsuobushi

Made by a long process of smoking and drying (in caves!) skipjack tuna or bonito, this petrified block of fish is usually sold shaved into feathery light petals of fishy goodness. More commonly seen as a garnish on Japanese dishes like Okonomiyaki, takoyaki, and yakisoba, these terracotta-hued flakes are also used in making dashi - the essential Japanese stock used for cooking everything from udon to pork belly stews

Pork belly udon soup

The essence of udon soup is a delicately flavoured dashi broth with chewy, slippery noodles.

Dashi-poached beef with rice (gyudon)

“It’s no wonder this warming combination of dashi, soy sauce, sake, ginger and beef is a popular lunchtime snack in Japan. Gyudon is true to its name – gyu means beef and don, short for donburi, means rice bowl dish - and takes just minutes to prepare. Don't be fooled, though, this dish is full of flavour!” Ainsley Harriott, Ainsley Harriott’s Street Food

Dashi stock (ichiban dashi)

Ichiban dashi translates literally to “first stock” and it is one of the most fundamental components of Japanese cuisine. It is incredibly versatile and often used for soups, stews and simmering liquids.

Cold udon noodles with sesame chicken (bukkake udon)

Noodles are a quintessential ingredient in Japanese cuisine and during the country’s hot and humid summers, steaming bowls of noodles are swapped for cold noodle dishes with dipping sauces. Here, a dashi sauce is poured over cold noodles and topped with fresh ingredients.

Nagasaki-style red-braised pork belly (buta kakuni)

Kakuni is a recipe that originated in Japan’s south, and is related to red-braised Chinese pork dishes such as dong-po pork. The Japanese version is lightly seasoned but sweet and gelatinous, and its rich flavours benefit from being offset with the sharpness of mustard, sliced leeks or chilli threads.

Luke Nguyen's Food Trail airs 8pm, Thursdays on SBS and then you can catch-up on SBS On Demand. Visit the program page for recipes, videos and more.