Friday, February 19th, 2010

Fresh herbs, dill, coriander, mint, lemon mint, lemon grass lie alongside, smaller trays of galangal and turmeric and ginger – smaller, softer and much more tasty and hot than we get at home.  Next are vegetables; kolrabi, morning glory, carrot, spring onion, tarot, cassava, green beans,  fruits; small sweet oranges, limes, exotic red dragon fruit, pomelos and papaya and mango, which are sold and eaten both sweet and unripe.  There are mounds of tamarind and bunches of arecas, which yields a kind of gum which is mixed with betel leaf and tobacco and chewed.   

In the next aisle are the fish, eels, tiger fish, catfish swimming in aerated bowls and crayfish and shrimps in iced water.  

Chickens are packed together in crates.  Meat is delivered fresh to the market on the hoof.   There are no abattoirs. Pigs are transported trussed up being transported in bamboo cages.     

Vietnam has solved the problem of food transport and storage by picking fruit and vegetables fresh and transporting meat and fish live to the market.  Few have fridges or freezers.  People go to the market every day to buy the food they need for that day.  There are some supermarkets, but these are used by the affluent to buy expensive foreign produce which can be stored.  It’s a completely different concept, but one that is more healthy. 

People buy only the food they need.  They decide the portion size.  There is no inducement to buy and eat food in excess.  People eat a lot of vegetables and fruit, which are cheap and tasty.  There are no additives, fruit does not need to be transported unripe, nd it is eaten before it can degrade.  And because people prepare and cook their own food, they are more in tune with their own needs and engage with their own nutrition.

‘When I got married, we lived in a room seven metres square.  I brought up my family there.  We had owned the whole house.  We were from a noble family, but after the revolution, we had to share our house with seven other families.  I could not run a restaurant then.  The government didn’t allow it.  I could not make any money or grow anything for myself.  Everything had to be shared.  If I killed a chicken, it had to be cut up and shared with everybody.  If I tried to keep it for myself, my neighbours would report me to the police station and I would be in court accused of behaviour against the revolution.  

Nobody had any money up to 1990.  The government issued everybody coupons and we used these to buy food, clothes and anything else the government thought we needed. We were not allowed to wear anything that was fashionable or any way ostentatious.  We just had to work for the state and our fellow citizens.  That was the communist system.  If we didn’t keep our house and our street clean we would be reported to the authorities.  We could not travel anywhere, we could not own anything for ourselves, we could not even get the ingredients to make our food taste good.  That would be considered selfish. 

Then in 1990 the soviet system collapsed and overnight things changed.  I still remembered the recipes, my grandmother taught me.  I could cook.  I knew how to run a business.  So I opened a restaurant.  It has done well. 

I cook Vietnamese food the old way, mixing the earth food – the spices, garlic, tumeric and ginger (the yang) with the water food like fish (the yin), keeping everything in balance, never having too much of any one ingredient.  We knew nothing about vitamins and minerals then, but we understood which foods had medicinal properties and we knew the importance of a varied mixed diet.  It was in our tradition.’


Mme Tuyet’s lunch. 

Fresh ginger tea.

Spring Rolls

       Chop up Kolrabi, onion, carrot, cat’s ear mushroom, wheat (or rice noodles) mix with chopped  up shoulder of pork, add generous pinch of stock and pepper.  Get a circle of rice paper, moisten with egg mixture,  fold in the sides and place a small knub of  the mixture at one end. Roll up – not too tightly, fold in the sides and continue to roll sealing the end with egg.  Deep fry on a gentle heat until golden brown. 

Papaya Salad.

       Chop carrot, green papaya and banana flowers ( rinsed in lime juice to prevent oxidation) into small strips.  Add sugar and rice vinegar, salt, torn leaves of mint, lemon mint and coriander, chopped garlic and chilli.  Add chopped peanuts to garnish.

Steamed fish with five tastes.

      Prepare fillets of snake catfish (or any other fresh water fish), cut into cubes.  Chop turmeric, ginger, and cats ear mushroom, place in a small bowl with salt, black pepper, lime juice and black soya sauce, add a spoon of oil and the cubes of fish.  Tear up dill and place on to the top.  Steam for five minutes.

Green tea prepared with lotus flowers.


Then wash hands in a bowl of water with slices of lime and coriander seed heads.   


A perfect meal.