Saturday, April 3, 2010

Vietnamese - A House Divided

Jessica and I went to see Anthony Bourdain speak at the Paramount on Thursday. He went on and on about Vietnam and how it is one of the most amazing places on earth and how he wants to move there. Couple that with the fact that I just recently acquired a copy of Andrea Nguyen's "Into the Vietnamese Kitchen" and a couple of bottles of gluten free "Squid" brand fish sauce, and I was raring to cook some Vietnamese tonight.

I chose the following meal, based on my sense of adventure and desire to experiment and try new things:

Vietnamese charcuterie - Classic Silky Sausage (Gio Lua). Festive orange-red sticky rice (Xoi Gac). Asparagus and Shiitake Mushroom Stir-Fry (Mang Tay Xau Nam Huong). Crunchy Pickled Bean Sprout Salad (Dua Gia).

Well, this one was interesting to say the least.

The silky sausage involved making a raw chicken paste with lots of fish sauce in the food processor, rolling it in a banana leaf as though it was a cigar, then rolling that in aluminum foil, tying it, and then boiling until done. Technique wise, it was actually very similar to the French foie gras au torchon recipe I made awhile back. The sticky rice involved flavored rice steamed in a banana leaf... Since I couldn't find any gac fruit anywhere in town, I had to do the "work with what you have" American version using annatto seed and tomato paste to achieve the critical red color. The stir fry was a simple vegetable and mushroom stir fry with lots of fish sauce. The pickled bean sprouts, were, well... bean sprouts with carrots, quick pickled.

Oh did I mention there was a lot fish sauce?

So, the thing is... I happen to have a taste for Southeast Asian fish sauce. To me, fish sauce is an almost perfect example of the so called "fifth taste", umami. It is deeply savory sauce with saltiness, sweetness, and pungency. I completely understand how a smelly sauce made from slowly fermented fish carcasses could be an "acquired taste" for some people. Unfortunately, Jessica happens to be one of those people. Also, unfortunately, this tends to be a central ingredient for many of the "authentic" Vietnamese and Thai recipes that I have come across, particularly in the Anrdrea Nguyen book.

This was a meal that had our two person household deeply divided. I personally enjoyed almost every component with the exception of the sticky rice which I don't think I cooked quite correctly, though the flavors were pretty good. Everything else was awesome to my palate. As I was cooking it, though, I knew it was going to not go over so well with Jessica... She basically despised everything except the pickled bean sprouts, though was polite about it. It all came down to the fish sauce... you either love it or you hate it. I fall in camp A, Jessica in camp B.

So here's a picture of the dish I made and quite enjoyed:


And here is the picture of the alternate dish Jessica threw together when she couldn't bring herself to eat anything other the pickles in the dish I made:


Basically, I tend to be more experimental with my palate than others. Things that most people won't touch like tripe, headcheese, sweetbreads, anchovies, snails, frogs, kidneys, liver, tongue, marrow bones, etc., etc. are tasty delicacies to me. I guess that Vietnamese fish sauce also falls in that category as well.

My rating: 3.5/5. Jessica's rating: 1/5 (putting words in her mouth, but I know she'd be around there). Proceed with caution.


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