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​​​​​​​​​VIETNAMESE CUISINES

PHO

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Being a distinctive Vietnamese dish, especially to those who live in the North, Pho is available everywhere, from villages to urban cities, to be sold by street vendors or served at luxurious restaurants.

There exist various ideas as to the origin of Pho. Some researchers assume that Pho is derived from a French word pronounced as "feu" in the expression "pot au feu", which mean "casseroled beef". By this definition, Pho came into existence together with the introduction of the French casserole into Viet Nam in the early 20th century.

Along with urbanization, Pho used to be sold only in metropolitan cities like Ha Noi and Nam Dinh where it became popular among local people before spreading to other regions of Viet Nam. It is the geographic influence of different regions that has helped develop a diverse range of Pho variations such as fried Pho, red wine sauce Pho, mixed Pho, sour Pho, rolled Pho, Pho cracker (all are Pho with beef), or chicken Pho in the North, seafood Pho and dry Pho in the Central and the South.

Stock is crucial to have a delicious Pho. Stock can be made by simmering beef bones, then adding some spices like cinnamon, anise, ginger, cardamom, cloves and coriander seeds... This is the most popular recipe to which cooks process their distinctive taste and then hand down to later generations in the family.

Sharing thoughts in an interview on Nguoi Lao Dong Newspaper about the subtle blend of ingredients and spices in a bowl of Pho, French Ambassador to Viet Nam Jean Poirier said: "I love Vietnamese cuisines for their creative recipes and the perfect combination of ingredients. For instance, a delicious Pho is mainly attributed to its stock; a mixed Pho of rare and well-done beef is a harmony of many flavors".

Traditional Pho noodle is made from rice which is spread thinly and cut into strips. Pho is served with seasonings and herbs like onion leaves, pepper, coriander and lime juice or chili vinegar. A cook is successful only when he is able to blend all the ingredients from broth, noodle to meat and herb, resulting in an appetizing taste which is typical of the Vietnamese Pho.

Pho was described in one of the publications of Thach Lam, a Vietnamese writer, that good Pho should be a "classic" beef Pho with broth made from beef bone; the soup should be crystal clear and sweet; Pho noodle should be glutinous, not mushy; fatty beef should be crispy, not stiff; spices such as lime juice, chilies, onion leaves, fresh herbs and black pepper could be added altogether. The adding of some lethocerus indicus essence into Pho could make the flavor a mystery.

In 2014, Vietnamese Pho leads the world's top 40 delicious dishes that deserve a trial taste as suggested by the American Business Insider magazine.

 

FRIED SPRING ROLL

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"Nem ran" is the word spoken by the Northern people to refer to the fried spring roll while the Southern people call it "cha gio" - an entirely Vietnamese dish which originates from the North. The spring roll used to be served exclusively for Lunar New Year holidays, death anniversaries and weddings of rich people and the aristocracy. That is why the French gave the spring roll a French name that sounds quite noble "Pâté Impériale", meaning Imperial Paste.

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Today, the spring roll has become a cuisine of all Vietnamese families. It is served not only in luxurious parties but also in popular meals.

 One spring roll is composed of the following ingredients: minced shoulder pork, crushed soaked dried aromatic mushrooms, Jew's ear, finely chopped spring onions, bean sprouts, eggs, pepper, salt and some seasonings...  Just to name a few, it is included around 10 ingredients, let alone the dipping sauce which is a blend of fish sauce, sugar, lime juice, chilies and garlic. The spring roll should be served with herbs and lettuce.

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All the combined ingredients are mixed well. A moderate amount of stuffing is put in a rice sheet (called "banh trang" by the South), wrapped into rolls, dropped into pan and deep-fried in hot cook oil. The cooking heat should be set medium to keep the coat crispy and preserve the colors of the ingredients inside the spring rolls. Thin and stiff rice sheet should be used to make the spring roll tastier with a crispy coat.

The dipping sauce to be served with spring roll should be well prepared, balancing the tastes of salinity of fish sauce, the sweetness of monosodium glutamate and sugar (coconut juice can be used as a substitute for sugar), the sourness of lime juice (or vinegar), and some minced garlic and sliced chilies.

Spring rolls are served with fresh vegetables like lettuce, Lang basil, marjoram and some other herbs... "Dua Gop" is made of sliced green papay, carrot and kohlrabi pickled with vinegar and sugar.

Today, the recipe of the spring roll has been modified, using variations of ingredients like seafood, crab meat, cuttlefish, banana, raw minced pork, fish, and tofu, vegetables…, which are wrapped inside different rice sheets like "Banh Trang Re" and "Banh Trang Xop"… and served with chili sauce or sweet and sour sauce. However, these varieties are not as delicious as the traditional spring rolls.

The balanced combination of ingredients, spices and the color of spring rolls make it an amazingly tasty food. It is voted by CNN as one of the 40 best dishes in the world.

 

HUE BEEF RICE VERMICELLI

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Hue cuisines are characterized by the depth of the essence of Hue people who are living in an ancient imperial city - delicate and elegant but not extravagant. People in Hue enjoy the dishes based on such criterias as nice-presenting, good taste and reasonable price. Diners love Hue rice vermicelli because of its "Hue style", which is though poor but still noble, stylish and sophisticated in terms of flavor and art. Enjoying the dishes, diners can feel not only the delicious taste of the food but also the heart of the cook. Hue dishes reflect the characteristics of Hue people, particularly of Hue women who are widely known as gracious, devoting, meticulous and thoughtful.

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As it is called, Hue beef rice vermicelli originates from Hue. A bowl of Hue beef rice vermicelli seems simple but very refined, bringing about a full sense of the culinary art to diners.

Original Hue beef rice vermicelli must be cooked with Van Cu rice vermicelli which is produced in Van Cu village, Huong Toan commune, Huong Tra town, about 10 km from Hue to the northwest. The food's main ingredients include beef and pork leg: beef should be lean ham with sinew; pork is the lower segment of the leg. The pork is cleaned and simmered for about half an hour, then the heat is gradually reduced so that the pork is tenderly cooked. Bubbles should be completely removed in order to make the stock clear; some crushed citronella is added. While citronella gives flavors, shrimp paste gives a strong taste to the beef soup. Shrimp paste should be stirred well before separating all the residues. A sufficient amount of shrimp seasoning is needed to create light flavor and a deep taste. An insufficient amount of shrimp seasoning may make the rice vermicelli soup tasteless whereas too much will render it too strong and less flavorful.

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Hue people are famous for their sophisticated culinary art. The bowl of beef rice vermicelli looks simple but truly refined with a clear broth showing off layers of white rice vermicelli dotted with red chili on the background of vegetables, onion and scum of citronella oil. Yellowish white pieces of pork are blended with reddish brown beef and light yellow sinew. A bowl of beef rice vermicelli is often served with mixed vegetables including banana slices, green cinnamon leaves and white soy-sprouts, making the dish more charming and delicate looking.

Life is changing and the ingredient for a rice vermicelli bowl is changed as well. There appear many variations of beef rice vermicelli created by different vendors in different areas. In some areas, people modify the rice vermicelli by adding crab or pork rolls while in other places, they fry the beef or have it quickly boiled... Despite the modifications, diners are still able to recognize the typical Hue taste of the beef rice vermicelli which is simple yet truly elegant.

The cuisine follows Hue people to many regions where it may be slightly changed to suit the taste of local people. Across Hai Van Pass, diners can find a range of the dish modifications. In Da Nang, the well-known "Bun Bo Hue" (Hue beef rice vermicelli) restaurant, located in Thong Nhat street, offers bigger bowls with more beef and sinew. Elsewhere in Sai Gon, Hue beef rice vermicelli has been modified into "Pho Bun" (Pho rice vermicelli).

Today, Hue gourmets often come to Mu Rot restaurant which has been famous since the 1960s-70s to enjoy the tasty flavors of original Hue beef rice vermicelli. Mu Rot is a small restaurant without any signs, located in To Hien Thanh street behind Dieu De Pagoda.

In addition, visitors to Hue may enjoy genuine Hue beef rice vermicelli at: Hue beef rice vermicelli restaurant at 14 Ly Thuong Kiet street, Hue city; Ba Tuyet rice vermicelli restaurant at 37 Nguyen Cong Tru; Ba Tam rice vermicelli restaurant at 43 Nguyen Cong Tru; and Ba Phung rice vermicelli restaurant in Nguyen Du street, Hue city.

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