3 Noodle Dishes from Vietnam Not to Miss

Chris Dwyer wrote . . . . . . . . .

“People are put on earth for various purposes; I was put on earth to do this. Eat noodles right here,” said the late, great Anthony Bourdain while slurping down a bowl of noodles in Vietnam.

The irreverent chef made dining on noodles, preferably while perched on a low plastic stool on the street, into a rite of passage for any self-respecting visitor to the Southeast Asian nation.

While in Hanoi, he famously took then-US president Barack Obama for a bowl of bun cha – chargrilled pork patties with vermicelli noodles, vibrant greens and a bowl of chilli, lime and fish sauce for dipping.

Bun cha is rightly famous, but is only one of hundreds, if not thousands, of different noodle dishes eaten around a country that today has a population of around 100 million.

While noodle dishes such as pho, bun cha and bun bo hue are must-eat dishes when visiting Vietnam, it pays to also seek out lesser-known but equally thrilling bowls that are specific to certain towns and cities.

Our noodle journey through Vietnam starts in Hanoi with bun ca – not to be confused with bun cha. Bun means “rice noodle” and ca is “fish”, but that’s not all there is to this stellar local favourite.

Like many Vietnamese soups, the deep, sophisticated bun ca broth is made by simmering pork bones for a long time. After this, ingredients are added to the mix including tomatoes, wine vinegar and fresh dill. They impart light and fresh herbal notes and acidity to a dish which beautifully combines sweet and sour.

Toppings can include crunchy fried catfish or bouncy fishcakes, along with mounds of fresh herbs like coriander and basil.

Among the best bun ca vendors in Hanoi is Bun Ca Huong Thuy, which is well-known for its generous serving of fish in every bowl, as well as toppings including crunchy taro stems and even fish stomach.

Despite bun ca’s ubiquity in Hanoi, Vietnamese-American chef Peter Cuong Franklin, who is chef-patron at the award-winning Ho Chi Minh City restaurant Anan Saigon, prefers a take on the dish found on the coast in southern Vietnam.

“I think the best version of this dish comes from Nha Trang, where it is fully loaded with all the bounty of the sea: a variety of fishcakes, fried fish and fish balls, large chunks of fresh tuna and the wonderful bouncy texture of really fresh jellyfish,” he says.

Marcus Meek, executive chef at five-star hotel Capella Hanoi, recommends two other local Hanoi noodle dishes.

“Bun ngan are noodles with duck in a broth that is aromatic and light, very well-balanced with a clean finish. Then there’s bun oc, noodle soup with snails; a local classic,” he says.

“The broth has an intriguing profile, with intense flavours coming from the Vietnamese herbs, the snails which are poached in it, and a very interesting aftertaste of aniseed.”

Another worthy noodle destination is Hoi An, the beguiling merchant town that has become one of central Vietnam’s biggest tourist draws thanks to the atmospheric, lantern-filled laneways, waterways, ancient bridges and temples of its well-preserved old town.

Hoi An’s fantastic cao lau noodles tick all the flavour boxes when it comes to Vietnamese cuisine; they’re sweet, sour, salty, spicy and bitter.

At Quan Cao Lau Thanh, a restaurant in the city, you’d be forgiven for thinking upon first bite that the thick noodles were Japanese udon. The similarity makes sense considering the city’s history.

Back in the 17th century, Japanese silver traders were some of Hoi An’s most important merchant visitors, and they brought their knowledge of noodles with them.

While Japanese udon are made from wheat, the thick strands of cao lau noodles are made from rice. According to tradition, these rice noodles can only truly be called cao lau if they are made with water from Ba Le, a local well.

The noodles are then mixed with turmeric and lye from ash trees that grow on the nearby Cham Islands, about 20km (12 miles) east of Hoi An, resulting in their faintly golden-orange tinge and chewy texture.

What helps make cao lau such a brilliant dish is the layering of all the ingredients: a soup base of slow-simmered pork bones with notes of star anise and cinnamon, five spice pork that has been steeped in soy sauce and fish sauce, a verdant tangle of basil, mint and coriander, and the crunch and freshness of bean sprouts.

It’s still incomplete without golden rice crackers, the finest examples of which are still made by hand in Hoi An, and left out on woven bamboo mats to dry in the baking sun.

There are also two more final flourishes that complete the dish: a squeeze of calamansi and a generous spoon of smoky, sweet and sticky Hoi An chilli sauce.

“Cao lau is special because it has influences from three major countries, which reflects the rich history of Hoi An as a trading port,” explains Cuong Franklin.

“Chinese with the soy and five spice pork, Japanese with the noodle texture and flavour similar to udon, and French with the fried ‘croutons’, which gives the dish another layer of texture.”

Back at his own restaurant, Cuong Franklin riffs on cao lau by cooking bacon sous vide for 24 hours before charring it and then adding his own XO sauce and egg yolk, to take the Hoi An classic somewhere altogether different.

Finally, the island of Phu Quoc off Vietnam’s southwest coast is home to bun quay, or “stirring noodles”, and Kien Xay is one of the area’s most famous purveyors. It started out as a family soup house, but quickly grew in popularity. Today, Kien Xay is a chain with restaurants in Ho Chi Minh City and Hanoi.

Bun quay at Kien Xay affords patrons an interactive dining experience because every diner prepares their own nuoc cham dipping sauce. This makes it a popular choice for families.

First, diners head to a counter under a hanging sign which directs readers, in English, to “make your sauce”. Here you can spoon together your own mix of chilli, fish sauce, calamansi, salt, sugar and MSG, balancing sweet, salty, umami and sour as you see fit.

After this, patrons can watch their rice flour noodles being made. Chefs take a piece of dough and cut it directly into boiling water, before dividing the cooked noodles and broth between bowls, to which are added a slick of shrimp paste and a choice of proteins such as shrimp cakes, baby squid or beef.

A big fan of Kien Xay is Spanish-born Bruno Anon, the executive chef at the nearby Regent Phu Quoc hotel, whose love of noodles stems from many years of living in Asia.

“The soft, chewy white rice noodles are perfect with the shrimp, fish paste and simple, clear, slightly sweet broth. The noodles and the seafood are so fresh that all they need to cook is a splash of hot, hearty broth poured over them in the bowl,” he says.

“However, really the dipping sauce makes this soup stand out and hits all the taste buds. [It’s] sweet, sour, salty, spicy, and umami.”

To Anon, noodles are not just a dish, but a tradition and a ritual – he likens it to eating a paella dish in his hometown of Valencia. “It’s the whole experience,” he explains. “Sharing a bowl of noodles with others [is like] sharing stories, a way of life.”

The Kien Xay restaurants were so busy on our visit that we had to visit three branches before we could get a seat with less than an hour’s wait. But as with all of Vietnam’s sensational noodle dishes, just one taste showed exactly why they are worth the wait.

Source: SCMP

 

 

 

 

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Can We Save the Planet and Still Eat Meat?

Bob Holmes wrote . . . . . . . . .

As governments drag their feet in responding to climate change, many concerned people are looking for actions they can take as individuals—and eating less meat is an obvious place to start. Livestock today account for about 14.5 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions, more than all the world’s cars and trucks combined.

Those numbers are daunting already, but the situation could grow worse: Our appetite for meat is increasing. The United Nations forecasts that the world will be eating 14 percent more of it by 2030, especially as middle-income countries get wealthier. That means more demand for pasture and feed crops, more deforestation, and more climate problems. For people alarmed about climate change, giving up meat altogether can seem like the only option.

But is it? A growing body of research suggests that the world could, in fact, raise a modest amount of beef, pork, chicken, and other meat, so that anyone who wants could eat a modest portion of meat a few times a week—and do so sustainably. Indeed, it turns out that a world with some animal agriculture in it likely would have a smaller environmental footprint than an entirely vegan world. The catch is that hitting the environmental sweet spot would require big changes in the way we raise livestock—and, for most of us in the wealthy West, a diet with considerably less meat than we eat today.

“The future that sounds sustainable to me is one where we have livestock, but it’s a very different scale,” says Nicole Tichenor Blackstone, a food systems sustainability researcher at Tufts University in Boston. “I think the livestock industry’s going to have to look different.”

One big reason for meat’s outsized environmental impact is that it’s more efficient for people to eat plants directly than to feed them to livestock. Chickens need almost 2 pounds of feed to produce each pound of weight gain, pigs need 3 to 5 pounds, and cattle need 6 to 10—and a lot of that weight gain is bones, skin, and guts, not meat. As a result, about 40 percent of the world’s arable land is now used to grow animal feed, with all the attendant environmental costs related to factors such as deforestation, water use, fertilizer runoff, pesticides, and fossil fuel use.

But it’s not inevitable that livestock compete with people for crops. Ruminants—that is, grazing animals with multiple stomachs, like cattle, sheep, and goats—can digest the cellulose in grass, straw, and other fibrous plant material that humans can’t eat, converting it into animal protein that we can. And two-thirds of the world’s agricultural lands are grazing lands, many of which are too steep, arid, or marginal to be suitable for crops. “That land cannot be used for any other food-growing purpose other than the use of ruminant livestock,” says Frank Mitloehner, an animal scientist at the University of California, Davis.

Of course, those grazing lands could revert to natural forest or grassland vegetation, taking up atmospheric carbon in the process. This carbon-capturing regrowth could be a major contributor to global climate-mitigation strategies aimed at net-zero greenhouse gas emissions, researchers say. But that’s not necessarily incompatible with moderate levels of grazing. For example, some research suggests that replacing croplands with well-managed grazing lands in the southeastern U.S. captures far more carbon from the atmosphere.

Livestock can also use crop wastes such as the bran and germ left over when wheat is milled to white flour, or the soy meal left over after pressing the beans for oil. That’s a big reason why 20 percent of the U.S. dairy herd is in California’s Central Valley, where cows feed partly on wastes from fruits, nuts, and other specialty crops, Mitloehner says. Even pigs and chickens, which can’t digest cellulose, could be fed on other wastes such as fallen fruit, discarded food scraps, and insects, which most people wouldn’t eat.

The upshot is that a world entirely without meat would require about one-third more cropland—and therefore, more energy-intensive fertilizer, pesticides, and tractor fuel—to feed everyone, says Hannah van Zanten, a sustainable food systems researcher at Wageningen University in the Netherlands. But only if we’re talking about meat raised the right way, in the right amounts.

Livestock also bring other benefits. Meat provides balanced protein and other nutrients such as iron and vitamin B12 that are more difficult to get from a vegan diet, especially for poorer people who can’t always afford a variety of fresh vegetables and other nutritious foods, says Matin Qaim, an agricultural economist at the University of Bonn, Germany, who co-authored a look at the sustainability of meat consumption in the 2022 Annual Review of Resource Economics. Livestock, he notes, are the main source of wealth for many otherwise poor people in traditional pastoral cultures. And on small, mixed farms, animals that graze widely and then deposit their manure in the farmyard can help to concentrate nutrients for use as fertilizer in the family’s garden.

Moreover, many of the world’s natural grasslands have evolved in the presence of grazers, which play a key role in ecosystem function. Where those native grazers no longer dominate—think of the vanished bison from the American prairies, for example—domestic livestock can fill the same role. “Grasslands are disturbance-dependent,” says Sasha Gennet, who heads the sustainable grazing lands program for the Nature Conservancy. “Most of these systems evolved and adapted with grazing animals and fire. They can benefit from good livestock management practices. If you’re doing it right, and you’re doing it in the right places, you can have good outcomes for conservation.”

For all these reasons, some experts say, the world is better off with some meat and dairy than it would be with none at all—though clearly, a sustainable livestock system would have to be much different, and smaller, than the one we have today. But suppose we did it right? How much meat could the world eat sustainably? The answer, most studies suggest, may be enough to give meat-eaters some hope.

Interdisciplinary researcher Vaclav Smil of the University of Manitoba got the ball rolling in 2013 with a back-of-the-envelope calculation published in his book, Should We Eat Meat? Let’s assume, he reasoned, that we stop clearing forest for new pastureland, let 25 percent of existing pastures revert to forest or other natural vegetation, and feed livestock as much as possible on forage, crop residues, and other leftovers. After making those concessions to sustainability, Smil’s best guesstimate was that this “rational” meat production could yield about two-thirds as much meat as the world was producing at the time. Subsequent studies suggest that the real number might be a bit lower, but still enough to promise a significant place for meat on the world’s plate, even as the population continues to grow.

If so, there are several surprising implications. For one thing, the total amount of meat or dairy that could be produced in this way depends strongly on what else is on people’s plates, says van Zanten. If people eat a healthy, whole-grain diet, for example, they leave fewer milling residues than they would on a diet heavy in refined grains—so a world full of healthy eaters can support fewer livestock on its leftovers. And little choices matter a lot: If people get most of their cooking oil from canola, for example, they leave less nutritious meal for feed after pressing out the oil than if they get their oil from soy.

A second surprise is the nature of the meat itself. Sustainability experts typically encourage people to eat less beef and more pork and chicken, because the latter are more efficient at converting feed into animal protein. But in the “livestock on leftovers” scenario, the amount of pork and chicken that can be raised is limited by the availability of milling residues, food scraps, and other food wastes. In contrast, cattle can graze on pasture, which shifts the livestock balance back somewhat toward beef, mutton, and dairy products.

Much would have to change to make such a world possible, van Zanten notes. To maximize the flow of food wastes to pigs and chickens, for example, cities would need systems for collecting household wastes, sterilizing them, and processing them for feed. Some Asian countries are well ahead on this already. “They have this whole infrastructure ready,” van Zanten says. “In Europe, we don’t.” And much of our current animal agriculture, based on grain-fed livestock in feedlots, would have to be abandoned, causing significant economic disruption.

Moreover, people in wealthy countries would have to get used to eating less meat than they currently do. If no human-edible crops were fed to livestock, van Zanten and her colleagues calculated, the world could only produce enough meat and dairy for everyone to eat around 20 grams of animal protein per day, enough for a three-ounce piece of meat or cheese (about the size of a deck of cards) each day. By comparison, the average North American now chows down on about 70 grams of animal protein a day—well above their protein requirement—and the average European on 51.

That’s a hefty reduction in meat—but it would bring significant environmental benefits. Because livestock would no longer eat feed crops, the world would need about a quarter less cropland than it uses today. That surplus cropland could be allowed to regrow into forest or other natural habitat, benefitting both biodiversity and carbon balance.

There’s another dimension to meat’s sustainability, though. The gut microbes that let grazing animals digest grasses and other human-inedible forage release methane in the process—and methane is a potent greenhouse gas. Indeed, methane from ruminants accounts for about 40 percent of all livestock-related greenhouse gas emissions. Animal scientists are working on ways to reduce the amount of methane produced by grazers. At present, however, it remains a serious problem.

Paradoxically, raising cattle on grass—better for other dimensions of sustainability—makes this problem worse, because grass-fed cattle grow more slowly. Grass-fed Brazilian cattle, for example, take three to four years to reach slaughter weight, compared with 18 months for U.S. cattle finished on grain in feedlots. And that’s not all: Because the grain-fed animals eat less roughage, their microbes also produce less methane each day. As a result, grass-fed beef—often viewed as the greener option—actually emits more methane, says Jason Clay, senior vice president of markets for the World Wildlife Fund-U.S.

Even so, raising livestock on leftovers and marginal grazing lands not suitable for crops eliminates the need to grow feed crops, with all their associated emissions, and there will be fewer livestock overall. As a result, greenhouse gas emissions may end up lower than today. For Europe, for example, van Zanten and her colleagues compared expected emissions from livestock raised on leftovers and marginal lands against those from animals fed a conventional grain-based diet. Livestock on leftovers would produce up to 31 percent less greenhouse gas emissions than the conventional approach, they calculated.

Some sustainability experts also argue that as long as grazing herds aren’t increasing, methane may be less of a worry than previously thought. Molecule for molecule, methane contributes about 80 times more warming than carbon dioxide does in the short term. However, CO₂ persists in the atmosphere for centuries, so newly emitted CO₂ always makes the climate crisis worse by adding to the stock of CO₂ in the atmosphere. In contrast, methane lasts only a decade or so in the atmosphere. If livestock levels remain constant over the span of decades, then the rate at which old methane washes out of the atmosphere will be about equal to the rate at which new methane is emitted, so there would be no additional burden on climate, says Qaim.

But with climate experts warning that the world may be fast approaching a climate tipping point, some experts say there’s good reason to reduce meat consumption well below what’s sustainable. Completely eliminating livestock, for example, would allow some of the land now devoted to feed crops and pastures to revert to native vegetation. Over 25 to 30 years of regrowth, this would tie up enough atmospheric CO₂ to completely offset a decade’s worth of global fossil fuel emissions, Matthew Hayek, an environmental scientist at New York University, and his colleagues reported in 2020. Add to that the rapid reduction in methane no longer emitted by livestock, and the gains become even more attractive.

“We need to be moving in the opposite direction than we are now,” says Hayek. “The things that are going to do that are aggressive, experimental, bold policies—not ones that try to marginally reduce meat consumption by 20 or even 50 percent.”

Source: Slate

 

 

 

 

Home-cooked Bento

The main dish is Stir-fried Pork with Eggplant and Miso.

 

 

 

 

Low Testosterone Levels Tied to More Severe COVID in Men

Men with low testosterone levels may be more likely to have more severe illness when infected with COVID-19, according to a new study.

Treating men who have low testosterone with hormone therapy may reduce their risk of serious illness from COVID, researchers said, but it comes with other risks that doctors and patients will need to weigh.

The investigators analyzed the cases of more than 700 men who tested positive for COVID — most before vaccines were available.

Men with low testosterone (low-T) who contracted the virus were 2.4 times more likely to require hospitalization than men with normal hormone levels. But men who had been treated successfully for low-T before catching COVID were not more likely to be hospitalized.

“Low testosterone is very common; up to a third of men over 30 have it,” said study co-author Dr. Abhinav Diwan, a professor at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis.

“Our study draws attention to this important risk factor and the need to address it as a strategy to lower [COVID] hospitalizations,” Diwan said in a school news release.

Researchers had previously found that men hospitalized with COVID had abnormally low levels of the male hormone. But they didn’t know whether low-T is a risk factor for severe COVID or a result of it.

For that, they needed to find out whether men with chronically low testosterone levels — before illness or after recovering — were getting sicker than men with normal levels.

From two hospital systems in the St. Louis area, researchers found 723 men with COVID whose testosterone levels were on record. They identified 427 men with normal testosterone levels; 116 with low levels; and 180 who were being successfully treated for low levels.

They had confirmed cases of COVID in 2020 or 2021 and low-T either before or after their infection.

“Low testosterone turned out to be a risk factor for hospitalization from COVID, and treatment of low testosterone helped to negate that risk,” said co-author Dr. Sandeep Dhindsa, an endocrinologist at Saint Louis University.

Dhindsa noted that the risk “really takes off” when levels of testosterone in the blood are below 200 nanograms per deciliter. The normal range is 300 to 1,000.

“This is independent of all other risk factors that we looked at: age, obesity or other health conditions,” Dhindsa said in the release. “But those people who were on therapy, their risk was normal.”

The study suggests, but doesn’t prove, that low testosterone is an independent risk factor for COVID hospitalization, similar to diabetes, heart disease and chronic lung disease. A clinical trial would be needed to prove this link between low-T and severe COVID-19.

Low testosterone levels can cause sexual dysfunction, depressed mood, irritability, difficulty with concentration and memory, fatigue, loss of muscular strength and reduced sense of well-being.

Some doctors treat the condition only if a man’s quality of life is diminished, because testosterone therapy may increase his risk for prostate cancer risk and heart disease.

“In the meantime, our study would suggest that it would be prudent to look at testosterone levels, especially in people who have symptoms of low testosterone, and then individualize care,” said Diwan, a cardiologist. “If they are at really high risk of cardiovascular events, then the doctor could engage the patient in a discussion of the pros and cons of hormone replacement therapy, and perhaps lowering the risk of COVID hospitalization could be on the list of potential benefits.”

The findings were published in JAMA Network Open.

Source: HealthDay

 

 

 

 

Chicken Cooked in Hakka Wine

Ingredients

1 dressed chicken
150 g ginger
4 cups Hakka wine (Chinese black glutinous rice wine)

Method

  1. Clean and cut chicken in small pieces, discarding head, neck and tail.
  2. Peel and chop ginger.
  3. Brown ginger slightly in 1 tablespoon of oil under high heat, add chicken pieces and stir fry until golden brown.
  4. Add Hakka wine and simmer under low heat for 20 minutes.
  5. Can be served immediately or kept until the next day.

Source: Hakka Cuisine


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