Vietnamese Barbecue is the Healthy Flavor-Packed Meal You Can Make at Home

Kat Thompson wrote . . . . . . . . .

Barbecue often feels synonymous with two things: summer and America. For many, the term brings to mind racks of ribs kissed with char, bubbling batches of tangy and sweet barbecue sauce, and tender brisket that shreds with the slightest touch. But barbecue isn’t limited to this singular picture of American food. Within the scope of the United States itself, there are regional specialties, like white barbecue sauce from Alabama and all things pork in Memphis. And when you open up the picture even wider, you might just end up with the fragrant, fish sauce- and lemongrass-infused barbecue dishes that hail from Vietnam.

Jimmy Ly and Yen Vo, the husband-wife duo behind Madame Vo BBQ in New York City, have made it their mission to bring Vietnamese barbecue to the forefront of the barbecue and Vietnamese cuisine conversation. As a matter of fact, Ly and Vo bonded over the lack of Vietnamese options in the city when they first met. “We got married because we love Vietnamese food,” Vo, whose surname worked as inspiration for their initial flagship restaurant, told me over a video call with a laugh. “When we opened Vo, we couldn’t find Vietnamese food being represented the way we were used to eating it. I was telling my husband, [Vietnamese barbecue] is one of my favorite things to eat. I want to show the world, I want to show New Yorkers, another side of Vietnamese food aside from the classic [dishes] that people know.”

So after opening up their first restaurant, Madame Vo — which features reimagined classics of Vietnamese fare like steaming bowls of pho and vermicelli noodles laced with pickled veggies — Ly and Vo set their sights on establishing one of the only Vietnamese barbecue restaurants in New York City, complete with grills embedded at the table.

Vietnamese barbecue was always a part of the pair’s upbringing. For Ly, who was born and raised in New York, eating bò 7 món — or seven courses of beef, a Vietnamese barbecue specialty — was reserved for celebratory occasions. “[We ate it] maybe two times a year because it was a ceremonial meal. It was always used to celebrate weddings, graduations, birthdays — just big moments,” he explained. “Mom made bò 7 món at the house and it was very time-intensive and it always required big groups to come.”

Alternatively for Vo, who grew up in Long Beach on the coast of Mississippi — which boasts a large Vietnamese community — bò 7 món was more prevalent. She describes get-togethers with family members that included platters of fresh seafood wrapped in sheets of rice paper and beef cooked in aromatic, sizzling butter.

“We’re deep in our roots and we felt that Vietnamese [food] hasn’t gotten that spotlight yet that it deserves,” Ly explained. “We wanted to push the envelope and introduce a new side of Vietnamese food and dedicate a restaurant fully to barbecue.”

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“We wanted to push the envelope and introduce a new side of Vietnamese food and dedicate a restaurant fully to barbecue.”

What came next were excursions to Vietnam, trying barbecue from all parts of the country. In Vietnam, barbecue restaurants sit on rooftops, where curls of charcoal-tinged smoke can escape. The aroma of meat hangs heavy. In New York, Madame Vo employs electric grills. The smell of caramelizing beef is just as enticing.

For those who’ve never had Vietnamese barbecue, there are a couple things to expect. “Vietnamese barbecue — when you eat it — the flavor is really bold and the meats are already marinated. It’s not like American, when you dry rub,” Ly explained. “For all Vietnamese barbecue, it’s really deeply marinated and embedded in the meat.”

And rather than slather meats with sticky, ketchup-based barbecue sauces, the key ingredients to Vietnamese barbecue marinades call for fish sauce, lemongrass, garlic, sugar, and butter. Then there’s the dipping sauces.

“Vietnamese barbecue is known for their dipping sauces,” Ly explained. “That completes the meal.” At Madame Vo BBQ, Ly and Vo serve three different dips to complement their grilled meats. There’s nước chấm, the classic sweet, tangy, and garlicky fish sauce dip that pairs well with pretty much any protein, fried egg rolls, and fresh spring rolls. There’s mắm nêm, a fermented anchovy and pineapple mixture that’s pungent and salty — a perfect complement to beef, according to Vo. The pair also serve a tamarind sauce reminiscent of Thai cuisine that’s thick and tart from the fresh tamarind pulp.

The last portion of the Vietnamese barbecue equation are the sides. Like Korean barbecue’s banchans, Vietnamese barbecue also has components outside of the meat. “Yes, the meat itself is good but [you don’t] get the full experience of barbecue,” Vo said. “You eat it with the noodles, the rice, the sides, the sauce — you have to do the whole thing.”

As Ly mentioned, Vietnamese barbecue is a celebratory meal meant to be shared with others. There’s a sense of camaraderie to getting together and customizing your own rice paper wraps filled with herbs and grilled proteins (Vo specifically likes putting tart green apples in hers) and dunking the creations into boldly flavored sauces. But with the pandemic looming overhead, dining out and traveling for such a meal is more challenging than ever.

Ly, however, is adamant that people can easily bring Vietnamese barbecue into their own homes. “If you have a grill, like a grill in your backyard, that’s ideal. [Otherwise], the electric skillet is probably the main thing that you need to make it happen. The recipes are very simple,” he explained. “I don’t think you need anything specific to accomplish a Vietnamese barbecue at home. In Vietnam, we’re a very poor country. We had to figure out how to cook with whatever we had. That’s the beauty of it. It’s so simple, but yet complex in terms of flavor.”

Vo agrees, and emphasizes that Vietnamese barbecue can take shape in many ways; it’s not a one-size-fits-all meal. “The secret is of course in the sauce and marinade,” Vo said. “But the thing with barbecue is that it’s not just meat. We do a whole catfish, and we make wraps out of it. [Just] marinate your meat, get the butter going, and rice papers and all the herbs. All of this you can find in grocery stores right now.” Vo cites mint, basil, and tarragon as some of her favorite herbs to include in her wraps.

And if you can’t find herbaceous stalks of lemongrass and funky bottles of fish sauce right now, Vo recommends trying Omsom: a new food brand that specializes in prepackaged Asian sauces and marinades. The Vietnamese barbecue starter from Omsom, afterall, was made in partnership with Ly and Vo. “Obviously people can’t come to our restaurant so they can bring [our flavors] home to them. We’re so grateful,” Ly said. “At the end of the day, we love our culture and we just wanted to represent it properly — the best that we know and we could.”

Source: Thrillist

The Classic Cuisine of Vietnam Cookbook Samples One of the Most Outstanding Food Cultures on Earth

Susan Yung wrote . . . . . . . . .

The Classic Cuisine of Vietnam was first published in English in 1979 (the French edition came out a year earlier), and it’s interesting to see how, apparently, the food was perceived by outsiders back then.

In the introduction, Bach Ngo and Gloria Zimmerman write, “Anyone under the illusion that Vietnamese cookery is a mere variation of Chinese cuisine will discover what a fundamentally different style it has – and unforgettably different delight it is.

“A similar comparison could be made between French and Italian cuisine, each using many of the same raw materials with sharply varying techniques and, just as important, different flavourings and spices, with infinitely different results.

“As the four-thousand-year-old Chinese culture produced a cuisine world renowned for its exquisite sophistication, Vietnamese culture, zealously guarded and nurtured over the same time span, has given birth to a cuisine no less sophi­sticated. Craig Claiborne, eminent food critic of The New York Times, hails the Vietnamese kitchen as ‘among the most outstand­ing on Earth’.

“In France, the temple of haute cuisine, Vietnamese restaurants now far outnumber Chinese, not only in Paris but through­out the rest of the country, and the tide of discovery has moved across the Atlantic. Food-conscious Americans, both young and old, are now joyously discovering Vietnam’s delicate and beguiling food-making art.”

Ngo, who was born in Vietnam, and Zimmerman, an American cooking school teacher specialising in Asian cuisines, are justifiably proud of the cuisine, which is far more varied than the food served at typical Vietnamese restaurants abroad. At these places, without even looking at the menu, you know you’ll find fried spring rolls, fresh spring rolls (often called “summer rolls”), beef or chicken pho (above), lemongrass chicken, beef or pork (if it’s a fancy place, they will have lemongrass quails) and banh xeo (turmeric-scented rice flour crepes filled with vege­tables, shrimp and pork).

You can find most of those dishes in the book, but also recipes for bamboo shoot omelette, steamed pork, cabbage with meat and dried jellyfish, stuffed chicken necks cooked in coconut milk, beef simmered with coconut water and lemon­grass, crab stuffed with pork and cellophane noodles, barbecued beef wrapped in fresh rice papers, duck rice soup, boneless stuffed whole fish, stir-fried beef with cauli­flower and golden mushrooms, papaya soup with pork hock, and banana leaf cake.

Source: SCMP

Banh Mi: Vietnam’s Super Sandwich that Took on the World

Alkira Reinfrank and Bernice Chan wrote . . . . . . . . .

Theign Yie Phan has to stop herself from chowing down a banh mi every day of the week. But it’s hard to resist when you’re the head chef of a restaurant that specialises in the delicious Vietnamese sandwiches.

“It is a good between-service snack. I eat one every other day. It is definitely not something you get sick of,” she says with a laugh, as she stands in front of an array of colourful ingredients ready to be stuffed into a crusty baguette at Le Petit Saigon in Wan Chai.

Along with pho, the noodle soup, banh mi is one of Vietnam’s most famous culinary exports – a French-style bread filled with rich meats and zingy, fresh vegetables and herbs.

“As a sandwich it is well balanced in flavours and textures. There’s the crusty warm bread, the richness of the flavours of the meat, and then the tartness and sourness from the pickles,” says Phan, who is also the head chef of next-door sister restaurant, Le Garcon Saigon.

Cutting open a baguette, Phan begins layering it with thinly sliced pork belly, terrine and Vietnamese sausage, topped off with chicken liver pate and house-made mayonnaise. Next she balances that with slices of fresh cucumber, pickled vegetables, Maggi sauce, coriander, spring onion and chilli – “for punch”.

Phan is not alone in her love of the sandwich. Banh mi has gone from humble beginnings on the streets of Saigon to become a global sensation – mirroring the history of modern Vietnam. So how did a country in Southeast Asia – known for rice and noodle dishes – originate such a Western speciality as a sandwich?

Banh mi date back 130 years to when France colonised Vietnam from the 1880s to 1954. During that period the French forced the Vietnamese to work in slave-like conditions on plantations growing opium and rubber, taxing them heavily.

Culturally the French introduced Catholicism, its national language and architecture. And, of course, food.

Chef Peter Cuong Franklin has researched French cuisine’s influence in Vietnam. He was born in Da Lat, in southern Vietnam, and during the tumult of the Vietnam war (1955-75) was separated from his family and adopted in the United States.

In 1994, he relocated to Hong Kong to work as an investment banker, and later headed to the Thai capital, Bangkok, to attend the Cordon Bleu culinary school. After returning to Hong Kong he opened his own Vietnamese-themed restaurants, Chom Chom, and Viet Kitchen. Then in 2017 he moved to Ho Chi Minh City (formerly Saigon) to open Anan Saigon.

“When the French colonised Vietnam, they needed to eat their own food. So they brought things like wheat to make bread, cheese, coffee, and other products that they would consume every day,” Franklin says.

The Vietnamese were gradually introduced to these French foods, he says, though they were expensive back then. Eventually wheat, and the technique for making baguettes, were imported, and the locals – in particular the ethnic Chinese-Vietnamese – learned how to make bread.

“They [the Chinese] were hired as chefs and cooked for the French,” Franklin explains. Over time, they came to see that what they were preparing was no longer for the French, but for the locals. “They would modify the bread with more yeast and water to make it lighter, for Vietnamese tastes.”

The French typically ate baguettes spread with chicken liver or goose liver pate, which the Vietnamese found too rich. So they developed their own version.

“The Vietnamese used local pork liver, which is cheaper and easier to make. Most of the time the French ate baguettes with some butter and maybe some mustard [to spread on the charcuterie],” he says.

But in the 1950s, “the Vietnamese came up with the idea of putting these things together into a simple sandwich to be consumed by a lot of people. So I think that’s the early form of the sandwich”.

The flavours of the modern banh mi vary by region in Vietnam. In Hanoi in the north, the fillings are more simple than the “original” found in Ho Chi Minh City in the south, and include high-quality cold cuts. In the central coastal city of Hoi An, the meat used is served warm.

Despite its humble roots, banh mi went on to explode in popularity around the world, especially in countries such as Australia and the United States, where many Vietnamese immigrants fled in the ’70s after the fall of Saigon.

Nowadays, there are more than 1.3 million Vietnamese immigrants living in the US, and their traditional food has been widely embraced by the American mainstream.

“The US is a hub of pop culture, and over the years TV food shows, travel shows, Anthony Bourdain, food blogging and social media” have helped introduce people in the West to this quintessential fusion Vietnamese dish, says Phan.

Despite being Southeast Asian – she was born in Malaysia and grew up in Singapore – it was only when she studied in the US that she was introduced to the Vietnamese street food.

“In America, every university town has a street with lots of food carts, and one of these stores always serves [banh mi]. I remember during the cold winters in Wisconsin, I would walk past and grab a banh mi from one of these stores and walk to class,” she recalls fondly.

Phan believes the wider American population embraced banh mi when it was introduced by Vietnamese immigrants because the ingredients used were “familiar” to the American palate.

“The bread, familiar; the meat, familiar; the vegetables and pickles, familiar. So people were more inclined to try it and maybe that’s why it exploded,” she says. “Everyone loves a good sandwich. And in every culture [with bread] there is some sort of sandwich. So banh mi is very accessible culturally, so that’s why it has become so popular worldwide.”

Given that this portable snack is available at street stalls in Vietnam for US$1, it’s perhaps not surprising that Franklin created a stir when he unveiled the US$100 banh mi two years ago at his Anan Saigon restaurant.

“Part of my mission is to elevate Vietnamese cuisine to a higher level, to get people to rethink what Vietnamese food can be. And banh mi is very popular around the world because it’s healthy and light, and it is flavourful. But one problem we have with the cuisine is that people think it’s great but they think it should be cheap as well … so what I’ve done is done something crazy.”

The Anan Saigon banh mi is replete with truffle mayonnaise, pate, sous vide pork chop, foie gras, coriander, cucumber, basil and mint. If that’s not enough, there are also sweet potato fries dipped in caviar on the side. He says there are curious gastronomes willing to dig deep into their pockets to see what it tastes like.

“We have some detractors who think like things like the banh mi or pho, or food in general, should not change. But I’m a believer that food can and should change with the times. You look at Vietnam, it’s modernising very quickly, and I can see change in the past two years I’ve been here.”

Back in Hong Kong, Phan at Le Petit Saigon sells about 90 banh mi a day to hungry customers. There are several varieties to choose from, including the traditional banh mi thit (pork), banh mi ga (chicken) and banh mi chay (tofu).

But Phan is not afraid to get creative with her menu. Each month she invites chefs from various restaurants in the group to contribute their own version of banh mi to the menu. This month, Michelin-star chef Palash Mitra from The New Punjab Club created a mouthwatering tandoori chicken tikka banh mi.

But she says the best selling is still the traditional Saigon pork banh mi.

Some tastes change, while others stay the same.

Source: SCMP

In Pictures: Food of Vietnamese Restaurant in the U.S.

In Pictures: Food of Vietnamese Restaurants in America