Bun Cha – Vietnamese Pork Meatballs with Vermicelli Noodle Salad

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My latest contribution to Discovery, the in-flight magazine for Cathay Pacific, is currently out now on all Cathay Pacific and Cathay Dragon flights. This month’s foodie feature is the classic Vietnamese dish called bun cha, consisting of grilled pork meatballs served with an abundance of fresh herbs on a bed of vermicelli noodles. A Vietnamese dipping sauce, called nouc cham, is essential to this dish to dress the noodles and to add a salty and sour element – a flavour combination which is essential to many Vietnamese dishes. It’s a noodle salad which is bold, fresh and full of flavour.

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Vietnamese Pho Beef Noodle Soup

pho beef noodle soup 1Pho could perhaps be described as the national dish of Vietnam. But what many people don’t know is that it is predominantly a breakfast dish in Vietnam. In some parts of the world, breakfast might be a bowl of cold cereal to some. In Vietnam, however, they like to kick-start their day with an aromatic noodle broth, full of flavour and texture to awaken the senses.

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Pumpkin Laksa

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I have long been a fan of Nigel Slater, his books having been instrumental in my initial forays into the kitchen, along with Nigella Lawson and, dare I say it, the Australian Women’s Weekly. One of my favourite cookbooks would have to be Appetite, a hefty book filled with amazingly delicious recipes but provided in a manner that encourages the cook to develop some intuition in the kitchen. Rather than call for, say, 100 g of tomatoes, Nigel Slater’s recipes would instead ask for 3-4 medium-sized tomatoes, not only making it a bit easier to shop but also allowing the cook some flexibility.

I have been distracted in recent years by cookbooks from other authors, but this year hopefully marks a revisit of some old favourites. I was only reminded of Nigel Slater recently when hubby and I were browsing in the bookshop and Nigel Slater’s Tender Volume 1 & 2 were being sold together in a limited edition boxed set. Having lusted after these books for some time but trying to sensibly refrain from hoarding too many cookbooks in one year, I couldn’t resist a boxed set. And upon realising that Volume 1 was all about vegetables, and Volume 2 was dedicated to fruit, hubby generously offered the books to me as a gift, on the condition that they supported his New Year’s resolutions to eat more vegetarian and healthy food. Of course, honey

With pumpkins in season, I was instantly taken by Nigel’s recipe for pumpkin laksa in Tender Volume 1. As a lover of all noodle soups, from the robust and herbal hit of a Vietnamese Pho to the equally comforting but milder-flavoured chicken noodle soup of the western palate, and not to mention the 2-minute noodles (or pot noodles) of my student days, I can rarely turn down a recipe for comfort in a bowl.

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Chicken Curry Soup

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One of my all-time favourite Vietnamese dishes is chicken curry with sweet potato. My mum makes this dish using a whole chicken which is first marinated in a special mixture of Vietnamese curry powder and other seasoning, and then slowly simmered on the stove with an array of aromatics until the chicken is tender and almost falls from the bone. Towards the end, she adds potatoes and/or sweet potatoes which has been deep-fried so that it keeps its shape in the curry, and the whole dish is served with loaves of crusty baguette (preferably from a Vietnamese bakery) to soak up the lovely curry sauce. The bread is undoubtedly French-inspired as this is one of the few Vietnamese meals which is not served with rice or noodles.

I dream constantly of my mum’s curry and, over the years, I have developed my own recipe which at least satisfies my taste buds but still falls short of my mum’s version. It is a dish which requires a bit of planning and preparation, so definitely not something I would attempt during the working week.

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