Photo by Christian Berg
Up and down the country, Vietnamese men are avid fishermen. Fish are usually easy to catch for families living along rivers and canals. This dish, cá quả hun khói, is rarely found in restaurants or outside of Vietnamese homes. A snakehead fish is smoked for two weeks, to allow the full aromatics to develop. Then, the fish is grilled, and served with slightly bitter lemon leaf and natural salt. Each bite is moist and full of salty goodness.
As the year shifts through the seasons, the weather in the north of Vietnam changes continually, with rain and sun often in the same day. This hearty, enriching chicken dish is considered just the thing to eat when the weather acts up. To make gà hầm hạt sen, the entire chicken is stewed on the bone until soft, then cooked with lotus seeds and mushrooms. The broth is reduced to a golden yellow. The Vietnamese say eating this dish will make you feel instantly healthy and restored.
Vietnamese love interesting textures, and native duck is always a prized item on the dinner table at festivals and celebrations. For this modern recipe, the chefs combine chewy steamed duck and crunchy young bamboo shoots. The duck's natural flavour is enhanced when dipped in fish sauce with wild pepper, or freshly squeezed lemon and salt. Served with sticky rice and eaten with your hands, this dish is simple, delicious countryside fare at its best.
Exclusive to the north of Vietnam, bún thang is often enjoyed by families on weekends or on holidays, such as the first day of Tết Nguyên Đán (lunar new year.) Although it looks simple, bún thang is a labour-intensive dish, with the star ingredients julienned into matchstick-thin strips. Light, fresh noodles are topped with strips of chicken, eggs and ham, then sprinkled with chives and flooded with a clear, nourishing broth.