Friday, March 7, 2008

Cruising the Bay That's Not Halong

The last organized tour we'll do in a while finished yesterday. We went with a wonderful Vietnamese company called Ethnic Travel to Bai Tu Long Bay, which is supposed to be just as beautiful and ethereal as Halong Bay.

Day 1: We were invited to ride down a winding irrigation channel on a boat made of molded concrete. Surprisingly, it floated! An old woman in a red sweater and a traditional conical hat checked her fish traps.

Another washed the dishes in the water. A flock of terrified ducks swam away from us, quacking madly. Later, we traveled on bicycle, riding the meandering paths through the rice paddies. It's planting season, so family members up to their knees in muck put the tiny rice seedlings into the earth, dotting the landscape with those conical hats. Oxen pulled ploughs, and children played alongside their mothers. It was a beautiful day.

In the afternoon we were invited to our guide's mother's house, where we picked our own vegetables from the garden and learned how to make some traditional home-style Vietnamese food (recipes will follow.) The best meals we've had on this trip haven't been in restaurants. They've been in kitchens and dining rooms in homes all over Asia.

Day 2: A long car ride to the coast through more rice paddies and some coal mining areas (not as picturesque.) A short bike through town and an even shorter ride around the bay prepared us for day 3.

Day 3: A morning of bicycling through villages in the countryside where we had tea with a local family, visited an elementary school, and earned butt callouses. In the afternoon we boarded our luxurious private boat. We had fantastic travel companions, and we lunched in the sun and rode out to the island where we met our host family. We helped with dinner and had an early night.

Day 4: Bike, boat, car -- back to Hanoi. All in all, a good trip.

The Recipes (all are vegetarian but can easily be made with meat):

Fresh Rice Paper Spring Rolls (4 rolls):

  • Shredded: one yellow onion, one large carrot, half a cabbage, one fried taro root
  • Round rice paper wrappers
  • lettuce leaves
  • sprigs of mint
  • 1 bunch of green onion, chopped
  • 1 tbsp fish sauce
  • 1 fresh red chili
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 1/2 tsp sugar
  • juice of two limes, divided
  • 1/4 tsp vegetable stock powder
  • pinch of black pepper
  • 1 tbsp soy sauce
  • a small knob of ginger
  1. Mix half of the shredded vegetable with half of the lime juice and sugar; set aside.
  2. Oil a frying pan and set on high heat.
  3. Cook the remaining half of the shredded vegetables until soft; add stock, pepper, soy sauce. Add chopped green onion and set aside to cool.
  4. Moisten rice wrappers in cold water one at a time. They only need to be dipped quickly and left to soften on a plate or other flat surface.
  5. Add a tablespoon of seasoned (raw) vegetables, a tablespoon of cooked vegetables, and a few leaves of lettuce and mint. Fold the sides in and roll tightly.
  6. Mix the fish sauce, sliced chili, chopped garlic, sugar, lime juice, and ginger. Serve as a dipping sauce with the rolls.
Green Mango Salad (2 small servings):

  • Shredded: one green mango, one large carrot, half an onion, a bunch of mint
  • 1 red chili, slivered
  • 1 knob of ginger, slivered
  • 1/2 cup deep fried/dried onion
  • 2 tbsp vegetable oil
  • fish sauce dipping sauce as above
Mix vegetables, chili, and ginger. Add oil and dipping sauce recipe; toss and top with fried onions. Serve immediately.

Clay Pot Fish (1 serving):

  • Bunch of 1" chunks of fish (Mackerel?)
  • 1 plus 1/2 small red onion, slivered
  • 1/4 tsp pepper
  • 2 tsp sugar
  • 1/4 tsp vegetable stock
  • 1 tbsp fish sauce
  • 1 tbsp vegetable oil
  • 1 sliced red chili
  • 1 knob ginger, sliced
  1. Cook 1/3 of red onion and all of the fish in a frying pan. Traditionally, at this point, the fish is transferred to a clay stewing pot to cook. If you don't have one, I would just keep it in the frying pan as long as it has high sides.
  2. Fry the rest of the onion in the oil; add back fish and the rest of the ingredients and cook for about 10 minutes until the sauce is thickened. Serve over white rice (do I have to give you instructions on how to cook white rice? Buy a rice cooker. Don't forget to wash the rice. I mean that. Wash the rice.)
Salad Spring Rolls

  • bunches and bunches of spring onions, steamed until soft
  • leaf lettuce
  • two eggs, scrambled and fried omelette-style, cut into 1" slivers
  • sprigs of coriander and mint
  • watercress
  1. Place a lettuce leaf on a flat surface. P
  2. lace one piece of egg, a sprig of coriander, a sprig of mint, a piece of watercress, and the bulb end of the spring onion into the leaf.
  3. Roll it up and wrap the soft green stem of the spring onion around the roll. Serve with fish sauce dip.

Fried Spring Rolls (makes a lot of rolls):

  • thin square rice papers (shouldn't need soaking)
  • 1 cup wood ear or assorted mushrooms, reconstituted and chopped finely
  • 1 cup rice vermicelli, soaked and chopped into 1" pieces
  • 2 red chiles, diced finely
  • 1 large carrot, diced finely
  • 1 yellow onion, diced finely
  • 1 bunch of green onions, chopped
  • 3-4 cloves of garlic, pounded
  • 1 cup of tofu, crumbled, or soy beans, soaked and pounded
  • 1 knob of ginger, pounded
  • 1 egg
  • 1 tbsp fish sauce
  • 1 tbsp vegetable oil plus more for frying
  1. Combine all of the ingredints except for the rice papers. Lay the wrapper on a flat surface with the corner facing you.
  2. Place 1 1/2 tbsp of filling near one end of the wrapper. Roll it tightly, tucking the ends in and making sure the ends are sealed. The finished roll should be about the length and thickness of an index finger.
  3. Fry in oil until golden, drain, and serve. Serve with -- guess what -- fish sauce dip.

Moments Before the Feeding Frenzy:


Jen Shepard said...

Damn--I wish you had gone before us to give such a fantastic recommendation! Glad you enjoyed it. Hey, how much weight have you gained eating your way around Vietnam? :)

Christie said...

That looks so yummy! I'm drooling here!