This week I am challenging myself to eat only Vietnamese food for every meal. I am posting daily, detailing my food intake and also occasionally providing you with recipes so you can have a go at some of these simple dishes yourselves. It’s not going to be easy for me; it’s taking me out of my comfort zone as I’ve become used to mainly eating western style food but I’m ready to take this journey over the next 7 days and hopefully inspire some of you to try one of the world’s healthiest cuisines, along the way.
‘I don’t want noodle soup again,’ exclaimed Gareth as we walked around the corner and down the road where we would be eating. I wasn’t feeling Com Tam, it gets boring very quickly and I was too distracted to reply as I looked inside every eatery we were walking past. I noticed one place did Mi Quang. Neither of us had eaten it before, and I couldn’t remember much about it from when I’d conducted my research other than the fact it was noodle soup. ‘Let’s have Mi Quang.’ In the searing heat, Gareth submitted quickly.
More like a stew, Mi Quang is quite unlike any other Vietnamese noodle soup. A thick intensely flavoured deep-orange broth housing a bed of colourfully dyed rice noodles, similar in shape to linguine pasta. Seasoned to perfection with garlic, fish sauce, black pepper and shallot, Mi Quang usually comes with pork, chicken, prawns and sometimes beef and fish. What makes it that much more special is the small boiled quail’s egg, crushed peanuts, steamed pork sausage, more commonly known in these here parts as ‘cha’, and toasted sesame rice crackers that are added for those who like a bit of crunch.
Eating Mi Quang was a turning point for Gareth, who professes that his favourite Vietnamese noodle soup is Pho Ga, which is just a glorified chicken soup in my opinion. He is now a huge Mi Quang fan and so will you be if you ever get the chance to try this heroin of noodle soups.
I’ll be honest, there’s only so much noodle soup someone can consume in a week, so coming up with ideas about tonight’s dinner was quite the challenge. I needed some inspiration. I opened the Word document that my friend Thuy had emailed me and read through some of the options. Hmmm, eel? Yuck, no. Rice gruel? What the hell is that? I scrolled further down. Ah, how about some Oc Xao Xa Ot?
I remembered a sign for Oc on a road near to my building, a sign that makes me laugh, with its cute little Oc enticing hungry diners to walk down to the restaurant where they will be able to feast on Oc to their heart’s content.
I’m talking snails here.
The dish was placed between Gareth and I. Immediately noticeable was the strong scent of lemongrass and fried onion. The snails were seasoned with chili but we were also provided with a small dish of mixed salt and paper that we diluted with a slice of lime, which sharpens the flavour when the snails are lightly dipped into the blend.
This wasn’t a chopstick jobby, oh no. Our tool was a single toothpick that we would guide inside the shell, stab at the snail flesh and pull out at a strategic angle and speed; pull out too fast and things just get messy, pull out too slowly and you’re just wasting time!
We supplemented the meal with some fried rice, a few of those tasty beefy cheesy rolls I’m a bit addicted to, and some fried chicken. Well, the fried chicken ended up mostly going to our cat Khoe, as we were quickly pleasantly stuffed.