Charlie don't surf the web son - Culinary Inspirations by Richard Bias

The  Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 26th April 2012

Missed Part One? Catch up here.

Winter is out and spring is in……. well for now anyway.  Sapa is elevated at 1500 meters so we see some very diverse weather conditions.  We are currently in our winter season but have been receiving some fantastic sunny days and the usual foggy, rainy conditions are for now, a thing of the past.  Since my last post on Staff Canteen we have had Tet which is the Vietnamese equivalent of Christmas and New Year rolled into one.  Tet is a five-day holiday consisting of family, food and drinking which all starts two days before New Year’s Eve with the decoration of the house and an early rise to slaughter the pig.  I didn’t post any pictures of the event on my blog, nor did I talk about the whole event as I felt all the gory details would not be well received by the general public.  To see the whole process for myself was not a shocking experience but has given me a new outlook on the effort we go through to have a good meal. Since living in Vietnam I have been much more involved in the farm to table process and for myself growing up near the city, did not appreciate the work that goes into the preparation of the products we consume. The whole pig requires a lot of work and in some ways the preparation here is comparable to our western ways. The breaking down of the pig into the primal cuts is the same and the use of the blood and intestines to make a boudin is highly regarded and each family has their own take on the recipe. The shoulder is used to make brochettes which get a heavy marinade of lemongrass, shallot, ginger and fish sauce then grilled over hot coals. The head is boiled for some hours and then the meat picked and combined with the cooking liquor to make a rough form of brawn, also an English favourite. The first meal of the celebrations uses all of the fresh offal and is washed down with a strong wine/alcohol made from the fermentation of corn that, as my father would say:  “puts hairs on ya chest like bars of iron!” One of the afternoons was spent making “Banh Chung” which is a cake made from sticky rice, mung beans and the fat of the pork. The wrapping of this in a leaf is a work of art and takes a great deal of practice.  Wrap it too tight and it will burst while cooking, wrap it too loose and it will not cook evenly.  I was allowed to make the traditional square parcel type as this was deemed easier with less room for error!   My teacher, an elderly neighbour, made short work of ten kilos whilst I was still struggling with the leaves and frame. After all the ingredients are wrapped into their parcels they are boiled for ten hours, the family taking shifts throughout the night keeping the fire stoked. Five days go by and the lunches begin to blend into the dinners and the nights become a blur from too much corn wine! We all share fun times and stories, both new and old and a real sense of family and togetherness is felt in our hearts. In the last few months I have received many exciting products including:  fresh star anise from the north- east, vanilla pods from Phan thiet in the south and green asparagus on my door-step here in Sapa.  We also had a great success with a ham we cured eighteen-months ago all of which you can read about at: culinaryinspirations.wordpress.com  

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The  Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 26th April 2012

Charlie don't surf the web son - Culinary Inspirations by Richard Bias