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‘Fine Cuisine’ – Vietnamese TV food show and me

It’s about time to sum up my first trip with VTV4 as memories are getting more and more blurred and we just finished the second trip, which took place in Hue this time and I will do my best to post about it very soon. Some time ago I started a habit of taking notes of what and where I eat or experience and that is realy helping me to keep my blog updated.
The third day of our trip to Phu Tho got us up early again however there was an amazing breakfast ahead to reward for lack of sleep and get us loaded with energy for another long day of filming. If you’ll find yourself in Viet Tri the capital city of the province one day, make sure to visit Pho Kinh Do at Gia Cam Street. For 35.000 vnd you can get a big bowl of aromatic pho bo sot vang, full of tender, lean meat. The addition of loose yolk that blends into the broth, making it milky yellow and a bit creamy makes this perfect breakfast even more comforting. As the bowl of pho already made my day I was ready to submissively get back to the regular routine of sweatting, being beaten by the moskitos, eating and smiling to the camera with my mouthful. This day was about banh chung and finally I was about to get some real training in making the cake from scratch as well as wrapping it. It is a popular Tet cake that’s eaten all year round and considerd a national dish. Three basic ingredients – pork meat, mung beans and sticky rice are mixed together and wrapped in la dong leaves neatly than cooked or steamed for couple of hours. It makes for a simple and tasty dish that can be served in multiple ways. My favourite is to cut it into slices, fry and serve with a splash of fish sauce, lime juice and fresh herbs. However having a chance to try it freshly made, with no additions and still hot from cooking I have to admit it tastes best this way.

Banh chung next to banh day, the cake I made a day before (you can read about it in pt. 1 of this story), are most typical offerings for the Hung Kings ceremonies. This has to do with the legend of Lang Liêu, the poorest of the eighteen sons of the 6th Hung King. Dad must’ve been a foodie as he decided to choose his succesor by asking sons to bring him delicacies. The youngest one could only make the most basic offerings from the ‘not so fancy’ ingredients. He also came to the idea of shaping it into square (banh chung) to symbolize the Earth and circle (banh day) as a symbol of Heaven. That was exactly what captivated his father as a proof of his sons’ good heart and respect for the culture and most importantly – agriculture.
Considering earth to be square and heaven to be round comes from the ancient chinese believes and can be found in many artefacts. The one that we all know and most probably use very oftern are…chopsticks. On a second glance you’ll notice that the end used for eating is round while the other, the one you hold – square. The meaning of this is nothing more than “Follow Heaven, eat Earth”. One is Yang the other is Yin. Both create harmony. Harmony creates happiness. Simple as that.

Lunch break full of good food and smiles

More of familiar foods were up on the schedule this day. I spent the afternoon in Di Nau Commune helping to cook mung bean based che kho, the dish I already made at home couple of times before. After the dessert was prepared, offered and blessed and I could finally try it I was suprised (and happy at the same time) to find it less tasty that my version. I still enjoyed it as I love sweets and mung beans but it was too ‘rough’, dry and a bit oversweetened. Even though the food wasn’t rewarding, the time filled with cooking, cooling myself with the ice-cold water straight from the veil, partaking in the ceremony at the temple and learning smooth dancing moves from the local performers was enough to make for an exciting afternoon.

The good food came with the dinner. Jummy, bit crunchy chicken legs (chan ga) and delicious clam porrige (chao trai).

Another day, another 5am alarm clock. No pho this time, just the north banh my substitute, unfortunatelly nothing like the boosting with flavors and textures banh mi from the south… But again, it wasn’t for the food, it was for the amazing place that we visited – the beautiful, tranquil, hidden between the trees Lac Long Quan Temple with massive statues of chim Lac, the mystical bird, one of the symbols of Vietnam. It’s supposed to represent vietnamese spirit, the guardian angel that protects the country (chim stands for bird and Lac is from Lac Viet – ancient ancestors of todays Vietnamese). It was pretty relaxed morning for me so I wandered aroud the temple, sat under the trees and just breath the serene atmosphere of this place.

Lunch at bia hoi spot with its’ absolute highlight – fried intestine with pineapple and tomato.

For the contrary the other part of the day was spent on inhaling the hustle and bustle of the Viet Tri market and enjoying some of the sticky rice delights in front of the camera.

Che nep cam – glass of black gloutinous rice, haved ice, coconut milk, coconut shreds, peanuts and sinful amount of sugar.

On the last day of our trip we filmed the Hung Kings Temple – Den Hung which helds the main ceremonies of the Hung Kings Commemorations and is visited by milions of Vietnamese each year. As it was very close to the day of the celebrations there were already hundreds of people climbing neverending steps to the top of the temple.

After we were done the whole crew went to have the last collective lunch which seemed to make everyone excited. So I asked. And the answere wasn’t what I was ready to hear… I thought they were making jokes at first, but it seemed that Phu Tho province is famous for preparing dogs’ meat and everyone was waiting to visit a restaurant that specializes in this “delicacy”. It was always on my mind to try it, but I got goosebumps each time I saw fried or grilled dogs at the markets and just couldn’t overcome the strange sting inside. This time I decided ‘now or never’ as it seemed like the best company and moment to have it making sure I know what I’m eating.

I was glad to dive a bit deeper into the culture and share this meal with my local friends though I am sure that chicken, pork and beef are enough to satisfy my meat cravings. That was a strong accent at the end of the trip and with my mind full of contrary feelings and thoughts of becoming vegetarian I was happy to get back to my quiet daily life in the ever grey and rainy Hanoi.

If you want to see the Phu Tho episode of “Fine Cuisine” it’s here. Enjoy!

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