Vietnam: Shrimp spring rolls, banh mi, chicken pho, broken rice with pork, Vietnamese iced coffee,
bananas and tapioca with coconut milk, assorted pastries
Just a block from my Philadelphia apartment was a wonderful Vietnamese restaurant that I frequented regularly. As I planned this meal I thought fondly of many meals shared there.
I was happy to find a great Asian market in Rochester where I was able to purchase many of the necessary ingredients for this meal.
I prepped some of the meal the night before – marinating the pork and pickling the vegetables. I was chopping til midnight 🙂
This was a fun, fresh, time consuming meal. I probably overdid it a bit and made an overly ambitious menu. On Saturday I spent most of the evening in the kitchen rather than relaxing and eating, but had wonderful guests who helped me prep and clean and made the work fun. The kitchen was a mess and the dessert ended up being an utter failure, but otherwise the food turned out wonderfully and I was really pleased with the meal.
First up, shrimp spring rolls.
We had a little trouble with the spring roll sheets, but discovered the trick was to use only warm water, not boiling hot. I also bought approximately 17 times the amount of spring roll sheets I needed to, so I’ll be experimenting with turning lots of things into spring rolls over the next several years! These were fresh and tasty and fun to eat. I did MYO spring roll and these were a hit. Next time I’d make more shrimp.
The second appetizer was banh mi. My vegan-loving neighborhood of West Philly adores a tofu banh mi sandwich from a corner store also a block away from my apartment. It is practically legendary. I’m a fan as well. Since all my guests were meat eaters this meal I made the pork version. I partially used this recipe, though I added daikon to my pickled vegetable lineup per another recipe for a tofu version and used elements of the marinade for the pork from this recipe. The pickled vegetables turned out beautifully.
I found these great sliced pork chops at Wegman’s, which I (indoor) grilled, half of which I sliced for the banh mi and half of which I kept whole for the rice entree.
The banh mi sandwiches were also MYO and were fresh and delicious. A filling appetizer course.
I made two entrees, starting with pork and broken rice. I used this recipe, though just did the pork and broken rice, not the meatloaf. I love that the store had super broken rice. Which may mean this wasn’t the true Vietnamese broken rice, but I tried.
I was busy working on the pho when I served the pork and broken rice, so didn’t sit to enjoy it, but it was gobbled up so I’m assuming it was good!
Pho. A classic Vietnamese dish. I’d never had pho before moving to Philly but was quickly surrounded by people who made eating pho almost an art form. In graduate school one of my roommates used to bring me chicken pho when I was sick and I swear it worked to speed up the healing process. Essentially a chicken noodle soup with all sorts of bonus ingredients. I was nervous to make it and have to say, am quite proud that it turned out well. It’s quite a process. I had a little panic moment when I realized that doubling this recipe meant my stockpot was not nearly big enough to double the amount of water required for a 7 pound chicken. So, I channelled the Italian motto “make do with what you have” and stuffed the chicken into the biggest pot I had and just made it work. I will also confess here that despite my culinary adventuresome spirit, whole poultry makes me nervous. I think this is the first time I’ve ever single-handedly dealt with a whole bird.
Ta Da! It worked!
The broth turned out beautifully, with layers of flavor punctuated by spicy toppings of fried shallots, cilantro, lime, bean curd, etc. I was quite relieved.
I sat and enjoyed the pho with my 16 lovely guests. They were all so gracious about the fact that we were eating soup without tables and chairs, given that I don’t have enough seating for everyone. A tricky feat with a hot bowl of soup. Couch cuisine, indeed.
I’m not quite ready to talk about the disaster that was dessert. Or, really, that wasn’t dessert, because it was completely inedible. I tried to make tapioca with coconut milk and bananas. However, the tapioca did not cook even after several hours, but instead turned into a congealed, uncooked mess that ruined the dutch oven that I unthinkingly cooked it in. Major. Fail. Thankfully I’d bought a few pastries at the Asian market and also prepared Vietnamese iced coffee (coffee with sweetened condensed milk) so the sweet tooth folks were at last partially satiated.
It was not the smoothest, most organized of my couch cuisine meals, but most of the dishes turned out really well, and I would make them again. It was a great group of people and the evening reminded me, again, how grateful I am to have a community of friends who can fill my apartment with healthy appetites, laughter, and cheer. Moving to Rochester has had its challenges, and I often miss the friends and amenities of my Philly life. However, this meal and evening made me grateful for this season – for the little things like recreating a favorite dish from West Philly in my own home, and for the new people who’ve come into my life in my new city.