This post is well overdue – I travelled in Vietnam for most of February and enjoyed Vietnamese food from both the simple street stalls and the more sophisticated “fusion” food served in many restaurants.
This post is a tribute to the kindness of strangers. It concerns a proprietor and Chef called Son Tran. His restaurant is called Lantern Town and it is in Hoi An on the central Vietnamese coast.
|Fresh spring rolls, pomelo salad with prawns, seared tuna (long tail).|
Just like the rest of the world, simple traditional Vietnamese recipes have responded to trends and outside influences. With easier access to books and the internet, more opportunities to travel and engage with travellers, Vietnamese chefs are adapting and elaborating on age-old staples.
|Long tail tuna.|
These are some photos of what Son cooked for us. The entire Lantern Town experience – the cooking and the eating – is one of the most enduring memories I will keep of Vietnam.
|Before cooking – fresh pieces of mango, wrapper in lattice rice paper.|
Son’s specialises in adaptations of traditional Vietnamese dishes, applying modern twists to conventional ingredients.
|Mango rolls dipped into batter made with coconut milk, rice flour, sugar, chocolate powder and then deep fried.|
I met Son Tran in his restaurant over a lunchtime dish of his version of stuffed squid. My passion for food was evident and I told him about my Sicilian version of stuffed squid. Mine is stuffed with the principal ingredients of ricotta and almonds and is cooked in marsala, his was stuffed with cellophane noodles and prawns. He responded to my enthusiasm by offering to take me on a tour of the local Hoi An market and to personally cook a special dinner for me and my partner.
|Buying prawns at the Hoi An market|
Buying the fish, Son chose a piece of long fin tuna saying he prefers it to blue-fin or yellow-fin tunas because of its clear flesh and its flavour. He explained that long-fin (or Pacific albacore) is much paler than either of the other tunas. More importantly for me, it is sustainable, not threatened by over-fishing. It was a small fish and Son selected a section of fish towards the tail, weighing about 1kg, which he carefully carved off the bone, creating four individual fillets; he also removed the skin.
The pomelo salad was made with segmented pomelo, carrots and prawns and had a dressing made with passion fruit pulp. The fresh spring rolls had prawns, carrot, cucumber mint, noodles and passionfruit pulp; they were accompanied by a pineapple, sugar and vinegar dipping sauce. The tuna was marinaded in lemongrass, shallots, basil, ginger, soy, oyster sauce; it was then seared over high heat; it was presented with a celery sauce. What I particularly like about Vietnamese food is the use of fresh herbs.
|Son buying herbs.|