Along with cooking we also learned how to carve these carrots out of flowers. Can you tell which one is Shefali’s and which one is mine? (hint: mine looks like it was carved using a knife and not my teeth)
I’m sure if you saw the previous post about pad thai, you’re aware of how highly I regard Thai food, both for its preparation and its dynamic flavors. Also, I’m a fan of employing badly shot vacation video from almost two years ago to give the few lucky readers of this blog an opportunity to savor more Thai food and watch Shefali and I stumble through the preparation of some basic Thai dishes. You see, the summer before last, before Kaya and her voracious appetite made themselves known – actually, I think Shef was in the early stages of pregnancy with K (aka “The Eater”) – we were fortunate to find ourselves in Chiang Mai, Thailand, recuperating from our trip to India. Believe me, Northern Thailand is the place to go for relaxing and eating. As full fledged tourists, we enrolled in a one day cooking class at the Siam Rice Thai Cookery School. Now, I fancy myself as somewhat knowledgeable about food and the way its prepared – Asian food in particular. Oh, I don’t know, maybe because I’m ASIAN? Sheeit! So I didn’t know how much I’d really get out of this class. Well, feed me some humble pie, because I got a whole lot of spicy goodness out of it. It was great! The recipes were obviously dumbed down for farang students, but what really came through (bubbled up to the surface as it were) was the importance of using the freshest ingredients and cooking things quickly and with the intensity of high eat to seal in flavors. I don’t want to toot my own horn, but some of dishes I cooked in this class, I’d consider among the best Thai food I’ve eaten. So without further ado, please enjoy these two videos which chronicle both our trip to the market and our cooking class. Please enjoy!
For those of you who aren’t fluent in Vietnamese bun thit nuong cha gio translates to vermicelli rice noodles with grilled pork and fried spring rolls. Okay, I’m going to come clean. I actually didn’t know the full Vietnamese name for this dish or more precisely, how to pronounce it. So, I always referred to it as #6 or #8 on the menu. But I’ve been a long time fan of this dish ever since I first tasted it at Khanh’s Garden, in San Jose when I was just a kid (a long, long time ago). As I recall – the memories associated with food often being the sharpest and most vivid – this dish kind of rocked my world with it’s combination of textures, tastes and temperatures. The chewy, room temperature rice noodles serve as the foundation for the salty, charred pork and crispy, hot, deep-fried spring roll. In addition, you have the accents of pickled carrots and daikon, cool cucumbers and aromatic mint and basi. And it’s all brought together by the sweet, sour and spicy sauce that’s poured over everything. It’s basically an example of a perfect dish – or bowl. Ever since then, I’ve ordered bun thit nuong when I’ve wanted something comforting and reliably delicious and it’s often my gauge for measuring whether a Vietnamese restaurant is good or not.
So, it was with great pleasure that I visited An Nguyen Xuan at his pop up restaurant in Williamsburg, called Bep where he showed me how easy bun thit nuong is to prepare – provided you have all the main ingredients already prepped. And once again it was confirmed to me how delicious it is to eat (or in my case, to inhale). An is married to Janis, who’s a friend of Shefali (a.k.a. my wife) so while we’ve known about Bep for a while, it was only recently that I went to visit because I’m often too lazy to make the trek to Williamsburg (the G train just doesn’t cut it). Man, laziness blows because after tasting An’s food, I can’t believe I’ve been missing out on tasting his food earlier and more regularly. He’s a great cook – drawing on his Vietnamese roots, French heritage and experiences in the USA to create his own style of homey and delicious Vietnamese food. Alright, enough reading. Watch this video to get a sense of what I’m talking about and maybe you’ll learn how to make bun thit nuong cha gio – or at least know how to order it the next time you’re at Bep!