Monday, 27 October 2008

Spring roll (Cha gio)

Cha gio is one of the most popular traditional Vietnamese food, literally meaning minced pork roll.

The most common English translation of “Cha gio” is spring roll, though this is just a fancy name since the food has nothing to do with spring.


The main ingredients of a roll of “Cha gio ” are commonly seasonal ground meat, mushrooms, and diced vegetables such as carrots and jicama, rolled up in a sheet of moist rice paper. The roll is then deeply fried until the rice paper coat turns crispy and golden brown. The ingredients, however, are not fixed. The most commonly used meat is pork, but one can also use crab, shrimp, sometimes snails (in northern Vietnam), and tofu (for vegan cha gio). If diced carrots and jicama are used, the stuffs inside the rolls are a little bit crunchy, and match well with the crispy fried rice paper. Nevertheless, the juice from these vegetables can soon cause the rolls to soften after only a short time. To keep the rolls crispy for a long time, mashed sweet potato or mung beans may be used instead. One may also include bean sprouts and rice vermicelli in the stuffing mix, yet, this is a rare practice. Eggs and various spices can be added based on each one's preference.

“Cha gio re” is a rare kind of “cha gio” that uses “banh hoi” (thin rice vermicelli woven into a sheet) instead of rice paper. The stuffs inside the roll are the same as normal cha gio and the roll is also deeply fried. Since the sheets of “banh hoi” themselves are not very wide, and the rice vermicelli is too easily shattered, “cha gio re” rolls are often small and difficult to make. They are only seen at big parties and restaurants.

Side notes

At some restaurants, “cha gio” is incorrectly translated in English as "Egg rolls", and sometimes "Imperial rolls". Egg rolls are significantly different from “Cha gio ”, as the wrapper is a wheat flour sheet instead of moistened rice paper. However, many Vietnamese restaurants in America have adopted the wheat flour sheet to make their “Cha gio ”, since it makes the rolls harder to shatter when fried, and the rolls stay crispy for longer time.


Grilled shrimp paste-a whole ocean in one bit!

Grilled shrimp paste, which has been roughly translated in Vietnamese as chao tom, was originally created by the ingenious cooks for the imperial kitchen in Hue. Walking along some streets and stopping at one grilled shrimp paste vendor in Hue, Hanoi or Saigon will give you the chance for tasting that dish with unforgettable flavor!

Is it easy to make?

If you have chance to see how Vietnamese people make a good grilled shrimp paste, you will notice that its process is not so difficult or time-consuming.

Firstly, boil the pork fat, drain and finely dice then, put shrimp, garlic, scallion, egg white, sugar, salt and pepper in a food processor. Do not forget to add pork fat and mix well. Split each section of the sugar cane lengthwise into quarters then oil your fingers. Mold the paste onto the sugar cane; leave about 1 inch each end of the sugar cane exposed to serve as a handle. .. You can grill over medium charcoal, or broil in the oven until browned or pre-steam until the color turns pink then pan-fry them. Taste and adjust if necessary.

Indispensable spices

It must be a big mistake if you enjoy this dish without fish sauce which is considered the most finical one in Vietnam. Chicken broth, tamarind juice, peanut butter are combined in a small sauce pan, stir well and brought to boil over medium heat, adding sugar to taste.

Now, Chao tom, grilled shrimp paste, is waiting for you to enjoy!


Green Chung cake - the soul of Vietnamese Lunar New Year!

Chung cake is a traditional and irreplaceable cake of Vietnamese people in the Tet Holidays and King Hung’s anniversary (10th March Lunar). For the Vietnamese, making Chung cake is the ideal way to express gratitude to their ancestors and homeland.

Banh Chung

The legend of Chung cake

Chung cake was invented by the 18th Prince of Hung Emperor in the contest of looking for new Emperor. According to the legend, 3,000-4,000 years ago, Prince Lang Lieu, made round and square cakes, the round Day cake symbolizing the sky and the square Chung cake symbolizing the Earth (under the ancient Vietnamese perception), to be offered on the occasion of Spring.

In the ancient conception, the Earth is square, hence Chung cake's shape is square, too, to reflect the Earth shape. Since the cakes he offered were of special meaning and delicious taste, Lang Lieu was selected to be the next Emperor. Since then, in honor of this 18th Prince, Vietnamese people always make and have Chung cake in the Lunar New Year. Up to now, Chung cake has become the most famous and irreplaceable traditional Vietnamese food in Tet Holiday. This legend aims to remind the next generations of the ancient tradition as well as the primary of Chung cake. Besides, it emphasizes the important role of rice and nature in water rice culture.

How to make a Chung cake?

In contrast to the fast food in modern life, the process of making Chung cake is time-consuming and requires the contribution of several people. Main ingredients are glutinous rice, pork meat, and green beans wrapped in a square of bamboo leaves that will give the rice a green color after boiling. The

sticky rice must be very good and was soaked in water in the previous day. Rice cake is wrapped in square shape, and the wrapping power must be neither tight nor loose. Then the cake will be boiled in about 12 hours by wood. The Chung cake has nutrition with an original tasty flavor and may be kept for a long time. Eating Chung cake with vegetable pickles will bring you unforgettable taste!

In the traditional conception of Vietnamese people, the process of making Chung cake is the opportunity for family to come together. Sitting around the warm fire, all members in the family tell one another the past stories and are ready for a New Year with wishes of best things. Nowadays, in some big cities, the business lifestyle of modern society prevent people from preparing the cake, however, the habit of worship ancestors with Chung cake never changes. It is the evidence of the Vietnamese loyalty and deep gratitude to ancestors.

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Vietnamese Cuisine

Food and eating habit are one of criterions to value a nation’s culture, life as well as living standard. To some people, value a dish isn’t simple to measure the nutritious level, to see the decoration or to know its taste but to find out the relation between food itself and natural characters of the place where people live.
In general, there is something in common and differences between Vietnamese cuisine in the North, the South and also in the Middle. Materials, spices, way of cooking, as well as serving are dominant characters which flexibly changed from place to place in this country.

Vietnamese food has long been appreciated in France, yet, it was the U.S residents who discovered its fine features. Vietnamese chefs like to refer to their cooking as "the nouvelle cuisine of Asia." Indeed, with the heavy reliance on rice, wheat and legumes, abundance of fresh herbs and vegetables, minimal use of oil as well as treatment of meat as a condiment rather than a main course, Vietnamese food has to be among the healthiest on the planet.

The main features.

Cuisine in the country with more than 70,000,000 people differs strikingly between the north, south and central regions, but two key features stand out.

Firstly, rice plays an essential role in the nation's diet as it does throughout Southeast Asia. Humorous speaking, Vietnamese is noodle-crazy. You have seen regularly the appearance of noodle in their breakfast, lunch and dinner, in homes, restaurants and at roadside stands. Noodles are eaten wet and dry, in soup or beside soup, and are made in different shapes and thicknesses of wheat, rice and mung beans such as bun cha, Cao Lau, Hue beef noodle, bun rieu…Rice is also a main ingredients for making banh chung, banh bao, banh xeo, banh beo, xoi…

Secondly, no meal is complete without fresh vegetables and herbs. Thanks to the tropical climate, fresh vegetables are available all the year round. As the result, dishes with fresh vegetable become familiar with every family, especially with poor people in the old days. Some popular dishes are canh, goi ngo sen, nom du du, rau muong, ca phao…Vietnam can also be considered as a tropical paradise of dessert and beverage with che, sugarcane, fruit smoothies, bubble tea…

With different cooking methods, different dishes were made, extremely enjoyed and gradually popularized in the country. A key portion of every meal from the North, the Central to the South is a platter containing cucumbers, bean threads, slices of hot pepper, sprigs of basil, coriander, mint and a number of related herbs found principally in Southeast Asian markets.

Food of three regions

Vietnamese cuisine reflects its geography and history. Geographically, it consists of two great river deltas separated by a belt of mountains. Vietnamese describe their country as two great rice baskets hung on a carrying pole. The Red River Delta surrounding Hanoi provides rice for the residents of North Vietnam. The tremendously fertile Mekong Delta, centered by Ho Chi Minh City (formerly Saigon) produces rice plus a wide variety of fruits and vegetables.

As a former colony of China, Vietnamese adopted not only the Confucianism, Buddhism, but also the habit of eating by chopsticks. Due to its proximity to the border, North Vietnam reflects more Chinese influence than central or south. Soy sauce rarely appears in Vietnamese dishes except in the North. It is replaced by the most important and common ingredients in Vietnamese cuisine - fish sauce or nuoc mam and shrimp paste. In the North, fish - dipping sauce is usually used plain or almost mixed with nothing. In the South, sugar, vinegar or lemon juice are added to weaken the sauce’s smell while in the Middle, people mixed the sauce with some chilly.

Actually, in the North, dishes with salty taste seem to be much preferred to suit the chill weather. On the contrary, the Southern cuisine is a combination between sweet and sour. Foods of the Middle are famous for its hot but sensitive taste that closely links with eating habit set for hundreds of year by royal families

Northern cuisine exhibits fewer herbs and vegetables than the other regions because its climate is less hospitable than the Mekong Delta. For heat, North Vietnamese cooks rely on black pepper rather than chilies.

The royal tradition in the Central region goes back beyond the recent Vietnamese monarchy to the ancient kingdom of Champa. The royal taste reveals itself in the preference for many small dishes placed on the table at once. The more lavish the spread, the wealthier the household. However, even the poorer families are likely to have multiple dishes of simple vegetables.

Style of cooking

The Vietnamese cook their food in a variety of ways, from deep fry, stir fry, boil to steam. Unlike the Chinese, the Vietnamese use a minimal amount of oil while cooking. Their purpose is to preserve the freshness and natural taste of food as much as possible. Hence, Vietnamese cuisine is often considered as one of the healthiest foods in the world.

A typical family meal

A typical Vietnamese meal (lunch or dinner) will include steamed rice, a soup dish to eat with rice, a meat or fish dish and a vegetarian dish (either stir fried or boiled).

Vietnamese do not eat in separate servings; however, food is placed in the middle. Each member of the family has a small bowl and chopsticks which allow him or her to take food from the table throughout the meal.

Though there were many rises and falls through the time and historical events, including cultural crosses between Vietnam and other countries, Vietnamese cuisine is always deep and strong in identity. It reminds people of the folk creation and adaptation to nature. Increasingly famous worldwide restaurants have sprawled over the globe, yet, no Vietnamese food abroad can equal in flavor or quality to the one made in Vietnam itself. In brief, Vietnamese cuisine depends heavily on rice grown in water paddies throughout the country with dishes varying from simple everyday meals to most complex dishes designed for the King. Reaching a balance between fresh herbs and meats as well as a selective use of spices, Vietnamese food can be considered one of the healthiest cuisines in the world.

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Strange foods - why don’t you try?

Western culture considers that eating a dog is not good, but there will be no problem with other sorts of animals, as long as they are not called pets. However, for the vast majority of people on Earth, cultural values are very different. Some strange foods are considered a delicacy in some Asian cultures including China, Korea, Philippines, Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, Thailand and Myanmar. Indeed, these food are very tasty and protein rich. May be you should try them some day if you are not vegetarian.

Dog meat is consumed in Vietnam to varying degrees of acceptability, though it predominantly exists in the North. It's a winter food which believed to keep you extraordinarily warm on cold nights. Dog meat is eaten in a variety of ways, from grilled, stuffed in spring rolls, stir fried, to added to soups. There are multiple dishes featuring dog meat, and they often include the head, feet as well as internal organs. Dog meat restaurants can be found throughout the country. If you are in Hanoi and you are eager to try this dish, please come to a restaurant on Nhat Tan Street - Tay Ho District. Typically, a chef will choose one of seven ways to cook dog, collectively known as "cay to 7 mon". You can choose steamed dog meat, dog sausage, steamed dog in shrimp paste, ginger and rice vinegar, grilled dog meat, bamboo shoots and dog bone marrow or fried dog in lemon grass and chili. Here, you can see groups of customers who seated on mats spending their evenings on sharing plates of dog meat and drinking alcohol.

Dog meat is supposed to raise the libido and sometimes considered unsuitable for women. In other words, eating dog meat can serve as a male bonding exercise. Nevertheless, it is not uncommon for women to eat dog meat. The consumption of dog meat can be part of a ritual life which usually occurring in the end of the lunar month for reasons of astrology and luck. Restaurants which mainly exist to serve dog meat may only open for the last half of the lunar month.

Snakes are a common novelty and relished food. You can drink the wine as well as eat the flesh on several occasions. When I visit one of my Vietnamese friends, he caught a cobra outside his front door and shared it with me on evening. Actually, there is very little meat on a cobra, so the skin is eaten as well. In the village of Le Mat, which famous for its snake restaurants, I tried snake meat in a number of ways, including in soup (both the taste and texture was like crab meat) and spring rolls (tastes like chicken). Furthermore, snake blood is supposed to be healthy with many benefits as well as a natural form of Viagra. So what is its taste like? I was surprised that tasting a fried meat actually a bit like custard. There is no fat and extremely lean and tender. After trying snake, you will surely be back for more. Lizards and frogs (best grilled) are standard fare in Phan Thiet. Some of my friend said that he had never tried frog until he came to Vietnam, but now he like it a lot. If you ever order a frog dish in Vietnam, pay attention to the bones! During rainy season, Vietnamese people catch toads and boil them up. They merely cut out the stomach organ and eat the rest-skin, guts and all.

frog porridge

frog dish

I watched my friends eating trung vit lon for many months before trying it myself. These fertilized duck eggs are allowed to partially develop and then, they are hard-boiled. Crack the top off, suck out the juice and then spoon out the colorful morsels with pinches of pickled carrots, garlic, radish, turnip, some mint leaves, and a dash of salt and pepper.

Experience had taught me that in Vietnam, food nearly always tastes better than it looks. When traveling, you always want to experience the culinary delights that you never see at home. Eating different and unusual food is a big part of what makes your holiday memorable…

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Phong Nha-Ke Bang National Park, a World Heritage Site

Phong Nha - Ke Bang is a national park in the center of Quang Binh province in north-central Vietnam. It protects one of the world's two largest karst regions with several hundred caves and grottoes. Its name derives from Phong Nha cave, the most beautiful one, with numerous fascinating rock formations, and Ke Bang forest. The plateau is probably one of the finest and most distinctive examples of a complex karst landform in Southeast Asia.

Phong Nha-Ke Bang National Park was first nominated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1998. The dossier submited to UNESCO was for the recognition of Phong Nha nature reserve as a world natural heritage under the name “Phong Nha Nature Reserve”. The reason given for the nomination was that this nature reserve satisfied the criteria of biodiversity, unique beauty and geodiversity (criteria I and iv).

It was recognized as a world natural heritage site at the UNESCO's 27th general assembly session being held in Paris in June 30thJuly 5th, 2003. At the session, delegates from over 160 member countries of UNESCO World Heritage Convention agreed to include Phong Nha-Ke Bang park and 30 others worldwide in the list of world heritage sites. Phong Nha-Ke Bang National Park meets with criteria viiii in accordance with UNESCO’s appraisal scale since it displays an impressive amount of evidence of earth’s history and is a site of importance for increasing human understanding of the geologic, geomorphic and geo-chronological history of the region.

Phong Nha-Ke Bang National Park is of high conservation value as one of the largest areas of intact forest habitat remaining in Vietnam. As part of a continuous forest block with the neighbouring Him Namno Biodiversity Conservation Area in Laos it forms one of the largest areas of forest on limestone karst in Indochina. The presence of tall lowland forest, which is regionally threatened as a habitat type, in the National Park increases the area's conservation value.

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Halong Bay of VietNam - a World Heritage Site

Recognized by Unesco as a World Heritage Site since 1994 for it thousands of natural islands, Ha Long Bay is a legendary world,, and one of the most magnificent scenic spots in Vietnam as well.

The permanent beauty of Ha Long is created by three factors: stone, water and sky. Ha Long’s island system is multicolored with a variety of shapes and can be regarded as a water-color, a work of art. The islands, scattered all round, have different shapes which provoke the imagination: Dinh Huong (Incense Burner) implies spiritual significance, Ga Choi (Fighting Cocks) the symbol of Viet Nam tourism, Con Coc (Toad) recalls the passage of time, waiting thousands of years to seek justice in Heaven. There are islands that resemble a resplendent throne, a Vietnamese mother’s curved back carrying her child, a roof, an old man, a human head and so on.

Within the bigger islands are great attractions. Dau Go Cave (Wooden Stakes) dazzles the senses with many huge stalactites hanging poised in mid air and stalagmites growing majestically upwards. Then there is Thien Cung Grotto (Heavenly Palace) with its small, narrow entrance, but inside looking like a marvelous palace, and many other caves each has its own attractions and beauty.

Ha Long’s sea is always the same, blue, smooth and still. Ha Long has its own beauty by seasons. In Spring, buds of trees burst on limestone islands. In Summer, it is cool and clean with many sparkling sun rays reflecting from the sea’s surface. In Autumn, especially at night, moonlight illuminates the mountains so they appear like gold, inlaid into the earth. In Winter, with pervasive frost, Ha Long is glamorous as “a floating flower basket on smooth wave”

The bio diversity value

Bio-diversity is an important natural resource and needs to be preserved and conserved to maintain the ecological balance of the whole region. Bio-diversity is the general term used to reflect diversify and abundance in nature and includes all living things.

The total number of plant species living on the rugged islands in Ha Long Bay is still not known, as many islands remain unexplored. There are probably over a thousand species of plants, the distribution of which is not uniform. Instead, several different communities (species of plants that always grow together) are found, such as: mangrove, seashore plants, those of the slopes or sheer cliffs, the summit plants and those that grow around the mouth of caves and in gullies. .

In 2002 a survey on assessing and auditing Ha Long Bay’s bio-diversity was conducted by management authorities and researchers. They surveyed 9 areas in Zone 1 of the World Heritage and all sites had maintained its bio-diversity and species diversity, and more new species were discovered.

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Do you feel Halong Bay is beautiful?