Notes from LinkedIn: Eat Globally, Eat Better - Hello Vietnam!

Originally posted on LinkedIn where I contribute weekly stories as part of their INfluencers program

Just like I am keeping my eyes on the culinary landscape of Brazil, I believe Vietnamese is another cuisine to watch. With its abundance of vegetables, minimal use of oils, and liberal application of spice, Vietnamese food is not only delicious but is also considered one of the healthiest cuisines in the world. The country’s better-known dishes include phò, the broth and noodle soup, bánh mì sandwiches, and gỏi cuốn, more popularly known as summer rolls.

But with various historical influences ranging from French to Chinese to Thai, Vietnamese cuisine is both bold in its flavors and varied in its dishes, with a wide range of zesty curries, sauces, and an abundance of small plates. I am particularly fond of the Vietnamese practice of starting meals with a crisp summer salad. These delicious combinations of herbs, vegetables, and meat all over a bed of vermicelli noodles the salads are both balanced and tasty, leaving you satisfied after eating much less.

What I find particularly refreshing about Vietnamese cuisine is just the attitude the country takes towards eating. Every dish is made according to balance, heat and dry juxtaposed with cold and moist. With a strong Buddhist heritage, much of the food is vegetarian, but when the Vietnamese eat meat nothing is wasted. The nose-to-tail dining heralded by many food activists in the United States is the simply the standard in Vietnam.

While a recent guest from Vietnam assured me the Vietnamese food I would find in New York City was the same as what I would find in Hanoi, I am eager to see more and more of the diverse regional variations from this Southeast Asian nation enter the international eating scene.

Food and Fashion: An Interview with Designer Brittany My Linh Vu

By: Ashley Bode

Manhattan is known just as much for fashion design as it is for food. During New York Fashion Week, the city shows off its finest designs and those visiting can see how well the two industries complement one another. It is the opportunity to be reminded of roots and traditions, and how they inspire all aspects of our life.

Case in point: Brittany My Linh Vu; a spit-fire personality and budding fashion designer from Charlotte, North Carolina.  Brittany's family originally hails from Vung Tau, a beautiful beachside city in southern Vietnam from where many emigrants continue centuries-old traditions. The youngest of four, Brittany grew up watching her mother cook enough for all family and friends who found themselves at the table. Stews, stir fries, noodles, Pho and tea were all hearty enough to feed a crowd.

Brittany left home a few years ago, headed back to her family's home in Vietnam to learn how to sew. She boarded with family friends and spent two months working with a tailor to learn every trick and stitch. Since then she has begun to make her way in the world of fashion, working for both Guess and Beckley by Melissa, carrying traditions with her to Los Angeles, New York and back. In her handbag, along side design ideas and sketches, she also carries with her recipes translated from her mother's words. Few measurements are listed, mostly estimates and lists of ingredients that accompany a mental catalog acquired from watching her mother's steps of preparation. "I can't forget my roots; where I came from. Using the skills my family has taught me, cooking and sewing, reminds me of what's important." For her, cooking is like fashion; intuitive.

"I learned from my mother that I don't always need to look at a recipe or measure exactly.  Just like I know what colors look best together, I cook based on literal taste and design based on visual taste."  When Brittany isn't busy in the kitchen or at her sewing machine, she's a cocktail waitress at a hotel in Chelsea. What does she love best about her nighttime job? "There's something fantastic about seeing the worlds of fashion and food coming together," Brittany says. "It's a completely different experience than eating at home. People love to dress up when they go out to eat. Dining out is all about an expression of image and how you want people to perceive you, whether it's what you're eating or what you're wearing, but usually there are some parallels." Brittany describes her design aesthetic as "lingerie inspired," giving the staples of a woman's wardrobe, like blazers, babydoll dresses and kaftans, a feminine twist.  Though her garments are glamorous and one of a kind, she's just as comfortable with the simplest of things.

Here is Brittany's recipe for Lemongrass Chicken, modified to provide measurements. Feel free to be flexible with flavor and cook to your taste.

Brittany My Linh's Lemongrass Curry Chicken

Ingredients: 2 1/2- 3 pounds Chicken, wings, breasts or thighs, with skin 1 stalk lemongrass, pounded flat and chopped finely 5 green onions diced finely 1/2 yellow onion, diced 1 can of curry paste 1-2 tablespoon chili paste 1/3 cup oyster sauce 2 1/2- 3 teaspoons sugar Salt and Pepper to taste

Method:

  1. Excluding chicken, mix all ingredients together in a large bowl. Place sauce and chicken in a large bowl or zip-loc bag and let marinate for at least 20 minutes.
  2. Heat a wok or large skillet with a teaspoon of oil over medium heat. Stir-fry chicken for about 20 minutes or until cooked through. Serve with steamed rice. Garnish with green onion, sliced.

Photos: Ashley Bode

Bia hoi shacks in Vietnam

Become a fan of Street Food here. In Nha Trang, or in Hanoi, don't forget to have bia hoi. It's Vietnamese for draught beer, but you won't find it in any bars. Instead, little shacks on the streets are actually where the locals go to get a little tipsy.

The beer comes out of a large opaque 100-liter plastic barrel.  The owners siphon it out with a pipe using their mouths for suction, then pour it into informal plastic mugs.  The plastic chairs and tables are so tiny, you wonder if bia hoi makes you shrink.

These shacks sell just one kind of beer - a light, palatable brew that comes from one of the major bia hoi producers in Vietnam and makes its way via rickshaw, cyclo or mini-truck to these family run joints. The bia (which contains about 3 to 4 per cent alcohol) must be consumed within 24 hours, so locals like to get to their favorite dive with their buddies early in the day for the freshest taste.

But bia hoi is not just about the beer. It's about Vietnamese culture.  It's about the break between work and the rest of the day. It is about unwinding in preparedness to start again. And, of course, so much of it is about the food.

In keeping with how every thing except the beer mugs are tiny, little ceramic plates are placed around your drinks, tapas-style.  The shacks offer a variety of bar snacks unlike any thing I have had before: salty cured pork wrapped in banana leaves, pan-fried maize kernels in a chile-lemon-butter sauce, beer-steamed shrimps, and a salad made with banana flowers. All of these are made on the premises. With their salt and fat and pungency, they are clearly designed to encourage larger gulps of the bia. After a visit to Vietnam, you never want to have packaged mixed nuts with your lager again.

Bia hois are most fun when you stop by them unplanned, stopping by several times in the day between shopping, sightseeing and afternoon naps. Each one that I went to had a different vibe, reflecting the neighborhood, its residents' most loved dishes, and how they like to spend their free time. I kicked back and made some local friends thanks to beer-lubricated conversation. I discovered no travel guide will give you the sort of tips you will hear after a few bia hoi.

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