The latest “magic pill” in the quest for health (lose weight, boost energy, feel better) is gluten-free gastronomy. In many Western countries, the supermarkets, restaurants and cafes are brimming with these readily available food options. Before taking the bait on grain-less living, let’s look at some nutritional info and discover how to live gluten-free in Vietnam.
People diagnosed with celiac disease are the only ones required to maintain a gluten-free diet. When celiacs consume gluten-containing food, it triggers an auto-immune response that damages the small intestine, resulting in the inability to absorb nutrients. A slew of other effects may follow, possibly leading to more serious diseases.
Image source: i2.wp.com
Only recently in 2013 did the scientific community agree that some people with non-celiac gluten sensitivity can also suffer side-effects such as bloating, low-energy, “brain fog” etc.
“People who are sensitive to gluten may feel better, but a larger portion will derive no significant benefit from the practice,” says Dr. Leffler, who is also an assistant professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School. “They’ll simply waste their money, because these products are expensive.”
Where to Go in Saigon
Now for the good news! Whether you need to be gluten-free or fall for the “farce”, Vietnam allows gluten-free living relatively easily if you stick to Vietnamese cuisine. Here is a list of common Vietnamese dishes that are naturally gluten free:
Pho, bun bo, banh trang (rice cakes), banh cuon, rice, all the fish, chicken, beef and pork dishes are fine (make sure there’s no soy sauce). Hu tieu, goi cuon, mi quang, com hen (rice with snails) and mien (mung bean noodles) are fine too. Some sauces such as soy sauce usually have added wheat, so be careful there. Those who wish to avoid gluten or are wheat sensitive generally don’t need to worry about small amounts. Celiacs, however, do. Glutinous (sticky) rice contains no gluten, nor do all plain rice products (white, brown or black).
Image source: assets.epicurious.com
It is best to avoid fish or meats deep-fried as often they are dipped in flour first. Oils are gluten-free, as are potatoes, but the oils used for French fries may have been used for other deep-fried food dipped in flour. All alcohol is wheat-free except BEER! Oh man, do I miss it! Many micro-breweries abroad have a slew of grain-less swill. A few imported brands are available in Saigon.
Most Western restaurants have yet to adopt specific gluten-free menus, though many Italian restaurants have gluten-free pasta available on request. Some chefs I spoke with are reluctant to display gluten-free options, for risk of cross-contamination. However, it is highly recommended to choose naturally gluten-free foods over the processed gluten-free products, such as gluten-free breads, pastas etc.
Mexican restaurants may be of significant importance for wheat-less warriors.
Mexican food traditionally uses corn flour wraps; however, restaurants use wheat or wheat/corn mixes as a cheaper option. Ask to be sure before you order. This can be challenging as wait staff are often unaware. Even the kitchen staff may not know that many sauces contain wheat.
Saigon has many import stores and Vietnamese and Western supermarkets stocking a long list of gluten-free items including pastas, crisps, bread mixes, pancakes, oats and cookies. But I suggest going for local options such as banh trang, a readily available large round rice cracker, rather than gluten-free crisp breads, as they are far cheaper and locally produced.
Image source: kenau.vn
So folks, there you have it. If you are able to digest this highly wheat-sensitive “info-meal”, choose wisely the next time you desire grain-less grub or hear someone asking “is it gluten-free”? Unless a medical professional determines you are celiac or wheat-sensitive, enjoy your durum semolina and embrace your inner gluten gluttony!
Banner image source: SheKnows.com
Experience Australian Food Culture in Vietnam with Taste of Australia
Taste of Australia, the much-anticipated celebration of Australian food, drinks and culture in Vietnam, officially got a running start on April 23rd with a Media Launch hosted by Australian Consul-General Julianne Cowley.
The festival spans the month of May with events in Hanoi, Danang, Nha Trang and Ho Chi Minh City to share the diversity of Australian food culture with North, Central and Southern Vietnam. A partnership between the Australian Government and numerous sponsors, producers, restaurants and distributors, Taste of Australia will embark upon 20 official events while many Australian owned businesses throughout the country will create their own Taste of Australia inspired menus and promotions.
Taste of Australia Launches in Saigon with Chef Ngo Thanh Hoa
Participants at the Media Launch were treated to a Master cooking class with Vietnamese-Australian, Celebrity Chef Ngo Thanh Hoa at GRAIN Cooking Studio in Saigon’s District 1. The menu included three courses, which showcased a fusion of Australian ingredients and wine pairings with Vietnamese twists. Each course—Father Land, Mother Sea and Southeast Moment—brought to light some of Australia’s most well-known imports like beef and king prawns.
At Grain Cooking Studio with Chef Ngo Thanh Hoa
Chef Ngo Thanh Hoa’s dual roots inspired the first course entitled “Father Land”, which was an Australian beef salad with beetroot, Australian grapes, cherry tomatoes, red radish, roasted rice-lemongrass, galangal, ginger and chili-garlic, palm sugar dressing. The dish, prepared by participants per the Chef’s instructions, was an explosion of Vietnamese and Australian flavours; an excellent display of how the cuisines of the two countries can interact with aplomb.
The author preparing Australian Beef Salad
Andy Wall and Jackie Lam, the couple behind RADA wines, were on hand to explain their choice of pairing a white Mount Pleasant Elizabeth Semillon from Hunter Valley, Australia with the beef.
“Most people are surprised to see a white paired with beef rather than a red”, Wall said. “But we chose this wine to show that it is also possible for a white wine to bring out the beautiful sweet and sour flavours of the meat.”
Chef Ngo Thanh Hoa showing how to properly simmer the Australian beef
Safe and Sustainable Australian Products in Vietnam
RADA, which stands for Really Affordable, Deliciously Australian, is one of the key wine sponsors of Taste of Australia. Their wines, available at https://www.ilovewines.vn/, feature varietals from all regions of Australia. Some of the more interesting references that will be used during Taste of Australia events are the organic and bio-dynamic wines.
Australia has a long-standing reputation for health-conscious products and wines are no exception. For those unfamiliar with the term, biodynamic is a form of agriculture that goes a step further than organic. It includes techniques for soil regeneration, ethical farming practices and holistic composting.
One of the pillars of the Taste of Australia event is to “Reinforce Australia’s international reputation as a supplier of food and beverages that are high-quality, safe and sustainable.
Australian Consul-General in Vietnam Julianne Cowley said “Australia and Vietnam are natural food partners because of proximity. We are able to import food directly from Paddock to Plate.” She explained that the idea behind this concept is that the faster growers are able to get the products to consumers the fresher the food will be. This is part of what gives Australia an upper hand in its reputation as being safe, clean and trusted.
Australia’s top imports into Vietnam are barley, malt and beef. The first two speak to the strong craft beer scene at play between the two countries, many of which will be available for consumption at the Taste of Australia events. Wheat is another strong contender, with as much as 70 percent of the wheat in any given banh mi coming from Australia, according to Consul-General Cowley.
Consul-General Cowley finished off the Media Launch with this statement: “It’s a very important part of our culture to invite friends and family to enjoy food together and this is also an important part of Vietnamese culture.”
This is certainly something that Taste of Australia Ambassadors such as Celebrity Chefs Luke Nguyen and Ngo Thanh Hoa have taken to heart with their smart-casual style of dining that makes their cuisine accessible and enjoyable in both Australia and Vietnam.
We, at City Pass Guide, are certainly looking forward to seeing how the Australian foodie month plays out while preparing our appetites for the gastronomic revelry to come!
Media participants at the Taste of Australia Launch with Australian Consul-General in Vietnam Julianne Cowley
21 May Taste of Australia’s Culinary Competition heats up with the preliminary competitions in HCMC, Hanoi, Danang and Nha Trang. What’s at stake here? Two Vietnamese culinary students will have the chance to win a scholarship to study at a famous hospitality and culinary institute in Australia.
Have you ever tried Southern Vietnamese foods? If you could only use a few words to describe your Southern dish, what would they be? For some people, the answer is clear: rich, flavorful and sweet!
We have gotten to know more about Northern and Central Lunar New Year foods in the previous articles, so let’s head down to our last stop: Southern Vietnam.
Diverse Natural Resources Result in Flavour Richness
We all know that regional cuisines differ according to the climate and local products. So in Southern Vietnam, the abundance of rice, fresh fruits, veggies as well as coconuts are reflected in the dishes of this region, which tend to emphasize sweeter flavors.
Image source: vietnamworldheritages.com
The warm weather and fertile soil of Southern Vietnam create an ideal condition for growing various fruits, vegetables, and raising livestock. As a result, food in Southern Vietnam gets a more vibrant flavor profile with the generous use of garlic, shallots, and fresh herbs.
Additionally, thanks to the widespread use of coconut and sugarcane, sugar is added to more food here than anywhere else in the country giving the dishes a distinctly sweet taste—just like how sweet and friendly Southern people are.
Bánh Tét (Tet Cake or Vietnamese Round Glutinous Rice Cake)
If bánh chưng is an indispensable part of Northerner’s Tet, bánh tét plays the same vital role in Central and South Vietnam. Year after year during Tet holiday, Southern families enjoy this Tet cake, the central dish of the Southern Tet celebration.
According to Southern people's belief, bánh tét is a symbol of a prosperous life. That’s why it is considered a New Year specialty although its available throughout the year.
As we have talked about Central bánh tét in the previous article. In this article, I’m going to introduce you something totally new! The Southern version of bánh tét that isn’t well known by foreigners. This sweet and vegetarian dish is called bánh tét ngọt.
Basically, bánh tét ngọt is the ordinary bánh tét but filled with vegetarian ingredients like banana, back mung bean, mung bean instead of pork.
Image source: st.phunuonline.com.vn
The process of making bánh tét is time consuming and provides an opportunity for family members to catch up, bond and revel in the holiday spirit. In preparing this dish, glutinous rice must be carefully chosen and washed before being stir fried with coconut milk and some salt. Then the hardest part comes, filling the cake. The exact taste of the cake’s insides is up to you. This could be savory or sweet depending on the taste of each family.
Watch how Southern people make their special bánh tét:
Video source: RunAwayRice
Bánh tétngọt also differs from region to region, as locals tend to base their recipes on what natural ingredients are close at hand put their own hallmark spin on bánh tét. For example, Can Tho is famous for its unique bánh tét lá cẩm (violet Tet cake). This bánh tét's sticky rice is soaked in purple water colured by lá cẩm (magenta leaves), which gives the cake a more eye-catching, charming purple appearance. Inside the cake, there are tasty ingredients such as mung bean, black mung bean, and sometimes salted egg yolks. All are tightly and beautifully wrapped in banana leaves. The cake is cut into pieces, which show the dark purple of banana, the yellow of green bean, and the orange of egg. The flavour of glutinous rice cake is tender and tasty.
Some just make Tet cakes for family consumption and gifts, some make it for businesses, and some have become artisans by elevating their Tet cake making to a craft.
Video source: Cooky TV
Củ kiệu tôm khô (Pickled Scallion Heads Served with Dried Shrimp)
If Central’s people like to savor bánh tét with dưa món (pickled vegetables), Southern people love to enrich their sense of taste with pickled scallion heads and dried shrimp. Even as early as mid December, the housewives have already bought scallion heads in preparation for Tet.
This rustic yet simple-looking dish, contrary to popular belief, requires an extra meticulous cooking process.
Image source: static1.bestie.vn
First things first: scallion heads are soaked for hours in water. Then the roots are carefully washed and then exposed to the sun until their leaves turn dry and wilt. Next, all the scallion heads are put into a clean jar. One layer of sugar is covered with one layer of scallion heads. After placing all the ingredients together, one must leave the jar in a dry area for about 10 days until the scallion heads are slowly fermented and eventually are ready to be taken out.
Image source: thucthan.com
Finally, one serving dish of củ kiệu isn’t complete without some dried shrimp on top. Make sure to prepare more dried shrimp in advance for our littlest diners. I assure you kids will definitely be fond of this savoury, sweet and sour dish.
And there it is! Your Southern Tet feast is halfway finished!
Thịt kho Tàu / Thịt kho hột vịt (Pork Braised With Eggs and Coconut Water)
This Vietnamese dish of braised pork with egg and coconut milk is best cooked by the Southern people. Just like other Southern housewives, my mom, a true Southerner, would prepare a giant pot of pork braised with eggs, enough for the whole family to eat during Tết.
Two days before the Lunar New Year’s Eve, my mom would go to the nearby markets early in the morning to choose the ingredients: the best meat, eggs, as well some coconuts for her giant pot of thịt kho hột vịt.
Making Southern thịt kho hột vịt is not too challenging if you just follow some tips. After watching my mom make it for years, here are some good tips that I can offer.
Image source: ukcdn.ar-cdn.com
In order to make the most delicious braised pork dish, you must choose the ingredients wisely. Pork belly must contain both fat and lean meat, or it will get unsuitably dry during the long cooking storage. This meat must be cut into large pieces, marinated with spices and fish sauce for about 30 minutes. While waiting for the meat to become thoroughly soaked, boil the eggs and remove shells.
To start, heat up your pot, then boil fresh coconut water and add cold water if needed. Then put all the marinated pork into the pot, cook until the meat becomes soft. Now it’s time for the next step, putting the eggs into the pot. Finally, season it to match your family's taste and simmer the food until the meat becomes super tender.
The finished dish of pork braised with egg and coconut water is considered properly done if it has these two qualities: an eye-catching and distinct golden brown color and well-seasoned, tender meat.
Learn how to make your own dish:
Video source: Jamie Oliver
This is a dish were cooks have some leeway to give it their own style and spin. For example, some Southerners love to dry pork belly in the sun before braising and some others like to braise their protein with scraped coconut meat. But my mom’s recipe is done without either step.
This dish is best paired with pickled scallion heads and a fragrant hot bowl of rice.
Canh khổ qua dồn thịt (Bitter melon Stuffed With Meat Soup)
You might be wondering why superstitious people like the Vietnamese would choose a bitter dish for their very first start of year. This might surprise you, but canh khổ qua dồn thịt is a significant part of Southern Vietnamese spirituality.
It may look simple at the outside, but bitter melon stuffed with meat contains many spiritual elements according to the Southerners’ belief system. In Vietnamese, “khổ” means “hardship”, and “qua” means “pass”. So basically, Southern people eat this dish in the first days of the New Year with the hope that unlucky things in the old year will pass and that they will welcome a peaceful new year.
Image source: orsimages.unileversolutions.com
Bitter melon has a nutritious blend of bitter and sweet flavors.
Additionally, canh khổ qua dồn thịt is also good for health thanks to the cool-tasting broth, which is a relief amid the humid and warm weather in Southern Vietnam. This food is believed to help lower the heat inside our body.
Make yourself a bowl of bitter melon stuffed with meat soup:
Because for over 11 years, as I’ve promoted Vietnam with City Pass Guide, I’ve come to the conclusion that tourism in the country is portrayed all wrong. The essence of what makes Vietnam a special place isn’t its attractions or its monuments or its landmarks. What really makes it stand out is the people and the food. You can’t really export people too much, but you can export food, and Vietnam definitely has one of the most interesting cuisines—especially now that everyone is becoming aware of the importance of eating healthier. Green, light food, diverse food, easy, simple but fresh, which are attributes of the Vietnamese cuisine.
Image source: The Gourmet Gourmand
How will VFL change the experience of eating Vietnamese food?
I hope that we will be able to support the Vietnamese restaurants in order to ensure higher quality and safety standards, an important area in which improvement must be made. Our aim is really to make a stand for Vietnamese cuisine worldwide.
How do you plan to do that?
It’s a long-term goal that requires ample resources and time. And this is what we’re currently building. Vietnamese Food Lovers aims to recruit the best food supply chain stakeholders and to work together with them to support the promotion of Vietnamese cuisine and food, not only marketing-wise, but sales-wise. Vietnamese Food Lovers plans to be active in international trade fairs for hospitality, F&B sectors, gastronomy and other related trade fairs. The aim is to help local producers who are producing quality food-related products to export to the rest of the world. Vietnam has not yet tapped into this huge potential in this huge industry.
Image source: serenitydentalclinic.com
Why do you think Vietnamese cuisine isn’t more widely celebrated in the world?
I think it’s a combination of things. First, Vietnam has truly opened its doors to the rest of the world only for the last 25 years. And for the first 10 years, tourism was very minimal. The second reason is that to make good Vietnamese food you require some basic raw ingredients that are still not yet available in most countries around the world.
VFL now has a website. What’s the purpose of the website, and what can foodies get out of it?
We just launched the English version, with a Vietnamese version coming soon. Basically, the website aims to be a one-door portal where demand and supply can meet in order to do more Vietnamese cooking. That includes recipes, a very large database of food suppliers from around the world, a large database of restaurants and hotels that have an interest in Vietnamese cuisine, and daily news and films and data that is relevant to Vietnamese Food Lovers.
Image source: vietnamtastelondon.com
What are your goals for VFL by 2020?
By 2020 Vietnamese Food Lovers will have organised over eight Vietnamese Food Festivals across Vietnam. We will have received a million pledges of Vietnamese food lovers around the world. Vietnamese Food Lovers will be the largest database of food supply chain and demand contacts worldwide, so we can unite all Vietnamese food lovers under one portal. It will be the largest media agency responsible for promoting both Vietnamese cuisine and Vietnam’s finest food producers.
Banner image source: serenitydentalclinic.com
Food Bank Vietnam: Leading the Fight against Food Waste
Sitting on a street corner in Saigon, it’s easy to catch the sight of street children polishing shoes and old women selling lottery tickets. These are just a few among the many Vietnamese people who may also struggle to put food on their tables every single day. Statistics from the Vietnamese Fatherland Front show that in the first half of 2017, there were 574,000 people suffering from hunger in Vietnam.
Image source: blog.frankiefoto.com
On the other hand, food waste is a widespread issue throughout the country at almost all stages of the supply chain. A survey by Electrolux on 4,000 households in eight Asia-Pacific countries suggested that Vietnam is the second largest producer of food waste in the region, behind China. 87 percent of the households admitted that they waste two plates of food per week on average.
There are many reasons why Vietnamese people waste so much food. Culturally, preparing more food than necessary is considered a gesture of hospitality and generosity. This has become a custom not only in families but also in restaurants and ceremonies. While Vietnamese people have a habit of saving leftovers for the next meals, nearly 50 percent of people surveyed said that they often forget about excess food or fresh ingredients left in the fridge.
Image source: baoquocte.vn
A considerable amount of food is also lost or damaged during production, storing, transportation and distribution, due to the lack of investment in technology and infrastructure. The preference for fresh food also means that items more than a day old, though still safe to eat, are too easily considered garbage and thrown away because no one is buying them.
In Ho Chi Minh City alone, food waste accounts for more than 60 percent of the city’s 8,300 tons of solid waste per day. In previous City Pass Guide reporting, Nguyen Toan Thang, Director of HCMC Department of Natural Resources and Environment, said that up to 76 percent of this waste ends up getting buried in the city’s vast landfills, which leads to severe air, water and soil pollution in the surrounding area.
Image source: i.imgur.com
Until now, there has been no concerted effort to collect unwanted food and distribute it to those in need, thereby preventing it from becoming waste. This is where Food Bank Vietnam steps in.
Project founder Nguyen Tuan Khoi shared his vision for Food Bank Vietnam. “We want to build not only a charity project distributing food for poor and disadvantaged people, but we also aim to engage businesses such as restaurants, food producers and supermarkets, in the movement to save food, avoid wastage and supply food for the people who actually need it,” he said.
The project is a non-profit project established by Development and Sharing Foods (DSF) and C.P. Vietnam. C.P. Vietnam is a branch of Thailand-based C.P. Group, one of the largest Thai conglomerates in agriculture and food processing.
To do this, Food Bank Vietnam plans to start with supporting ten community houses and homeless centers in 2018, by providing them with free food, such as pork and rice, on a regular basis. It will also organize cooking sessions with the ingredients collected from donors, and distribute the meals to disadvantaged groups in Saigon through the help of a team of volunteers.
Image source: ibb.co
In April 2018, Food Bank Vietnam will organize a seminar called Chong lang phi thuc pham (Fighting Food Waste) for representatives from the food and beverage industry to raise awareness among them about reducing food waste and ask for them to redirect their excess food from the waste stream.
In the long term, it plans to develop a system of “Mobile Food Banks”, or stations to receive and give out free food, as well as “Food Bank Eateries”, selling low-priced meals for the disadvantaged throughout the country.
Another important part of the project is to build an emergency food bank to provide food during natural disasters, such as floods and hurricanes, which happen every year in Vietnam. With support from the Vietnamese Committee of Red Cross and the Youth Social Work Centre, the project founder is optimistic that this is achievable within five years and will be sustainable in the future.
Living in Hanoi, Vietnam, a tropical country with a lot of sun and rain, has conditioned me to enjoy food that provides a balance against the fickle weather. From noodle soups to snails, fried tofu to pork skewers, here are the foods that bring me back.
Goodness in a bowl
There is a reason soup-based noodles make up a large proportion of Vietnamese cuisine, with their most famous representative being phở.
Like a cup of hot tea, the fragrant broth infused with herbs and spices will wake up your senses and send “comfort waves” to your brain. This is why it is best eaten in the early morning or at night, when you want to refresh your mind.
Image source: phobotuhai.vn
For many, the best noodles should be home cooked, and I couldn’t agree more. However, when what you need is a quick mood fix and not an hour in the kitchen, you’ll be grateful for the noodle stalls on the street.
My go-to noodle soups when I need to feel better are phở, bún (rice vermicelli), hủ tiếu and Vietnamese wonton noodles.
Hot, Hot, Hot!
Warm and soft rice porridge, or cháo, that makes your tongue sting a little is a good call on a chilly day, or when you feel tired and need comfort. Vietnamese believe that porridge with spring onions and shiso leaves can help with treating the common cold.
Image source: cooky.vn
In Hanoi, porridge is usually thicker and smoother, and can be made with pork ribs, pork organs, chicken or freshwater mussels. In Saigon, it is common that rice grains remain, and ingredients vary from chicken or duck to fish or squid. Century eggs can be found as a side dish in the South, but rarely in the North.
Charcoal and Smoke
Skewers are among the most favourite snacks for schoolchildren and nostalgic adults. The sweet, spicy and fatty pork skewers can make you feel full and satisfied in an instant.
Image source: toinayangi.vn
However, what really takes me back to my childhood is grilled corn. If you have been to Hanoi during winter, you will see many street vendors grilling and selling corns and sweet potatoes on the spot. Burning hot in your hands and heavenly sweet in your mouth, these winter treats also bring together generations in a family, as they used to be the common food in the past when rice was scarce.
In Saigon, you can also find grilled banana wrapped in sticky rice, an adorable comfort food especially on rainy days.
It would be a mistake not to mention snails and shellfish (ốc) as a unique comfort food in Vietnam. While the snails themselves don’t really have any taste, the different sauces that accompany them sure do. Chilli, lemongrass, tamarind, you name it, the feast of spice in chewy bites will satisfy your taste buds and leave you a happier person.
Image source: anthropogen.com
And what’s best? You can go to the store alone and order a bowl of steamed snails or clams, or a dish of superbly cheap grilled oysters, and nobody would bat an eye. Having such a treat all to yourself is one of the most satisfying things ever.
My favourite comfort food, which I missed a lot during the years I spent overseas, is fried tofu. Vietnamese fried tofu is different from what you can find in other Asian countries, but more than that, it reminded me of meals with my family.
Image source: comnieucaophat.com
Family is very important in Vietnamese culture, and meal time is when the family sits together and shares stories. We bond over our homemade food, and when we are away from home, Vietnamese food always reminds us of the coziness and familiarity that sometimes is lacking in the big, wide world.