July 13, 2007

Vietnamese Potluck Dinner Party

It's pretty rare that people actually cook for potlucks nowadays--especially when it comes to Vietnamese food. Vietnamese food t0-go places offer plenty of catering options, while those in the know pay enterprising homemakers to cook their family recipes.

Bánh ướt thịt nướng and bánh bèo are primarily made of rice flour, which is mixed with water before it is steamed into a think pancake. In the case of banh beo (left), the rice flour is steamed in round dishes that are small and shallow. They are topped with dried shrimp, scallion, and mung beans and eaten with fish sauce. The flavor of the dish is actually very mild and is more a textural play than anything else.

Banh uot is rolled even thinner onto a sheet and then used as a wrapper to encase the grilled pork, bean sprouts, lettuce, and herbs. Think of banh uot as a heavier spring roll with thicker, slightly sticky wrapping. Banh uot is eaten with a peanut-based sauce, which is thick and chunky. The rice flour in both dishes acts as a backdrop for the main attractions of toppings and fillings.

Bê thui is thinly sliced veal, which is marinated with salt and pepper and seared. After the meat has been prepared, toasted rice, sesame, peanuts, shallots, galanga, and shallots are tossed in to give the meat a grainy coating. Jalapenos and Vietnamese herbs (rau thơm & rau răm) are added for color and flavor contrast and the dish is eaten as an appetizer with gingered fish sauce.

Continuing with the beef dishes, we also had bò lá lốt (grilled beef wrapped in betel leaves) and bò kho (Vietnamese beef stew).

The bo la lot pictured above is the two sausage-shaped figures on the right, while the pink meatballs are actually nem nướng, BBQ pork meatballs. Bo la lot primarily tastes of lemongrass and its betel leaves are used for medicinal purposes throughout Southeast Asia. Nem nuong tastes sweet and tangy with its requisite seasonings of sugar, fish sauce, garlic and ginger.

The bò kho (above left) is derived from French boeuf bourguignon (Vietnam used to be a French colony). But if you could imagine replacing all the French ingredients with Southeast Asian ones, you'll have a spicier broth spiked with star anise, lemongrass, fish sauce, and ginger. This was one of the few dishes cooked from scratch, though we did buy baguettes to enjoy it with.

And how do you nhậu (verb that means to eat food with alcohol) without food that makes you cringe. Voila dồi trường, otherwise known as pig intestines.


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