That’s what my mom asks when announcing trips to Asia. To be honest, that’s what I’m asking myself the day before leaving. Soon as I get on the plane the doubts are gone, I’m in observing mode. The greatest thing about travel is the enhancing of the senses. Becoming present in the moment by simply observing the surroundings. At home knowing the everydayness places and routines is a blessing time savior, but drifting through gets automated and we stop to pay attention or question the details around us. But when you land yourself all the way there in a completely new setting you wonder at electric poles and charm the dirtiness of the city chaos.
I have a strong bond to local flavours and recipes, but my heart belongs to Asian food. Best served locally where the street have the omnipresent durian smell, eating on pavement petite plastic chairs and where markets are still very much alive and kicking. My latest was a trip to Vietnam, and their food stands a new standard to fresh. With 70% of the population working as farmers, the markets are very busy places and people still have the habit to buy meat kicking for their meals. Also what fascinated me, were that the tables of locals eating out: bunch of pots and plates with fresh garnishes on the table with everybody sharing everything and combining different dishes in one small bowl, where you combine each perfect bite.
One of our national staple foods is beef noodle soup, but phở bò is a step higher with bold spices and adding meat and garnish at the end in order to preserve the texture and taste. Quail eggs were a revelation as well, as I never use them at home, but you see them everywhere in Vietnam. The tiny little egg is a perfect addition to nutritious soup plus they are the most fotogenic ingredient ever. So đac Biet it is – all included, phở galore.
Pho Gà đac Biet
For the broth:
3,5 l cold water
1 whole chicken cut in peices
1 whole onion, unpeeled
Big chunk of ginger, unpeeled
1 tbsp sugar and 1 tsp salt
2 tbsp fish sauce
Rice noodles (grab a bunch with your hand as much as you can hold)
Broth dry spices:
2 tbsp whole coriander seeds
4 whole cloves
2 whole star anise
2 quail eggs per person
bunch of cilantro or basil tops and green spring onion chopped
The point is to make broth clear and intense in flavor. The trick is to parboil the chicken to get rid of the impurities. Have 2 big pots ob boiling water ready. Dunk the pieces of chicken in one for 5 minutes, then transfer to the cooking pot. Next move to charring the ginger and onion for a naturally sweeten and enhance their flavor. You can do it directly on the flame or place them on the he top rack in the oven. Set to broil on high for 15 minutes. Turn the onion and ginger occasionally, to get an even char. The skin should get black and the onion/ginger soft. After cooling, rub to get the charred skin off carefully, the black skin would make the soup bitter.
Put in pot with cooking chicken covering with the lid. Turn heat to high to boil, then immediately turn heat to low. Lift lid up so that steam can escape. After 15 minutes, remove the chicken breasts and set aside. Skim the surface of any impurities in the broth, skimming every 20 minutes to get a clear broth. Simmer for 1,5 hours, in the meantime taste and adjust seasoning with fish sauce and or sugar. In the last 20 minutes of cooking add roasted dry spices. Put them in tea filter, so you can quickly remove them, or they will make the soup bitter.
Strain the broth, discard solids. Soak noodles as per directions on package and cook quail eggs for 2,5 minutes. Ladle broth, add shredded chicken breast and soaked noodles in each bowl. Have garnish ready to add according to individual taste preferences.