Regional variations in Vietnamese cuisine stem in part from differences in climate, soil fertility and influence from neighboring countries. While North Vietnamese food tends to be milder, balanced and more restrained, South Vietnamese cuisine packs a punch with bolder flavors and leans towards the sweeter side. And if you ask me, the food of each region also reflects the temperament of the people, with those from the North being more frigid while Southerners are louder, without pretense and simply more fun. But, that’s merely my personal opinion.
I naturally gravitate towards South Vietnamese food because my family hails from there. But after moving to France, I started to learn about more North Vietnamese dishes that I didn’t eat while growing up. Canh cà bung, which is an eggplant and tomato soup, is among my favorites because of its stew-like texture. Pork ribs seasoned with turmeric and a touch of curry powder provide the base of the broth, while tomatoes add notes of acidity and Japanese eggplants impart a mild sweetness. A generous garnishing of Vietnamese red perilla brings the soup together with its lemony mint flavors. This dish is often served with rice family style alongside other savory meat and vegetable dishes. But, it can also be enjoyed over vermicelli rice noodles.
Canh Cà Bung | Eggplant and Tomato Soup
- 600 g pork ribs, cut into 4×3 cm morsels
- 1 shallot, minced
- 2-3 cloves garlic, minced
- 1½ tsp salt (+/- to taste)
- 1½ tsp sugar
- ¼ tsp black pepper
- 1 tsp turmeric
- ¼ tsp curry powder
- 1 knob (golf ball size) tamarind pulp
- 6-7 tomatoes, quartered
- 2 Japanese eggplants
- 200 g fried tofu
- 1½ liters hot water
- cooking oil
- Vietnamese red perilla for garnishing
- Season the pork ribs with the salt, sugar, black pepper, turmeric and curry powder. Set aside.
- Heat cooking oil over high heat in a pot, and sauté the minced shallot and garlic until fragrant, but not browned. Add the seasoned pork ribs and cook until evenly browned. Pour hot water over ribs, add tamarind pulp, turn down the heat to medium low and simmer covered for about 20 minutes.
- Add the tomatoes and continue to simmer covered for another 10 minutes. While the broth simmers, cut the eggplant into 3-4 cm lengths and then quartered lengthwise. Then, add to the pot and simmer cover for another 10 minutes.
- Add fried tofu to pot. Once they absorb some broth and color, the soup is ready to serve. Garnish with chopped Vietnamese red perilla.
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