Bitter melon is a gnarly looking veggie with a pungent bitterness to match, which may deter the uninitiated palate. Nonetheless, I invite you fearless eaters out there to broaden your palate and test your palate’s threshold for bitterness.
One of my favorite ways to stay cool during this past summer’s heatwave is with this Vietnamese basil seed and malva nut drink. The basil seeds (hột é) look very similar to chia seeds, but they are slightly smaller and don’t need to soak for as long. The seeds are often paired with malva nuts (đười ươi), which puffs into an algae-looking blob. It, too, has a slightly gelatinous texture and imparts a subtly earthy flavor. Both seeds have a very mild flavor, so the drink needs a little bit of sugar to give it more body.
When the inhabitants of China’s Hainan Province migrated to Southeast Asia, they brought with them one of the province’s most notable culinary exports, Hainanese chicken rice. The eponymous dish made a mark on essentially all cuisines in this region. In Vietnamese cuisine, this delectable chicken and rice dish is known as cơm gà hải nam. It’s such a simple dish composed of few ingredients, yet tastes exquisitely delicious.
Bánh giò is a Vietnamese rice flour dumpling filled with ground pork sautéed with wood ear mushrooms and shallots. The pyramid shaped dumplings are wrapped and steamed in banana leaves, which give the rice flour dough a greenish hue and a slightly floral leafy aroma. This North Vietnamese specialty is not a bite-sized dumpling like potsickers. One dumpling can be a meal in itself and is commonly eaten for breakfast. They can also be enjoyed as a snack or light meal at anytime during the day. The dumplings are served warm and can be eaten straight out of the banana leaf without any sauce or garnishes. They can also be dressed up with Vietnamese ham and slices of cucumber.
My version of these caramelized ribs differ slightly from my grandma’s in that they don’t have any added minced lemongrass nor chili peppers. I instead add chopped green scallions in their place. I’ve noticed that a few recipes out there include fish sauce, but my family’s version of this savory, slightly sweet dish doesn’t include any.