My guide, Mr. Cong, had an appropriately scholarly appearance. He sated my curiosity again and again with historically detailed stories and personal anecdotes about his life as a Vietnamese teacher turned culinary adventurer. And he kept his promises. My heart jumped out from our car as we whizzed past a street vendor selling spit-roasted pork belly. I needed to taste the crackling golden skin that bubbled over those glowing knotty coals. He promised he would bring me back. We returned the following day for what I now call Way Under Water. (Hu is pronounced way.) I have a pork belly epiphany in every country I visit, it seems. First, it was Malaysian sliced pork belly layered with slabs of steamed taro, bathed in sweet, dark, spiced soy sauce. Then it was the deep-fried Thai slab-crunchy- pork. Then, slices of marinated grilled pork in Singapore's Chinatown. But nothing could prepare me for this experience.
Our car stopped abruptly. I jumped hastily out armed with my camera, my appetite, and a grin of optimistic anticipation. Not a word was spoken as I approached crunchy hog heaven. Lusty salivation is a universal language. Mrs. Quy wordlessly assembled a sample for me to taste. She plucked a faintly bitter green leaf like yu choy (pg. 76) and folded in a small chunk of pork belly, a sliver of cucumber, a sprig of raurm (Vietnamese coriander), and a tiny piece of fragrant Asian basil. Before relinquishing the delicacy, she anointed it with a squeeze of lime. Then, she rolled it up like a Cuban cigar, pressed it into my palm, and instructed me to dip it in chili-salt. The instant I placed this pleasure packet in my mouth, I began to undertake the multilayered flavor experience. My crisp-pork guru motioned to some fresh green peppercorns, clearly wanting me to pop some into my mouth. Wow. That spark elevated the pleasure sensations I was feeling to a whole new level.
I knew I had to convince Mrs. Quy to teach me the secret to this gustatory perfection. Guileless, she obligingly offered to lead me through the daylong process. But she warned me that she wakes each morning at 6:00 a.m. to the daily ritual of marinating the slabs of meat. Time is no matter, I told her. This wouldn't be the first time...the rest of this true storycan be found within the pages of the Southeast Asian Flavors book.
Pummelo and Shrimp Salad
Shrimp chips are made by pureeing shrimp with tapioca starch into a paste, this paste is formed into logs and poached. After cooking and cooling they are sliced then dried. At home, all you have to do is deep-fry them until they puff up. Great snacks, their slightly sweet crunch is a great foil to the slightly sour Pummelo Salad recipe in the book
The spiritual lotus flower is a metaphor for life.
The growth of the Lotus from the mud is a powerful reminder of our earthly beginnings and the karma we must break through in order to become enlightened, just as the Lotus reaches for the light and becomes a majestic fragrant flower. This is our metaphor for life.
Chicken Stir-fry with Lemongrass, Tamarind and Chilies.
Homes across Vietnam are filled with the sound of sizzling woks, filled with this quick chicken stir-fry. Lemongrass perfumes the spicy chili sauce.
Sizzling Crepe Video
Crispy sizzling pancakes are one of the recipes in the book, see how they do it in Hue, Vietnam.