The other night, I decided I’d stop by the grocery store and pick up some condensed milk for the Vietnamese avocado shake recipe I’d read about, as that is doable even without specialty ingredients. As I began making the shake, I wasn’t sure what to expect—I remembered really enjoying it before, but I didn’t remember the taste and just how good this shake is.
Over the last three weeks, the northeast US has been hit with a blizzard a week. It’s resulted in government closures and public transit shut downs. I’ve been enjoying the snowy views from my window. However, these circumstances have limited my ability to procure Vietnamese ingredients. This is a situation I didn’t foresee when I began this project.
What’s nice about bánh mì is that, unlike many American sandwiches, this sandwich tastes light and refreshing yet savory at the same time. Bánh mì is the Vietnamese word for bread, but it refers to Vietnamese sandwiches served in a mini baguette made of rice and wheat flours. There are variations on the sandwich, but all seem to feature seasoned meat and đồ chua—a picked mix of matchstick carrots and daikon, jalapeño peppers, cilantro, soy sauce and mayo. The baguette is an indication that this recipe came into existence during Vietnam’s period of colonization by the French.
I have to admit that before delving into this location, I felt a little intimidated—Yên Lạc, like the previous locations of Netherhill, Saskatchewan and Kimberly, Western Australia, is a largely rural area within the province of Vĩnh Phúc in the Red River Delta of north Vietnam. Navigating online to find authentic recipes might be difficult with the language barrier, especially for what seems like such a remote location.
I’ve had Vietnamese cuisine before, but I have no idea if it was northern Vietnamese or southern. My introductions have been somewhat limited, anyway—an accidental order of a tongue bánh mì sandwich at a Super 88, bánh xèo (Vietnamese crêpes), and phở gà (chicken pho), cá kho tộ (catfish braised in a clay pot), nem cuốn (spring rolls) and sinh tố bơ (avocado shakes) at my favorite Vietnamese places in Boston’s Chinatown. It was actually the complexity of the Vietnamese alphabet I saw on the menus that initially inspired me to study Vietnamese several years ago. Unfortunately, I barely remember any of it, but even just reading names of dishes is bringing back just the slightest recollection of the melodies that comprise spoken Vietnamese.
After some searches, I discovered quite a few recipes from northern Vietnam, many, in fact, in English. Many of them come third-generation Vietnamese immigrants. Although many of them had ingredients that seemed a little intimidating (such as tripe), I was excited to begin.