Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Bún Chả Singapore

I spent almost 7 months in Vietnam last year on Industrial Attachment at a brewery. Most of that time was spent in Hanoi, where I made some lifelong friends and had some seriously amazing adventures. Many involving copious amounts of bia hơi and occasionally, thịt chó.

Good doggy..

Vietnam has so much more to offer than phở and nem tươi and one of my favourite things to eat for about a dollar is bún chả Hà Nội. My favourite bún chả street stall sits at the junction of Phan Chu Trinh and Trần Xuân Soạn in Quận Hai Bà Trưng, Hà Nội. In addition to the standard fan aspirated charcoal grill that pumps out insanely wicked grilled pork, this stall also serves really good nem rán cua. Which on second thought, is pretty much de rigueur.. Haha!

keep 'em coming auntie...

After coming back home, I kept having cravings for bún chả and when my godmother asked me to cook a dinner for her, I decided it was time to get the charcoal fire going. I tried capturing every detail I could remember to make an authentic bún chả, even using wire mesh meat holders I brought back from Hanoi. I even considered setting up the grill next to my car's exhaust pipe to capture the real street food flavour.

I didn't know where to fit in my stand fan :(

I made Ming hand chop a 50-50 mix of pork belly and pork shoulder with garlic, shallots, Thai basil, and coriander because it was too much work for me. Then I mixed in some water, sugar, nước mắm from Phú Quốc, salt and pepper. This mixture was shaped into mini burger sized patties. I also marinated slices of pork belly with sugar, more nước mắm, minced garlic, salt and pepper. I can't find good Vietnamese nước mắm here so I have to bring back several bottles each time I make a trip there. I also didn't look very hard for bún and used thick bee hoon instead. So much for authenticity...

Are bean sprouts used in bún chả? My memory fails me.. Oops..

The bowl looked kinda empty, because obviously I couldn't find any other herbs besides,Thai basil, coriander and mint so I decided to toss in some bean sprouts. Least I got the nước chấm right. Can't go wrong with that when you have great fish sauce on hand.

It tasted gooood....

Then Ming and I were so busy serving that I didn't get photos of the final layout. The dish was well received, probably cos I didn't tell anyone how much sugar went into the dipping sauce... I think it's about time I headed back north for some real bún chả. Where's a xe ôm when you need one?

This post also appears on the 8th edition of the Delicious Vietnam series hosted by Bear Head Soup and initiated by Anh and the Ravenous Couple to celebrate the diversity of Vietnamese cuisine.

Monday, November 29, 2010


I have a test tomorrow, and another one the day after. Also, final exams are about a month away. What better way is there to pass the time than writing an entry here? :) I thought I'd talk a little about the private dining outfit I run with my friends Alroy and Ming.

The 3 of us met during NS where we played rugby for armour. Some time between choreographing the best looking offense/defense drills and dancing to music on the field, we discovered each others inclination toward the kitchen. Soon, we were organising massive meat bbqs for our friends. Once in a while, friends and family would ask us to cook for dinner parties and we started roping in each other to help. It occurred to us that we could increase the quality of what we were making by planning and charging for better ingredients instead of just churning out whatever the person wanted. This was the start of things to come.

The name JAM comes from the first letters of our first names. In sequence, here's the crew.

I love the name. Alroy came up with it one day while we were at Ming's house messing around in the kitchen. Ming's mum was talking to us and asked what we would call ourselves in the future and Roy just spat it out. I was on the crapper at the time but I heard it loud and clear and loved it. That was more than 2 years ago and we've come a long way since. The logo was only finalised this year after a lot of struggle on Ming's part to get the design finished.

Simple, unassuming and yet elegant, quite like our food. I am sure I pissed Ming off quite a bit with all the hounding I did for him to get this done. It's irritating though, when people ask what JOM is. Once that was done, I got the email accounts and website set up, jackets embroidered and the calling cards embossed fairly quickly. Overnight, professionalism x 10,000.

Our charges are low, you will probably never see anything above $100 a person for an individually plated meal with up to 8 courses. Communal plating of 5 dishes goes as low as $50 a person for a large group. We made it this way for several reasons.
  1. We're not doing this for profit
  2. We don't want to over reach and go beyond our capabilities
  3. We don't believe that access to such services should burn a hole in your pockets
We've had more hits than misses, that's for sure. To date I can only think of 2 occasions where our clients were not impressed with our food. Most of the time, we totally exceed expectations and that's a great feeling.

Our cuisine is simple. We take the flavours we like and express them with the ingredients we're familiar with so expect to taste limau purut, lengkuas, gula melaka and tau cheo in our cooking. Having spent almost 7 months in Vietnam on my Industrial Attachment, I must admit that my cooking of late has been influenced by Vietnamese flavours. Some dishes are reinterpretations like this chả cá Thăng Long,

while others are original creations like this tomato, avocado & prawn salad.

Our plating is simple, to save on costs and to showcase the ingredients used.

Roast Leek & Asparagus Salad with Beetroot and Xiao Bai Cai Miao

Hei Mee Ta ( Dry Prawn Mee)

Mi Cuit Salmon with Watercress & Taragon Puree

Chick'n in a Bizkit

Each new client gets a customized menu to fit the theme and reflect the personal preferences that he/she has. After all, it's a meal in your own home, you should get whatever you want. Many people have told me that the JAM website needs to be spruced up but I designed it to be deliberately enigmatic. Before all the press coverage happened, all our clients were recommended to us via word of mouth. This suited us perfectly because we are weekend warriors in the kitchen and this method was just right for the amount of time we could commit to cooking. The site simply serves as a point of contact for those already in the know and as a shell for us to 'chope' the domain name.

So here's a little introduction to what I do at JAM :)

To contact us, drop me an email or visit the website.

Bon Appetit!

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Planning a Barbecue?

Barbecues are awesome. Nothing quite touches the heartstrings (of a man at least) like hunks of meat on an open fire. It's a primal thing, I think. Unfortunately, red meat is pretty expensive here and although I have great recipes for beef and lamb, this is going to focus on the bbq underdogs, fish, chicken and pork.

To have a better idea of the awesome barbecues I have with my friends, click here

I HATE going to barbecues and finding frozen sotong balls, fish sticks and chicken franks on the grill. It's as if we don't have anything better readily available at the markets for a decent barbecue. Personally, I also don't like to barbecue chicken wings because the edges always burn before the inside is properly cooked. My favourite items include stingray, salmon fillets, chicken legs and pork collar. Sausages are also excellent barbecue items that need to be poached in hot water before being set on the grill. This prevents the skin from splitting and also takes out the excess salt.

Strong marinades work best for barbecues because the smokiness imbued by the charcoal fire is intense so weak flavours will be drowned out. So bring out the ginger, garlic, sambal and all the other strong aromatics you can think of.

White meat and fish is cheaper than red meat but it's still expensive, so load up your guests with a tasty starch. Potatoes are evergreen favourites and go great with barbecued food mashed or roasted in an oven. Serve up vegetables too like bell peppers and corn. When barbecued, these vegetables become really sweet and tasty and most people will not say no when these are served up.

To cook, you need a fire and the best way to build one is to light up 2 or 3 firestarters and pile up a lot of charcoal over them. Fan it up and once half the coals are white, level out the pile, put on your grill and keep fanning for a good 5 minutes. Once the fire is hot enough that you can't leave your hand over it for 5 seconds without pulling away, you're good. Keep cooking while the heat is at this optimum level.

Here's a simple recipe to end this off.

Garlic & Kaffir Lime Marinade

The photo here shows oven roasted chicken but I originally came up with this killer recipe for a barbecue. The marinade also works really well with salmon.

For enough to marinate 10 legs, blend together:
  • 5 cloves garlic
  • 1 tsp dried rosemary
  • 5 daun limau purut (kaffir lime leaves)
  • 1 chilli padi
  • 1tsp sugar
  • 1 tbsp light soy
  • 1 tbsp fish sauce
  • 2 tbsp vegetable oil
  • salt and pepper
After that, mix this with 50g of softened butter and marinate your choice of meat in it for at least an hour before grilling.