Vietspices Search

Monday, November 13, 2017

Malaysian Char Kuey Teow (Hủ Tiếu Xào Khô kiểu Malaysia)

I have never felt this productive in my life since my older girl decided to join the cheer team. While there's certainly a lot of joy involved in parenthood, it is not unusual to also feel overwhelmed with  a busy schedule between my two girls' band lessons, art classes, seven days a week of gymnastics and cheer practices, and competitions, leaving me exhausted by the end of the day. It's one of the main reasons why I have been blogging less. But today I was determined to block everything else out and just stay focus on the task at hand.

If you've been following my Facebook page, I have mentioned that I have been cooking up a frenzy to fundraise for a koi pond for my dear husband. We had a beautiful little pond at the old home and I know he misses it.  

One of the dishes I've been making is a Malaysian dish called Char Kuey Teow per a friend's request who misses his homeland food. I have never seen or tasted it but I gave it my best shot. After carefully studying the ingredients of Char Kuey Teow,  I made a first batch and waited for my daughter to come home from school to taste test it. She gave me thumbs up. After delivering Char Kuey Teow to my customers, I anxiously waited for my critiques as if I was on Chopped. I received high marks on my first try, it gave me the confidence to challenge myself even more. Ever since, I have more Malaysian customers who requested me to make Char Kuey Teow almost every week. My husband has been complaining because I sell out every single order of Char Kuey Teow every time and he still hasn't had a chance to taste this dish yet. 

Char Kuey Teow literally means Stir-Fry Rice Cake. It is one of the most popular street food in Malaysia, and is considered a national favorite in Malaysia and Singapore. Many people from all over Asia travel to Penang just to indulge in a plate of it. Char Kuey Teow is made from fresh flat rice noodle and stir-fried over very high heat with shrimps, slices of Chinese sausage, fishcake, eggs, bean sprouts, and chives. It is is traditionally stir-fried in lard, with crisp pork fat cubes to add the smoky flavor, richness, and crispy texture to the dish. I am fond of banana leaves so I like to serve Char Kuey Teow on a piece of banana leaf on a plate not only to enhance the lovely subtle aroma that it lends to the dish but also to achieve a more Penang authentic style.
RECIPE: Malaysian Char Kuey Teow
make 2 servings


12 oz fresh noodle
8 large shrimps, tail-on, peeled, deveined
12 slices pan-fried fish cake
1/2 Chinese sausage, sliced
3 duck or chicken eggs
a handful bean sprouts, rinsed well and drained.
1/2 handful garlic chives, cut into 1-inch pieces
1/2 tablespoon minced garlic
1 tablespoon bacon grease, or lard, or vegetable oil
1 tablespoon crispy pork fat cubes, optional

for the sauce

1 teaspoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1/2 tablespoon oyster sauce
1/2 tablespoon fish sauce
2 tablespoons light soy sauce
1 tablespoon dark soy sauce
1 tablespoon sweet soy sauce

Preparing Crispy Pork Fat Cubes

Pork fat can be purchased at Asian stores. Ask the butcher. 
Crispy pork fat can be prepared a few days ahead. Remove pork skin. Dice the pork fat into small cubes but not too small. They will shrink during the process. Put them in a large pot and render the pork fat cubes over medium heat, occasionally stirring. As the cubes release more and more fat, the rendered fat tends to splatter quite a bit so be careful. It's done when the pork fat cubes are brown and start to float and not burn. Turn off the stove. The lard pieces will continue cooking in the hot oil. Cook until golden brown. Remove them from the oil. Drain the crispy pork fat cubes on a paper towel or a strainer. Let it cool and store in a air tight jar. Store pork oil separately. Crispy pork fat that is stored on top of the counter top near the stove or in the pantry will last about a month and stays, the freshest longest about a year when you keep it in the refrigerator between uses.

Preparing the Sauce

In a small bowl, combine the sauce ingredients and mix well.
Preparing Noodle

If you don’t have access to fresh noodle, you can make your own rice noodle (click here for the recipe). Noodle can be kept at room temperature for a day. Do not keep the noodle in the fridge as it becomes brittle. Separate the noodle strands. Set aside.

Preparing Fried Fish Cake

Fried fish cake can be homemade or purchased at Asian stores. You can prepare fish cake days ahead.
To make fish cake, combine a pound of tilapia fillets, a shallot or white part of green onion, a tablespoon of fish sauce, ground black pepper, 1/2 teaspoon baking powder, 1 tablespoon tapioca starch in a food processor and whip into a smooth paste. Transfer 1/2 of the fish paste onto the plastic wrap. Wrap it up and flatten it to make a patty. Chill the fish cakes in the freezer for a few hours or overnight. Thaw fish cake before frying.
Heat vegetable oil over medium high heat. Add in the fish cakes and fry for 10 minutes or until golden brown. Flip the cakes occasionally so they brown evenly.

Cooking Char Kway Teow

For your Char Kuey Teow to taste like the one in Malaysia requires the right fresh ingredients, tools, and the correct techniques. You need a good quality wok such as cast iron or carbon steel. Non-stick will not work well as it can't withstand super high temperatures. I don't have a wok so I used my All Clad pan.  As I mentioned earlier, Char Kuey Teow requires cooking with lard in high heat to add the smoky flavor, and richness to the dish. It's requires cooking one batch at a time and a quick stirring  of the noodle.  The result is a perfectly soft, slightly charred, smoky flavored noodle.

So be sure to have all the ingredients by your side.

Heat a wok over high heat. Add the lard or vegetable oil. Once the wok is almost smoking, add the shrimps, sausages, and fish cake. Stir quickly until shrimps are almost pink. Add garlic last as it can get burned easily.

Give it a quick stir then add noodle. Quickly pour 3 tablespoons of the sauce over the noodle and stir the noodle quickly in the circle motion starting from the center of the pan with a spatula.

When the noodle is soften and mixed well with the sauce, push the noodle aside or create a spot in the middle.  Crack the eggs (prefer duck eggs as they have a richer flavor) and stir to break the yolks.

Stir the eggs with the noodles until the eggs have almost set. Finally, add chives, bean sprouts, and a tablespoon of crispy pork fat cubes. Continue stir frying noodles and vegetables until combined.


If you want your Char Kuey Teow to look authentic like Penang style, transfer noodle to a serving plate lined with banana leaf, serve hot and enjoy as is or kick it up a notch with chili sauce.

Eat well. Stay healthy.

Monday, August 21, 2017

Đậu Hũ Chiên Giòn (Crispy Fried Tofu)

This crispy fried tofu is simple and yet tasty to have as an appetizer. The bite-size fried tofu has a natural sweetness and tender center; the beautiful golden brown skin is full of hearty savory notes.

Firm tofu is best for frying as it holds its shape and browns better than other varieties. There are many brands and types of tofu in the market but not all tofu are created equally. When time allows, I would make a trip to a local tofu store to buy their fresh daily made tofu, otherwise, the next best bet is buying packaged organic tofu with the farthest expiration date from my local Costco.
RECIPE: Crispy Fried Tofu


2 blocks firm tofu
2 teaspoons chicken bouillon powder or
2 teaspoons vegetable bouillon
2 teaspoon sugar
1 tablespoons fresh minced garlic or
4 shallots, thinly sliced
4 stalks green onions, finely cut
2 tablespoons olive oil
rice bran oil, vegetable or canola oil, for deep frying
Preparing Tofu

Place tofu on a couple layers of paper towel or a kitchen towel. Slice tofu into bite size cubes. Remove excess moisture content in the tofu by placing another paper towel or kitchen towel (doubled over) on top and gently press out the excess water, until the paper towel is no longer drawing out much water.

When I am not feeling lazy, I take an extra step  to soak the sliced tofu in a bath of salty water (a bowl with salt and water) and allow to soak for 10-15 minutes then pat dry before frying. Using this method draws out the moisture and add seasonings, resulting in a better crust and texture. 
Preparing Green Onion Sauce


Cut green onions. Set aside. 
Put about a tablespoon of olive oil and garlic or shallots (I prefer shallot) in a sauce pan over medium-low heat until the garlic or shallot begins to turn pale gold. Turn off the heat. Continue stirring until the color deepens.  Add chicken bouillon powder, and sugar in the hot oil and mix well.
shallot sauce

Pour the fried shallot or fried garlic mixture over a bowl of green onions. Mix well. 

garlic sauce
Deep Frying Tofu

Heat oil for deep frying in small saucepan on high (oil should fill pan to at least 2 inches). To test if your oil is hot enough, dip the tip of a chopstick into the oil.  If it begins to sizzle then the oil is ready for frying.  

Blot dry tofu with a clean dish or paper towel to avoid splattering. Carefully add the tofu cubes to the pan. Don’t crowd the pan. Do not flip tofu too soon as it will break apart. Let it cook until the edges start to look brown. Flipping the tofu occasionally to prevent tofu from sticking to pan and also to ensure that all sides of the tofu are golden brown.

fresh daily made tofu

organic tofu from Costco 

Transfer the tofu to a paper towel-lined plate to absorb excess oil.


Place tofu on a serving plate. Drizzle the green onion sauce over the fried tofu. Mix it all up so the sauce coats the fried tofu pieces. My little one loves seaweed, so I topped tofu with shredded seaweed.  Serve while it's still warm and crispy.

Eat well.  Stay hungry.

Monday, July 24, 2017

Dự Án Nguồn Sống (Living Water Project in Ca Mau, Vietnam) - Part II

Within a year, our collective effort has transformed two remote villages of Ca Mau and Vinh Long Province, Vietnam. There are 250 families now have clean potable water. It may not sound like much to us, but it's essential to their existence. The Living Water Project (click here) was a massive undertaking and the result was nothing short of amazing. 

Our work, however, is perhaps just beginning. We're witnessing more villagers in remote regions with no direct access to clean drinking water and sanitation. We can imaging the morbid consequences of this dire situation.

While The Spices Of Life was working on the water project in Ca Mau, the people from a nearby village desperately came asking for a community water well. We couldn't promise them anything at that time because we only had enough funding for the initial project. It was heartbroken to see their stress and anxiety, but we didn't want to promise and not deliver. Now that we have accomplished Living Water Project #1, we have learned a great deal from our initial experience that we can extend this work to build additional wells. 

This month, anh Ba - our unofficial ambassador of good will - took a couple trips to the remote village of Hop Tac Xa, Ca Mau Province to understand their needs and concerns, research the region, and pull together the logistics.

anh Ba taking a boat ride to cross the river

anh Ba visiting the villagers

having a meeting with the villagers

This village is located in the Cai Nuoc District of Ca Mau. Here, most of the children can't afford to attend school, there's no electricity and clean water is scarce. Due to saltwater intrusion, they rely on rain water to survive. When they run out of rain water, they have to travel far across the river to trade or buy clean water and not everyone can afford it. In the past, a few charities came here with the intention of building a community water well but they couldn't see themselves going through the laborious yet important process of locating the well site, researching the appropriate depth and transporting the building supplies from the mainland to the village to accomplish the project.

Ca Mau is surrounded by sea on 3 sides

So here's where we come in. There is a nearby temple that sits on a piece of land where a well can be built. The temple has an existing well but one that was not dug deep enough to supply both the temple and the nearby village. The temple has graciously agreed for The Spices Of Life to build one community water well system on their land to serve 30 remote families. The difficulty lies in the fact that the water table is quite low which means we have to dig very deep to depths of 280-300 meters - up to 900 feet - to access potable water. 

The estimated total cost for the water well system is $7000. This includes the powerful motor/pumper, a 2000 liters tank, a 6-meter high platform to house the tank, and large main pipes - 1,200 meters long - that are installed underground along the path right in front of the villagers' houses. These pipes alone costs about $2000. The water will be pumped automatically, continuously to the tank when the water in the tank becomes low.  Each household will then need to connect to the main pipe to access the water. We will also install a meter for each house to measure consumption and ensure that no one family is overusing the supply.

Above is a video clip of anh Ba and the well builder measuring the length of the main pipe.

our 6-meter high platform to house the tank will look similar to this 

The estimated time for completing this project is one month if weather permits and things go smoothly according to our plans. I am hopeful that we will obtain the funding by the end of July so that we can break ground on the 1st of August. 

Anh Ba will be spending his time at this village of Hop Tac Xa to work with the water well builder to ensure that things go as planned and that the villagers get the quality building materials for the community water well system. 

Below is a list of our estimated cost and current funding:

Estimated Cost: $7000

Our Current Funding:
   Tony and Kayla - Portland, OR: $4000
   Quyen Pham -  Happy Valley, OR: $2100
   Tuan Nguyen: $200
   Tran Tran - San Jose, CA: $100
   Linh Nguyen, Australia: $100
   Nguyen M: $100
   Kristine Oclarino - Elk Grove, CA: $300
   Thuyet Ziyalan - El Dorado Hills, CA: $100
   Anh Do: $100
   Amy Nguyen: $100
   Duyen Tang - Elk Grove, CA: $100
   Tonhi - Elk Grove, CA: $500
   Thao Vo Family - $50

TOTAL Current Funding: $7850

You can send your contribution via Paypal. If you use a smartphone, it will take you to a mobile version, scroll down and click on "view web version". You will see the DONATION button on the next screen at the far right column.

Please send me a message if you would like to send your contribution via check.

I'm grateful for each and everyone of our readers, their families, and friends who have partake in this work and whose donations will provide a source of living water and thereby hope and life. Thank you!

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Phở Gà Khô Hai Tô (Vietnamese Dry Chicken Noodle)

If you have a chance to visit the mountainous region of Pleiku where I was born, you must try the dry noodle dish (phở khô) - the pride of Pleiku.  When ordering your food, you just called out: "cho một tô phở khô" (give me a bowl of dry noodle) - and automatically they will bring you two bowls.  How's that for service?

Phở khô known as 'phở hai tô' (two bowls of phở). The first bowl consists of noodle and toppings.  The second bowl consists of delicious broth, meatballs, or rare beef. Then served with a plate of bean sprouts, lettuce, and herbs.

Every phở khô place has its own way of preparing a bowl of dry noodle. My favorite place for phở khô gà (dry chicken noodle) was Á Đông (now renamed to Ngọc Sơn). Their dried noodle bowl consists of noodle, shredded chicken, chicken gizzard, heart, liver, and fried pork fat and serve with another bowl of beef broth.

Phở khô Hồng is another of my favorite place.  Her noodle bowl is full of goodness ground pork, fried pork fat, and fried shallots, served with your choice of a bowl of broth with thin slices of beef or beef meatballs.

When eaten, squeeze a bit of lime juice, toss in the vegetables and herbs, a few slices of red chili pepper, and mix them up. Then take your time to enjoy the noodle and sip a spoon of broth at a time. "phở two bowls" is not meant for you to combine into one bowl. You will lose the taste and essence of the noodle flavor and the natural sweetness of the broth.

It's has been over 25 years and yet the aroma of their phở khô and the broth have not faded from my mind. It has definitely left an indelible mark in my food memory band.  I introduced phở gà khô (dry chicken noodle) to my husband and instantly it's become one of his favorite phở.  Here's your chance to try them. 
RECIPE: Phở Gà Khô
for broth
1 hen (available at Asian market)
1 large piece ginger, peeled, cut into 3 slices
1 onion, peeled, cut into half or
a handful of shallots, peeled
a handful of garlic cloves, peeled
1 rock sugar, about 1 tablespoon
1 tablespoon salt
1 tablespoon fish sauce
1 packet phở spice
for sauce
3 shallots, thinly slices
4 large cloves of garlic, minced
2 white and light green parts of green onion
1 tablespoon olive oil or annatto oil (recipe here)
1/2 cup Maggi Europe soy sauce
1/2 cup chicken broth
1 tablespoon sugar
1 teaspoon paprika, optional
other ingredients
fried pork fat, click here for recipe
2 bags phở noodle
bean sprouts
lettuces, optional
basil leaves
culantro leaves (ngò gai), finely chopped, optional
cilantro, finely chopped
chili peppers, thinly sliced, optional
lime or lemon, cut into wedges
black pepper

Cooking the Chicken and Broth

Discard any excess fat from a hen. Rinse hen with cold water and place in a stockpot. Add the water (just enough to submerge the hen), ginger slices, onion or shallots, garlic, rock sugar, salt, and bring to a boil. Once the water is boiling, turn off the heat, cover with a lid and let the chicken sits for another 10-15 minutes.

Remove the chicken, let cool, and shred or cut the meat. You can also cool down the chicken quickly by placing in ice and water.

Reserve the chicken bones to put back into the broth pot.  Add a tablespoon of fish sauce, and a bag of phở spice.

any brand you pick would be fine

Simmer the broth for another 15-20 minutes. Skim any foam that rises to the surface. Taste and adjust the seasoning if needed.  If you like beef meatballs, cut each meatball into half, and add them into the pot. 
Preparing Pork Fat

click here for the recipe

Preparing the Sauce

Heat olive oil or annatto oil in a sauce pan over medium. The purpose of using annatto oil is to give the sauce its distinctive red color. You can skip the annatto seeds if preferred.  Cook shallots, green onion, and garlic, stirring occasionally, until soft and fragrant. Add sugar, paprika if used, and chicken broth from the broth pot, stirring, until sugar dissolved. Turn the heat off. Add soy sauce last.

First Bowl - Blanch phở noodle in a pot of boiling water for a couple seconds. If you don't like eating raw bean sprouts, blanch both pho noodle and bean sprouts together. Don't blanch it too long as the noodle will be mushy.

Place noodle into a bowl.  Top with shredded chicken, fried pork fat, fried shallots, chopped herbs, and sprinkle some black pepper.

shredded chicken with egg yolks inside the chicken

Second Bowl - If you like to have steak in your broth, add thin slices or chopped steak into the bowl, then ladle the boiling broth into the bowl.

I prefer serving phở with chopped steak over sliced steak

Otherwise, ladle broth, with or without meatballs into the bowl. Garnish with cilantro and a dash of black pepper.

Serve  'phở hai tô' with a side of  sauce, bean sprouts, lettuces, basil, lime wedges, hoisin sauce, sriracha hot sauce, or chili peppers for each person to garnish their own noodle as desired.