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Thursday, September 22, 2016

Mì Quảng (Quang Style Noodle with Pork and Shrimps)

Growing up in Pleiku, Vietnam, I was fortunate enough to experience wonderful food from many regions in Vietnam. Being the youngest of six children, I was usually spoiled by my generous and loving eldest sister who would always buy food for me every time she came home from the market.  

Pleiku is a small city. We can practically walk or ride a bike to anywhere. There were some great eating places that you can only find in corridors and alleys, so the best way to get there was by walking.  The Quang noodle house was one of those places. In Vietnam, it's common to see people live and operate a business in their homes. This Quang noodle place is a small house. We would sit down on cheap plastic small stools with a small plastic table similar to the table set that the kids here in the U.S play with. But what draws me here time and again was the noodle.

Mì Quảng (me wang) - Quang Noodle originates from Quảng Nam, Đà Nẵng - a province in central coastal Vietnam. This dish is a staple of this region, but due to its popularity can be found in most regions of Vietnam today. I always remember this wonderful mì Quảng dish. It has a distinguished look, texture, flavor, and it is served with very little broth unlike other kinds of noodle soup. The beautiful wide yellow turmeric noodle - covered with vibrant orange shell-on shrimps, fatty thin slices of pork belly, big chunks of spare ribs, sesame rice crackers, roasted peanuts, fresh herbs, and shredded banana blossom - is so appetizing. When served right, it's a thing of beauty . . . and for the people of Quang Nam, it's poetry.

 Thương nhau múc bát chè xanh, 
Làm tô mì Quảng anh xơi cho cùng

(literal translation: a woman saying to her lover: "To love is to fill a cup with green tea and enjoy together with a bowl of Mi Quang in each other's company") ~anonymous
RECIPE: Mì Quảng
make 10-12 bowls
***Don't be overwhelmed by all the steps, I am just extremely thorough with my recipes.


for pork stock
2-3 lbs pork neck bones or spare ribs
1 onion, cut in half
1 head of garlic, peeled

for mì Quảng broth
1 lb medium sized shrimps, head-on or headless
1 lb pork belly
1 tbsp paprika, for color, and mild spicy flavor
1 tbsp annatto seeds, for color
1 tbsp onion powder or dried chopped onion
1 tbsp garlic powder 
1 tbsp sugar
2 tbsp salt
1/2 tsp msg or 1 tbsp mushroom seasoning
1 tbsp fish sauce
2 shallots, thinly sliced 
1 head of garlic, minced
1/2 cup of dried shrimps
5 quarts water

Banana Blossom
bean sprouts
perilla leaves 
mint leaves 
lettuce, coarsely chopped
cilantro, coarsely chopped
green scallions, thinly sliced
roasted peanuts, coarsely crushed
black sesame rice crackers
fish sauce
red chili peppers

Mixing Dried Spices

In a small bowl, combine paprika, sugar, salt, msg or mushroom seasoning, onion powder, and garlic powder. Paprika gives the characteristic red colour and a mild spicy flavor. Omit it if you can't tolerate spicy food.
Blanching Pork Neck Bones

Ask the butcher to chop the pork neck bones into 3 inch chunks. If you use spare ribs have them chop them into 2 inch pieces.

This step is to be done before boiling to remove any impurities from the bones.  In a stock pot, cover the pork with cold water, bring to a boil, and simmer for 5 minutes before draining.  Remove the pork. Rinse under running cold water. Discard the blanching water. 
Cooking Pork Bone Stock 

Cover the pork bones again with cold water. Add onion and garlic, Bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer until the meat is cooked through, at least an hour. Frequently skimming any additional foam, and debris from the surface. Add more water if needed. You can make the stock a day ahead.  

Half way through, place the dried shrimps in the tea ball strainer and drop it in the pot with the hanger hangs from the side of the pot.  If you don't have the tea ball strainer, adding shrimps straight into the stock pot is okay.  The dried shrimps add a bit more depth and complexity to the flavor.
Sauteing Pork Belly and Shrimps

In the meantime, slice pork belly.  Trim the legs and tails of shrimps.  If using head-on shrimps, remove heads from shrimps and set aside for later use.

In a skillet, heat a tablespoon of olive oil and annatto seeds over medium heat, and cook, stirring constantly, until the oil becomes a rich, orange-red color, about 3 minutes. Discarding the seeds.

Add minced garlic, and cook until fragrant while stirring constantly, about 30 seconds. Add pork belly and stir-fry until the fat is translucent, about 2 minutes. 

Add shrimp heads, if used, then press the shrimp heads with your spatula to bring out the flavor and color. Add shrimps and dried spices, stirring constantly, until shrimps turn pink. Remove skillet from heat.  

Cooking Mì Quảng Broth

By now, the pork neck bones should be cooked and the meat is soft. Transfer the sauteed pork belly and shrimps into the pot of pork bone stock. Bring it back to a slow steady boil. Remove the shrimps from the pot to prevent them from overcooked. Set aside.

Add a tablespoon of fish sauce to boost up the flavor of the broth. Simmer the broth for a little longer, about another 20 minutes.

Preparing Noodle

You can make the noodle from scratch by following this recipe (click here).

You can also get store-bought fresh white noodle. To make the noodle yellow, bring a pot of water and a teaspoon of turmeric powder to a boil. Then add noodle to blanch it for a minute. Drain and set aside.

Dried pre-made mì Quảng noodle or dried wide rice noodle would also work.  Follow the instruction on the package for how to cook the noodle.
Preparing Accompaniments

Banana Blossom: prepare a bowl of water with juice from a lemon. The acidity of lemon will prevent the banana blossom from discoloration. Cut banana blossom lengthwise, peel purple leaves and discard the small flowers in between the leaves. Wash the leaves thoroughly then stack and roll leaves together and finely cut. Place in bowl of water. When you are ready to serve, remove shredded banana blossom for the water bowl and gently squeeze it to remove the access water.

Bean Sprouts, Perilla Leaves, Mint Leaves, and Lettuce: you can keep them separately or mix them together. 

Black Sesame Rice Crackers: untoasted black sesame rice crackers can be found in Asian markets. It can be microwaved for about 2 minutes until crispy. They also sell pre-toasted ones as well.

Fish Sauce and Red Chili Peppers: Mix cut chili peppers and fish sauce in a dipping saucer.  

Roasted Peanuts: coarsely crush the roasted peanuts.

Green Onion and Cilantro: in a bowl, mix thinly sliced green onion and  coarsely chopped cilantro.

In bowl, add noodle, pork neck bone, or spare ribs, slices of pork belly and shrimps. My daughters love fried fish patties so I always add it to mì Quảng bowl. Serve this dish with less broth than other kinds of noodle soup. Therefore, the broth for mì Quảng need to be tasty.  Ladle the hot broth over the noodle bowl (about 1/2 of the bowl). Garnish with green onions and cilantro, then top with roasted peanuts. 

Serve mì Quảng with shredded banana blossom, lettuce and herbs and black sesame rice crackers which you break into small pieces. Mix everything together and enjoy - perhaps with a cup of green tea!
Eat well. Stay healthy.

Thursday, September 15, 2016

Chè Hạt Sen Nhãn Nhục Đười Ươi Hạt É (Summer Sweet Dessert Drink)

The cold mercilessly penetrated through my skin and bone as I walked my girls to school this morning. The change in weather was so sudden. Some students with short sleeves, and shorts were shivering as they weren't prepared for the cold harsh air. I was observing a classmate of my daughter snuggling onto my little one's shoulder to keep warm. I knew summer is fading quickly. It reminded me to rush home and finish up blogging about a summer sweet refreshing drink recipe that I've been wanting to share with you.

Chè is a general term describing a traditional Vietnamese sweet dessert in the form of pudding or plain drink. It is available in both hot and cold versions, and usually served in a small bowl or in a glass over shaved ice, therefore, it makes a nice sweet treat for any season of the year, but best served during the summer of course.

Most of the Vietnamese desserts frequently use coconut milk as a base, but this dessert recipe that I am sharing with you contains  rock sugar, coconut water, and four dried ingredients - basil seeds, malva nuts, lotus seeds, and dried longan. These ingredients are available at any Asian markets.

All of these dried ingredients have been used for their medicinal properties. According to Chinese medicine, the use of these four dried ingredients is to remove heat from the lung, cure cough and sore throat, counteract toxicity, and relax the bowels, decrease the body temperature and treat intestinal infections. It is believed to have an effect on relaxation, benefits to the kidneys, helping to restore vital energy within the body. How about that for a dessert drink?!

This recipe is not intended to treat any ailments but is offered mainly for your enjoyment. It is quite refreshing and delicious, making it much easier to beat the wicked heat.
RECIPE: Summer Sweet Dessert Drink
make about 6 quarts
printable recipe

sweet refreshing drink with goji berries

1/2 cup basil seeds (hạt é)
1 cup lotus seeds (hạt sen)
Malva nuts 1 cup (county orangutans)
1 cup dried longan (longan flesh)
1 bag rock sugar
8 cups (2 quarts) water
12 cups (3 quarts) coconut water
Cooking Syrup

Boil water with sugar until dissolved. Adjust sweetness if necessary. This is a refreshing drink so I like it with just a slightly taste of sweetness. Let it cool down.

Soaking Basil Seeds

My daughters called these basil seeds "frog eggs."
Place the basil seeds in a large strainer and quickly rinse them under running water to remove any dirt, then add water and basil seeds in a large bowl, soak for about 10 minutes or until the seeds become gelatinous.  Soaking in hot water shortens the process. Strain the seeds and set aside.

Soaking Malva Nuts

Đười ươi - malva nuts or poonparai are fruits collected from Scaphium macropodum, sometimes called Scaphium lychnophorum or Sterculia lychnophora. The flesh surrounding the dried seeds swells to eight times its original volume when soaked in water, forming an irregularly shaped, reddish gelatinous mass. Pretty cool huh?

Quickly rinse the malva nuts to remove any dirt, then soak them in a large bowl of water for about 30 minutes or until they swell. Separate the flesh from the skin and seeds, discard the skin and seeds. Squeeze out as much liquid as possible. Set the malva nuts flesh aside.

Cooking Dried Lotus Seeds

Instead of dried lotus seeds, I sometimes prepare this refreshing drink with trom latex (mủ trôm) from a trom tree with the scientific name sterculia foetida tree. Since I ran out of trom latex, and my husband brought home a necklace of dried lotus seeds, it was a perfect replacement.

Wash and rinse dried lotus seeds thoroughly. Bring a pot of water to a boil. Add lotus seeds and bring them back to a boil. Reduce to a simmer, and cook;  covered until lotus seeds are tender - usually takes 40 minutes to 1 hour. When the seeds are soft and friable, they are fully cooked.  Strain the lotus seeds.  Place them in the syrup to impart sweetness.

Cooking Dried Longan

Rinse dried longan quickly under running water to remove any dirt. In a small pan, bring some syrup to a boil. Turn off the heat then add dried longan. Let it sit for about 20 minutes until dried longan are soft.


Combine lotus seeds, basil seeds, flesh of malva nuts, and coconut water into the longan syrup pot, stirring well.

Transfer it into a pitcher and keep it chilled in the fridge before enjoying.

Sometimes, I add fructus lycii, also called wolfberry or goji berry in this refreshing drink. Fructus lycii is also used for centuries in traditional Chinese medicine.  Some of its interesting claims include nourishing the liver, promoting vision, invigorating the kidney, and replenishing essence (whatever that means). To prepare fructus lycii, bring some of the syrup to a boil then add fructus lycii.  Turn off the heat and let it steep for a couple minutes.  Add fructus lycii and the syrup to the mixture and what you have is a gorgeous, exotic dessert waiting to be devoured.

Eat well.  Stay healthy. 

Monday, September 12, 2016

UPDATE: Dự Án Nguồn Sống (Living Water Project in Vietnam) - part I

anh Ba standing next to the first 1500 liter water urn. This water urn will have two hose spigots attached

UPDATE as of 9/15: WE HAVE ACHIEVED AND EXCEEDED OUR GOAL!!! Any remaining funds will be used for our future projects. Thank you everyone for your generous support!

First off, I would like to thank everyone for partaking in this life - altering clean water project for the remote villages in Vietnam. It took us almost two months going through the laborious yet important process of visiting the villagers to understand their needs and concerns; researching, purchasing materials, and delivering to each household; working with the water well builder to get things going in the right direction was the most challenging task for us.

I would like to take this opportunity to express my gratitude and appreciation to anh Ba for all his hard work, and humble spirit for his tireless assistance to move the project forward. Despite the distance from his hometown to the remote villages, he never falters. Many times he sat on the bus all day to get there, at times enduring heavy rainstorms en route. He went out of his ways just to give the villagers a peace of mind that we will deliver what we promised and to ensure that each villager get the quality building materials for the well and water urn. What he is doing is truly godsend and embodies the charitable spirit that The Spices of Life envisioned.

"He who wished to secure the good of others, has already secured his own." - Confucius

Our project is surely making progress. As we speak, the first phase involving the 15 water wells and 50 water urns is nearly complete. As of today, we're short $1,480 from meeting our goal of $17,200 for this entire project of 31 wells and 220 water urns. I am hopeful that we will get there by the end of September. In the meantime, we must continue our work with the budget that we currently have. We will be moving on to our next phase for the remaining 16 water wells and 170 water urns in a couple weeks.

Please help me complete this mission so together we can ensure safe drinking water for these villagers. We understand the dire situation these people are in either through awareness or having lived through it ourselves.

Here is the link (click here) to the living water project. You can find the donation info toward the end of the post. 

Below are some pictures of the work that has been done.

meeting with the villagers

a villager expressing her gratitude

waiting for the arrival of building materials

The first water urn is being built

here is one of the first 15 wells