Sesame balls – A Food Toy

Sesame balls, ‘bánh lúc lắc’ in the North of Vietnam or ‘bánh cam’ in the South, are a type of fried Asian crispy pastry made from glutinous rice flour, filled with bean paste and coated with sesame seeds.

In Vietnam, the image of sesame balls is often attached to the image of a little boy sitting on the porch of the house, singing songs and waiting for the return of his grandmother from the market. When she goes back, she does not forget to give him some snacks like cakes, candies, and sesame balls.

Sesame balls went to his childhood and other Vietnameses in that way. The pastry is nothing luxurious and can be found in almost every area of Vietnam in any season of the year. When the cold season approaches, sitting next to the heater and enjoying the crispy and sweet sesame balls would be so wonderful. When you take the cake and shake it slightly, you can hear the movement of the bean filling inside. That is the reason why sesame balls are sometimes considered as a toy!

A man selling sesame balls in Saigon (Photo: aFamily)

How To Make Sesame Balls

Fried sesame balls are made from local ingredients such as first-class glutinous rice, mung beans, sugar and white sesame seeds.

First of all, glutinous rice flour and rice flour are mixed together. Boil water with sugar and then slowly pour into the mixture while carefully kneading it to create dough. Wait for an hour so that the dough can absorb water and become thicken. After that, shape it into round balls.

Photo: Doi song va Phap Luat

 

As for the filling, mung beans are washed and soaked for several hours. Then they are steamed up, finely sliced and mixed with sugar and cooking oil to produce a smooth mixture. After that, the filling is divided into small round balls. When putting the filling into the crust, it is important to make sure that the cake is round and not distorted. Next, the cake will be soaked in white sesame seeds and then placed in a tray before being fried.

Photo: Doi song va Phap Luat
Photo: Doi song va Phap Luat

Put the pan on the stove, pour a lot of oil and wait until it is boiled then drop the sesame balls into the pan. Try to roll the balls constantly to prevent the filling from sticking onto the crust. This step is completed when the balls are in golden brown.

 

Photo: Doi song va Phap Luat

Enjoy!

A perfect sesame ball is brownish yellow, bulging and not flattened when cooled. The crust should be thin and fragile, the stuffing is rounded and not sticky to the covering. Holding the ball and shake it lightly, we can feel the filling rolling inside.

Photo: Doi song va Phap Luat

 

Recommended places to enjoy sesame balls:

Banner photo source: bepgiadinh.com

Vietnamese School Snacks

You may have known, and even tasted some popular Vietnamese cuisines like Pho, Banh Xeo, Bun Cha, Hu tieu, etc. These food usually appear in the daily lives of every Vietnamese. But how about Vietnamese school snacks, are there any uniqueness compared with other countries? I bet there are. If you do not believe me, please explore with me the world of school snacks in Vietnam! You may be amazed by the diverse Vietnamese cuisines.

The difference in regional culture and climate will create different snacks for each region in Vietnam. However, the common points of these snacks are the convenience, deliciousness, and more importantly, low price. Below is the list of five most popular snacks among Vietnamese students for many years.

  1. Mixture Rice Paper (Bánh Tráng Trộn)

    Mixture Rice Paper. (Photo: jamja.vn)

This is one of the most popular snacks in Vietnam, especially in Southern region. Until recent years, this snack has found its way to Hanoi and quickly gain popularity among young Hanoians.

As the name implies, mixture rice paper includes rice paper as the main ingredient, mixed with mango threads, dried beef threads, dried small shrimps, dried onion, quail eggs, lemon/ kumquat juice, soy sauce, and chilly sauce. These ingredients make the snack have the mixture of different tastes like salty, spicy, sweet and sour.

  1. Fruits with Chilly Salt (Hoa Quả Muối Ớt)

Mango with chilly salt. (Photo: i.ytimg.com)

This food is far more popular among girl students and can completely be made by themselves with easy recipe. As a country with tropical humid climate, Vietnam has various types of fruits. But only sour fruits, crunchy and not too sweet, become a target of Vietnamese girl students. The most commonly chosen fruits are green mango, guava, etc. Green mangoes are hard but easily sliced  to pieces, and then mixed together with the chilli salt (or ‘Muối Ớt’ in Vietnamese.) This cuisine is easy to prepare in just a few minutes, but its attractiveness is irresistible.

  1. Fried Fish Balls/ Meatballs (Cá Bò Viên Chiên)

Sticks of fried fish balls and meatballs are popular snacks after school. After consumers order, the sellers will put fish balls/meatballs sticks into an oil pan and cook them for some minutes. After well cooked, added with chili sauce (tương ớt) and hoisin sauce (tương đen,) hot sticks of fish balls and meatballs are ready to be enjoyed. Imagine when the weather is cold, groups of students standing around the sellers, waiting for their orders, trembling when each cold breeze flies by while chatting joyfully with each other. It is Vietnam. Interesting, right?

  1. Bean Curd with Coconut Milk

Bean Curd with Coconut Milk. (Photo: Lozi.vn)

This cuisine is favored in both winter and summer. Made from soybeans, the taste of bean curd is cool and sweet, softer and smoother than normal tofu. An bowl of iced bean curd in summer and a hot one in winter, accompanied with coconut milk and bubbles would make your stomach satisfied.

  1. Melon/Pumpkin Seeds (Hạt Dưa, Hạt Bí)

You may notice the appearance of these seeds in many Vietnamese households during Lunar New Year. Melon seeds and pumpkin seeds are usually placed on a plate and served during talk with guests. As its outer is a hard shell, ones must use their teeth flexibly to extract the inner part of the seed. Truthfully, the popping sound of cracked shells becomes the engine of New Year conversations. And when every Lunar New Year passes, melon and pumpkin seeds are indispensable snacks at class. The seeds then become the engine of the chitchat among students.

Hopefully this article brings you more interesting and useful information about an unique feature of food culture in Vietnam. How about you? How are school snacks in your country? Please share with Vietnam Track.

Writer: Linh Dang.
Translators: Diem Nguyen, Nhat Nguyen.

Bun Dau Mam Tom – Daydream Dressed Like Nightmare

Bún đậu mắm tôm’ (Rice vermicelli with shrimp paste and fried tofu) is guaranteed to be one of the most memorable dishes of your life. Once you have tasted it, you would never forget it. It will forever be engraved in your mind with one or two of the following impressions: terror and/or fascination.

Bún đậu mắm tôm’ is a simple traditional food in the Northern Vietnamese cuisine. The main ingredients of this dish include fresh rice vermicelli, golden fried tofu, shrimp paste with lemon and chili sauce served with fragrant herbs such as shiso, marjoram, basil and lettuce,etc. Like many other folk dishes, its affordable price makes ‘bún đậu mắm tôm’ very popular among all classes of society, from the working class to the top-notch one.

Ingredients

Bún đậu mắm tôm’ is very different from normal food because of the specially made ‘mắm tôm’ (shrimp paste) which has one of the most extreme tastes in Vietnamese cuisine. It is not surprising that few foreigners could eat this extraordinary dish, whilst almost every Vietnamese (especially Northerners) love it so much.

‘Mắm tôm’ (Shrimp paste)

Known as the soul of ‘Bún đậu mắm tôm’, shrimp paste is a sauce made from shrimp and salt through the process of fermentation to create the unique taste and color. Not only in ‘Bún đậu mắm tôm’ is shrimp paste also used in many other traditional Northern Vietnamese dishes such as ‘bún riêu’ (rice vermicelli with crab soup) and bún thang’ (hot rice noodle soup).

Photo: https://chinhgoc.vn

There are usually three forms of shrimp paste: dense, thick (mushy) and liquid. These three forms are only different in the proportion of salt and the process of sun exposure.

In the beliefs of Vietnamese people, shrimp paste has the effect of banishing evil spirits. It is believed that devils are afraid of this kind of sauce, so shrimp paste eaters will not be harmed by the devils. Placing shrimp paste in the house will avoid the appearance of ghosts. Not only people of the lowlands like to eat shrimp paste, but also many ethnic people in the mountainous.

Some mountain ethnic people even have the custom that no matter how poor they are, there always must be shrimp paste to consecrate the deaths of their father because shrimp paste is often considered as luxurious, since the mountaineers live so far from the river where the shrimps are caught.

‘Bún tươi’ (Fresh rice vermicelli)

In Vietnamese cuisine, rice vermicelli is a thin form of rice noodles, round, soft and white fillet made from dried rice starch through the molds and boiled water.

Photo: http://diendanrao.com

In short, ‘bún’ to ‘bún đậu mắm tôm’ is like burger to hamburger.

‘Đậu phụ chiên vàng’ (Golden fried tofu)

Tofu is a traditional food of several Asian countries such as China and Vietnam. Tofu is originated by China, made by soy beans, grinded then soaked in water. The starch then flows into water, coming together in the shape decided by the creators, while the waste is filtered out.  The common shapes are squares, circles, or rectangles.

Photo: http://comnieucaophat.com

When the products are finished, they can be cut into rectangles and fried with oil in a big pan.

‘Rau thơm’ (Fragrant herbs)

There are many kinds of fragrant herbs can be eaten with ‘bún đậu mắm tôm’ such as shiso, marjoram, basil and lettuce, etc. All washed, fresh and clean before served.

Photo: https://laodong.vn

Originally, there are only those simple ingredients in ‘bún đậu mắm tôm’ in order to make it as cheap and accessible to as many laborers as possible. However, as time flies and thanks to the development of the country, today’s Vietnamese can eat ‘bún đậu mắm tôm’ with the combination of a few additional delicious ingredients.

‘Thịt heo luộc’ (Boiled pork)

Boiled pork is pork boiled and chopped into thin slices.

Photo: http://eva.vn

‘Chả cốm’

This is my favourite ‘chả’ in the world. The taste of its is indescribable. Trust me, tasting is believing.

Photo: https://lamthenao.com

Where to eat?

The are many famous ‘bún đậu mắm tôm’ eateries all over Vietnam. If you are in Saigon, do not hesitate to check out the amazing ‘Bún đậu Cầu Gỗ’ hawker stall, my favourite ‘bún đậu mắm tôm’ destination.

Photo: http://www.dinhthanhhai.com

Adress: 202 Nguyễn Trãi, Phạm Ngũ Lão, Hồ Chí Minh

Opening hours: 8:00am – 11:00pm

Phone: 090 833 57 78

Price: ~70.000/person (3.07$)

If you have any problem travelling in Vietnam, please don’t hesitate to contact us for more assistance. We would be thrilled to help.

Ngọc Lê

Vietnamese Swiftlet’s Nest

Swiftlet’s nest or edible bird’s nest is the name of a famous food and traditional medicine, which is  made of bird nest. This is a fine dish in East Asian countries, such as Japan, Korea, China, Vietnam and many other countries. In Vietnam, the dish is ranked in the eight most prestigious dishes. Swiftlet’s nest soup is dubbed ‘The caviar of the East’. It is one of the most expensive dishes made from animals.

I/ What is Swiftlet’s Nest?

Swiftlet’s Nest (Photo: wokoti)

In the breeding season, birds build their nest to lay eggs. Normally birds make nests with straws, dried plants, leaves or grass, but Swiftlets make their nests with their own saliva. Bird nests are built during the breeding season by male for 35 days. The nest has a shape of a bowl, which is attached to a cave. It consists of several threads of the bird’s solidified saliva braided together.

The nests are found on cliffs or caves where the birds live. The harvested nests include the white birds’ nests (Aerodramus fuciphagus) and the black birds’ nests (Aerodramus maximus), but the white birds’ nests are the most popular and widely known. Due to the dangerous nature and limited number of islands that can be exploited, this type of bird’s nest is among the highest price compared to other types of bird’s nest on the market. White and pinky red nests are said to be richer in flavors and more nutritious.

II/ Classification of  Swiftlet’s Nest

1/Red swiftlet’s nest

Red Swiftlet’s Nest. (Photo: khanhhoayen.com)

This is a type of nests with bright red color and is the most expensive type of edible birds’ nests because of its rarity and high demand. Not all producers have this type of nests. Red nests can only be harvested 1-2 times a year in a very small  number. The number of red nests accounts for less than 10% of the total production of edible birds’ nests on the world market. People believe that the red color of the nest is the result of the birds not having enough saliva, so they have to mix their own blood to build their nest.

2/Pink swiftlet’s nest

It is similar to the red nest in terms of price and scarcity. The nest is orange, but the color can vary from pantone tangerine to lemon. The darker the color, the higher the price.

3/White swiftlet’s nest

White Swiftlet’s Nest (Photo: Dinh Duong Online)

White nests are the most popular nests in the market. They can be harvested 3-4 times annually. The number of white nest accounts for about 90% of the total number of edible birds’ nests in the world market.

III/ Effects On Human Health

There are many debates about the effects of the edible bird’s nest on health.

In some materials provided by the birds’ nests distributors, the nests have many rare nutrients, including many proteins and amino acids. In addition, they contain minerals, such as calcium, iron, potassium, phosphorus, and magnesium. Some other documents state that the nests are able to help with the lungs, strengthen the immune system, accelerate the process of cell regeneration, and help patients recover quickly. It is also used in research for combating against HIV due to its ability to stimulate white blood cells for antibody. According to some ancient documents, the swiftlets’ nests were often served in royal feasts.

On the contrary, some other documents denied the effects of the nests, even condemned the use of them and said that the price of the nests were pushed up because of its scarcity as well as the misperception of consumers. With the fact that the nests are made of the saliva of swiftlets, many people believe that the essence of the nest does not have any significant nutritional value and may even contain some harmful microorganisms. In addition, animal researchers believe that the consumption of the nests is the main reason for the decline in the number of swiftlets.

IV/ Some Notes on Use

Bird’s Nest Soup (Photo: khanhhoayen.com)

Pregnant women under 3 months and newborn babies under 7 months should not use bird’s nest. When using for babies, try slowly because it can cause allergies. People with blood disorders, such as diabetic patients, should not use it.

The nests should be cooked at a moderate temperature, not to be boiled above 100 degrees Celcius. Normally, the nests are steamed rather than directly cooked. Do not put in too much sugar as it will greatly reduce the positive effects of the nests.

V/ Where to Find Swiftlet’s Nest in Vietnam

In Vietnam, natural swiftlets’ nests can be found in some islands in many southern central provinces, such as Phu Yen or Khanh Hoa. The exploitation of swiftlets’ nests is very dangerous due to the high bamboo scaffolding, rudimentary tools and rugged cliffs. Recently, some places have raised swiftlets in their houses in the city to harvest bird’s nests, especially in Nha Trang City. The farms are designed to be close to the natural conditions where the birds live. Visitors can enjoy the traditional birds’ nests dishes in luxury restaurants in Nha Trang city.

Khanh Hoa City (Nha Trang) (Photo: APT Travel)

 

Son Nguyen

Pig’s Offal Congee Restaurants in Vietnam

Although there are many ‘cháo lòng’ eateries in Vietnam, here we are going to show you the most delicious and famous pig congee places throughout the country. In fact, each region of the country has a different way of making and tasting ‘cháo lòng’, so remember to do your research before coming to a certain area.

The North

Street food in Hanoi is actually one of the most famous features of the capital of the country. And ‘cháo lòng’, though not as famous as other Hanoi street food, also stand out differently from its brothers and sisters in the South. It’s best to enjoy ‘cháo lòng’ at a carrying pole by a local person on the street, in a cold winter day. What could be better than a hot bowl of congee in the cooling wind breezing through your body, warming it up? To assist you with your choices, here is a list of famous traditional ‘cháo lòng’ restaurants in Hanoi (source: danviet.vn):

Cháo lòng Hàng Tre (Bamboo Street cháo lòng)

The local Hanoian with the love for cháo lòng usually comes to Hàng Tre. The restaurant is situated at the main street so it is very easy to find. This restaurant usually serves cháo lòng from the early morning to noon. Although this is just a simple and affordable restaurant, many people love to come here.

The hot bowl of congee with the refreshing smell of vegetables and peppers.

Like many other congee restaurants, the congee is cooked traditionally in Northern style, the colour of the congee is a little cloudy, served with pig’s offal and thin slices of liver. When tasting, people often sprinkle the congee with pepper and fresh herb or add a little bit of fish sauce for additional savour.

Open time: from early morning to noon

Price: 30,000 VND (1.32$)/bowl

Cháo lòng Ô Quan Chưởng

Just a noble restaurant, small space of serving, simple furniture but this cháo lòng place is always full of customers because of the specially made pig’s offal congee. A bowl of congee served at this place is always full of delicious pig’s guts with thin pure congee.

The bowl of congee is served with its full beauty.

All the ingredients is kept clean, the chef only chopped and cut and slightly cooked through the thin congee which has been boiled in the kitchen. Therefore, customers have to wait a little longer than usual, but you will find every single second you waited is worthy because the guts is very brittle, fragrant and without any stink.

Open time: 3:30pm – 10:30m

Price: 40,000VND (1.76$)/bowl

Cháo lòng Đào Duy Từ

If you are looking for delicious but cheap food in Hanoi, you could never miss the cháo lòng place at the front of Đào Duy Từ alley. This is just a very small eating place with 4-5 plastic tables, even customers sometimes have to sit together with strangers, but is always crowded with people coming in and out for their amazing congee.

The congee here is served in full, filled with hearts, stomach, colon, liver and only little congee. They also add some daisy vegetables and spring onion on top of the congee.

It’s a very interesting experience to enjoy pig’s offal congee in the cool air of Hanoi.

The incredible flavor of congee here can easily please any critical customer.

Open time: all day

Price: 40,000VND (1.76$)/bowl

Cháo lòng Hàng Phèn

One of the delicious eating places in Hanoi is the restaurant at the front of Hàng Phèn Street, with the age of 20 years. None of a connoisseur in food is unfamiliar with this restaurant.

The congee restaurant is at the front of Hàng Phèn Street, cross Thuốc Bắc Street (Photo: Ngoisao)

This is only a street eating place with several plastic tables and chairs but customers keep coming all the time. In the cool atmosphere of autumn, sitting silently with a spoon of congee, enjoying the extraordinary taste, the solidarity, the sweet smell of congee and herbs is one of a unmissable experience in Hanoi.

Price: 40,000VND (1.76$)/bowl

The South

The South of Vietnam, especially Ho Chi Minh City’s cháo lòng is very different from the North. Thanks to the creativity and generosity of Southern people, they have created such a different taste of cháo lòng here, compared to the North. The easiest way to distinguish a bowl of cháo lòng cooked in the Northern way with a bowl of cháo lòng cooked in the Southern way is to identify their sweetness. The Southern cháo lòng bowl is much sweeter than the one made by the Northern. However, the truth is, the real difference lies in the heart of yours, or should I say, the mouth of yours. Only by tasting both bowl of pig’s offal congee could you ever understand the uniqueness of cháo lòng of different cultures and regions. Here is a list of famous ‘cháo lòng’ places in Hồ Chí Minh City:

Cháo lòng hẻm Nguyễn Thị Minh Khai (Nguyễn Thị Minh Khai Street’s alley)

This is my personal favourite ‘cháo lòng‘ eatery in Ho Chi Minh City. This restaurant is located in a small alley on Nguyễn Thị Minh Khai Street, an alley so small in the center of Saigon that even a car could not come in.

Although this place is  not easy to find at all, but everyday, from about 2pm to late night, this alley is always crowded with people, from normal students to elegant customers, all cháo lòng lovers, coming to enjoy their delicious bowl of pig’s offal congee.

Beside pig’s offal congee, this place also serve many other familiar dishes bearing the bold taste of Saigon such as salad rolls, dried beefs, papaya salad,etc. Also, the special feature that makes this place one of the most famous cháo lòng restaurant is its harmonious combination between the taste of Northern and Southern congee.

Open time: 2pm to late night

Price: 30,000VND (1.32$)/small bowl, 45,000VND (1.98$)/big bowl/blood congee, 70.000VND (3.09$/ big plate of pig’s offal only,…

Address: 153 Nguyễn Thị Minh Khai, District 1, Hồ Chí Minh City

Night pig’s offal congee near Bến Thành Market

This place, situated at the West Gate of Bến Thành Market, is only a carrying pole but is always crowded. The congee here is very nice, soft, delicious and rich.

Open time: 06:00 PM – 03:00 AM

Price: 30,000VND – 45,000VND (1.32$ – 1.98$)

Address: 49 Phan Chu Trinh, Bến Thành Province, District 1, Hồ Chí Minh City.

Cháo Lòng 374 

The congee here is very delicious, nice seasoning, the pig’s offal is fresh, and herbs are cleaned. Very devoted service.

Adress: 374 Lê Văn Sỹ, P. 2, quận Tân Bình, TP. HCM

Open time: 06:30 AM – 10:00 PM

Price: 15,000VND – 33,000VND (0.66$ – 1.45$)

Another way of finding the best cháo lòng restaurant for you is to ask any local you see, if you can. They always know best. If you ever come to Vietnam, do not forget to try out this extraordinary congee, if you have the guts.

If you have any problem travelling in Vietnam, whether it’s food problem or anything else, please don’t hesitate to contact us for more assistance. We would be thrilled to help.

Ngọc Lê.