Viet Quoc – Viet Nation!
By Tim Hazell
Legends and artifacts suggest that Vietnam’s tribal cultures were unified by King Kinh Duong Vuong around 2,879 B.C. The era of Hung Vuong kings spanned almost three millennia until the overthrow by Thuc Vuong Phán in 257 B.C. Vietnam’s history continued with Chinese domination, the resurgence of native dynasties, French colonization, Japanese occupation, and Communist insurrection. The modern Socialist Republic has undergone phases of political and economic experimentation.
Vietnam is famous for its cuisine, from the refined recipes of the Hue royal chefs to savory concoctions of its street vendors. The stir-fries and noodle-based soups of the north show strong Chinese influence. Vietnam’s tropical southern region is an ideal environment for rice, coconut, pungent herbs, and spices. Vietnamese food owes its sweet-sour, hot pungent characteristics to mint leaves, coriander, lemon grass, shrimp paste, and fish sauces. Meats and seafood are turned into mouth watering combinations with vegetables, garlic, chilies, black pepper, basil, rice vinegar, and star anise. Here is a classic:
Vietnamese Stuffed Squid
2 lb. small squids, cleaned
Salt and pepper
1/2 lb. ground pork
Squid tentacles, chopped
1 tsp. fish sauce
Dash sesame oil
4 cloves garlic
1 inch piece peeled ginger, shredded
1 tsp. sugar
1 tsp. ground black pepper
1 spring onion, minced
1/2 cup bean thread noodles, soaked in warm water 10 min, drained and cut in 2-3 inch lengths
1 tbsp. oil
Smash and peel the garlic. Reserve 3 cloves for frying. Mince the remaining clove.
In a bowl, mix together pork, squid tentacles, fish sauce, sesame oil, garlic clove, ginger shreds, sugar, pepper, salt, spring onion, and bean thread noodles.
Carefully stuff pork mixture into the squid casing, pushing small amounts to the end before filling the entire cylinder. Try not to overstuff or the casing will break; about half full will suffice. Skewer the open end of the casing with a toothpick. Carefully pierce with the point of a sharp knife. This will allow contents to expand and steam to escape without rupturing the squids. Drizzle with oil, a pinch of salt, and black pepper. Reserve any leftover filling and the 3 smashed garlic cloves.
Heat oil over medium high heat in a skillet large enough to hold the squids in a single layer. Add remaining garlic cloves, fry until golden, and then discard cloves. Let oil cool slightly. Carefully add squids. Sear the outside, flip over once, then cover and reduce heat to medium low. Cook gently 8 to 10 minutes. Remove squids to a bed of lettuce. Cooking time will vary depending on size of squid and how much you stuff. Add remaining filling (if any) to skillet and fry, stirring until browned. Top squids with filling or chopped spring onion and serve with nuoc mam dipping sauce.
If squids are unavailable, prepare pork mixture with extra pork and shrimp, brown in a skillet, and add to lettuce leaf wrappers.