I am acquainted with the name Vietnam ever since I was young, due to my father's political thinking. I remember as young as in middle school, he made sure I read and be aware of the political scenario around the world. With age I really started liking exploring countries, learning about their people, physical and political boundaries, their revolution, survival strategy, though not cuisine as much. There was a time when Kolkata was much influenced by the Vietnamese revolution . Kolkata also has a prime location named after Ho Chi Minh.
With an estimated 90.0 million inhabitants, it is the world's 13th most populous country. It is bordered by China to the North, Laos to the Northwest, Cambodia to the Southwest, and the South China Sea to the east. The capital city being Hanoi since the reunification of North and South Vietnam in 1976. What I did not know was about its wonderful cuisine. Learning about a country's cuisine is knowing about its people and culture. It was only after landing in Singapore that I tasted Vietnamese dishes and instantly fell in love with it.
Vietnamese Cuisine features a combination of five fundamental taste elements. Common ingredients include fish sauce, shrimp paste, soy sauce, rice, fresh herbs, fruits and vegetables. Vietnamese recipes use lemon grass, ginger, mint, Vietnamese mint, long coriander, Saigon cinnamon, bird's eye chilli, lime and basil leaves.
I am in love with Nem Cuon [salad rolls] and their various soups with fresh herbs. Their cuisine has a finer taste with minimal use of oil. I need to have more expertise to prepare their unique rice paper rolls, so thought why not start with a humble pot of fish curry.
White fish fillets : 500 gm
Tomatoes : 2 [medium]
Rainforest fruit Jeowbong paste : 1 tsp [ I used normal red chilli paste]
Garlic Cloves : 2
Fresh Ginger ; 1 inch
Fresh Galangal : 1 inch [ I skipped ]
Palm Sugar : 2 tsp [ I skipped ]
Chicken stock paste : 2 tsp [ I used a cube of chicken stock ]
Shallots : 2
Fish Sauce : 1 tsp
Tamarind paste : 1 tsp
Lemon juice : 1 tsp
Soy sauce : 2 tbsp [ alternatively tamari, said to be gluten free soy sauce ]
Turmeric powder : 2 tsp [ authentically fresh turmeric paste ]
Oil : 2 tbsp [ authentically peanut oil ]
Lemongrass : 2 stalks [ only the white part ]
Vinegar : 3 tbsp
Salt : As required
Coconut milk : 150 ml
Wash and cut the fish into small pieces as shown. Marinate with vinegar and salt and keep aside for 1 hour.
Cut the shallots, keep the white and green parts in separate bowls and wash. Take the white part of the lemongrass, cut into pieces and bruise. Prepare a smooth paste of the garlic, ginger, deseeded tomatoes, chicken stock paste, tamarind paste in a blender. Transfer into a bowl. Add the soy sauce, salt as required, fish sauce, turmeric powder and the chilli paste.
Heat oil in a wok. Add the white pieces of shallots and the lemon grass pieces. Saute for 2 minutes. Put in the spice paste. Saute for about 2-3 minutes. Add 1 small cup water. Let it come to boil.
Once the gravy comes to boil, add the fish pieces draining the vinegar water that is released. Carefully give a stir. Cover and let boil for about 3 minutes. Remove cover and add the coconut milk. Stir once more carefully to avoid the breaking of fish pieces. Let boil for about 4 minutes. Switch off and transfer to a bowl, garnish with the green part of the shallots.