Pancake day! A perfect opportunity to take myself back to Vietnam. I was lucky enough to spend a couple of weeks travelling through Vietnam last year, although it seems like a forever ago now, and it was one of my favourite places- which is saying something when you spent a year travelling around the world. The history, the beauty, the devastation of a country and of generations genetically modified through exposure to Agent Orange. It seems Americans are more bothered by gmo food than gmo-ing people. It is a country of tragedy, but also of a people unbowed and infinitely caring of those affected several generations on. While every history is told differently, it is difficult to see how Kissenger could be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize while simultaneously ordering the bombing of anything that moved in Vietnam. Carpet bombing. Chemical warfare. Experimental chemical warfare- nobody knew what these chemicals would do. This was not a war, it was annihilation. Pure and simply to save America money by guaranteeing cheap supplies of raw materials provided. Sound familiar?
America covertly acknowledges what it did by compensating American veterans for exposure to chemicals, but refuses to give the Vietnamese the same. They use a very poor excuse that Vietnam has refused to return dead American GI’s. GI’s who died in the jungles and swamps of Vietnam, although America cannot say where. Some of them died in places they weren’t supposed to be. In the museums it is impossible not to cry at the images, the truths told by American soldiers, both privates and generals. The American soldiers suffered, but it was a war the Vietnamese provoked simply by wishing to independent from France.
Yet the Vietnamese people I met were endlessly welcoming and hospitable, helpful and unusually generous with their time and advice. The cynic in me tells me it is because I was a tourist, because I am good for the economy. But whatever the reasons it felt very genuine for whatever reason. If the history isn’t enough, the natural beauty isn’t enough, then go for the food. The French colonised Vietnam and brought the baguette. Vietnam saw the baguette and raised the French a hundred. The French folded. The Vietnamese baguette is like eating frosted air it is so light. And then, they stuff it with 3 different types of pork, fresh herbs, fresh chillis and you have the banh mi. If you eat bread and you eat meat, you must.
But the bread is beyond my culinary skills, and my diet ‘rules’ right now, so I chose something else. In Hoi’an we went on a cookery course. We wandered the market which is the last word in fresh- slaughtered an hour ago Sir? Here you go. Waste not, want not? Whole animal eating is a speciality. Herbs that were new to me are sold and fresh fish, so fresh it is still alive. So are the chickens and the ducks. It’s not a haven for the vegetarian, but it is how food should be done. We then went to a small island, ground rice into milk, drank fresh passion fruit juice and made several Vietnamese classics. Ban Xeo was one. This is the crispiest of crispy pancakes. So crispy in fact that a lovely but slightly violent Vietnamese lady hit me with a spoon every time I tried to flip mine- not crispy! Smack!
Traditionally these include prawns and pork, but I have gone for a veggie option. Meat eaters you get yours often enough.
So here it goes:
Recipe: Increase your amounts by the appetites of your people
Fresh herbs of your choice. I like mint, but other people like coriander, both, other.
Spring onions, sliced vertically and then on the diagonal
Pepper very thinly sliced
Cashew nuts blitzed in the blender
Arrange these things on a plate, more or less artistically.
Pancakes: this makes about 5 pancakes- 4 inches diameter
120 grams rice flour
1/2 tsp. turmeric
1/2 tsp. salt
100ml coconut milk
Put all the pancake ingredients in the blender. Blend. Heat a small frying pan over a medium heat, spray with coconut oil. Add a couple of spoonfuls of mixture and quickly tip the pan so mixture spreads out. It should be quite thin and bubble immediately. My first one is always rubbish, so I eat it while making the others.
Serve up pancakes with the plate and let everybody make their own wraps.
Meaty: marinade sliced chicken in a mixture of grated ginger, fresh chilli, garlic, coconut aminos (soy sauce) and lime juice.
Fry and add to pancakes.
Sweet option to come later…I gotta eat!