Rice is essential. Vietnam is one of the world’s largest exporters of the grain – second only to Thailand – but keeps a fair amount for itself. White, sticky, glutinous, fermented: rice is the anchor of a family’s daily meals, particularly in poorer regions. Try it as banh cuon – a pork and mushroom-filled rice-batter roll.
There are influences from China – especially in the broths and stir-fries of the north – and whiffs of wider South-East Asia. But there’s also a French feel, evident in the delicious and ubiquitous banh mi (baguette sandwiches). King of all, though, is pho (pronounced 'feu'). This broth of beef and noodles, heady with ginger, cinnamon and star anise, is eaten at all times, in all places, and is generally delicious – the taste of Vietnam.
Top tip: Invest in a mandolin grater. Vietnamese dishes often include thinly sliced ingredients – this handy tool can dramatically reduce time spent labouring in the kitchen.
For the caramel sauce
200g brown sugar
4 teaspoons fish sauce
500ml hot chicken stock
1 chilli cut in half
1 teaspoon lime juice
1 small cinnamon stick or 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon (optional)
1 teaspoon black peppercorns (optional)
For the chicken wings
700g chicken wings
20g fresh ginger, finely shredded
½ teaspoon salt
3 tablespoons sugar
2 tablespoons fish sauce
1 teaspoon ground black pepper
1. To make the caramel sauce, put the brown sugar in a pan over a medium heat and cook slowly until melted. Turn the heat up and stir. Once the sugar is a bit darker, turn the heat down and add four tablespoons of fish sauce, the chicken stock, the chilli and the lime juice. Add the cinnamon and peppercorns to create a little heat if desired.
2. Add the shredded ginger to the caramel sauce, along with the salt, sugar, remaining fish sauce, pepper and 500ml of water.
3. Bring the mixture to the boil then reduce to a low heat.
4. Cut each chicken wing into three main pieces. Add to the sauce. Simmer for 30-40 minutes, stirring occasionally.
5. Skim off any excess fat and serve the chicken on a bed of Asian slaw or mixed in with rice and vegetables.
Recipe taken from Bobby Chinn’s Vietnamese Food (Conran Octopus, £15.99)Words by Alexandra Gregg
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