Tag Archives: Beef

Hanoi: a city built on street food

I started prepping Mark for our visit to Hanoi months before we actually arrived.

“We will be eating as much as physically possible,” I said matter-of-factly. “I don’t want to hear any ridiculous excuses like ‘we just ate’ or ‘I’m already full’ or ‘we’ve already had four bowls of pho today’. We’ve only got three days there and I have a long list of places where we have to eat. We will probably get a bit fat but so be it; we can diet when we’re back home. We will just have to man up and eat through the pain!”

Mark chuckled at me as I went back to my complex system of cross-referencing recommendations from Vietnamese friends in London, tips from my days working with Pho restaurants, online forums, twitter, guide books and maps.

After that, I reckon I could run a military dictatorship, no problem.

As planned, we arrived and were soon negotiating the famous crazy Vietnamese traffic and the narrow alleys in Hanoi’s Old Quarter, where street food glory is found in abundance.

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The tangled electrical wiring is as crazy/dodgy as the traffic.

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Let me give you an idea of our typical schedule over the three days we spent in Hanoi. We would get up at around 7am, have some tea and fresh fruit at our guesthouse before heading out for two or three bowls of pho at different street stalls around town. Then we may have a mid-morning snack of banh mi sandwiches (just to keep our metabolisms ticking over) before it was time for lunch – probably bun cha noodles to have a change from pho.

Sometime mid-afternoon, one of us would point out that it was probably beer o’clock. We would find the nearest bia hoi (fresh beer) joint (25 pence a glass). Inevitably we would be offered a snack like bo la lot (beef wrapped in betel leaves and grilled).

For dinner we would go more upmarket and eat at an actual restaurant rather than perched on tiny plastic stools at the side of the road. We would aid digestion with a stroll around a night market where we would be tempted by snacks like bánh cuốn (barbecued pork wrapped in rice paper), giant prawns or slices of sour green mango dipped in salt and chilli powder (my favourite).

Here are some of the highlights – this is the stuff that made the extra chub around our waists worthwhile.

bun rieu cua (crab noodle soup)

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Pho tai nam (noodle soup with roasted and rare beef) at Pho Gia Truyen. This baby was superlatively good, combining the different flavours and textures of savoury cooked beef and thin slivers of very rare, pink meat in a silky broth. I actually felt sad as I neared the end of my bowl, knowing I would measure all other pho against this one.

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There was a long queue of locals outside; one woman smiled and said “this place, number one!” as if congratulating us on finding it.

Mark queuing patiently

Mark queuing patiently

Giant prawns, grilled over charcoal:

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These guys managed to escape our greed…

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Cha ca at Cha Ca La Vong. The dish is prepared with oodles of green herbs, which are stir fried with fish and other ingredients at your table.

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As the sign says, this is all they serve here. It’s funny how restaurants with only one or two items on the menu have only recently become a trend in London; they’ve been doing it for ages here.

Pho ga (chicken noodle soup) at Pho Hang Dieu

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And around the corner, pho bo (beef noodle soup) at Pho Thin

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At Pho Thin they stir fry the beef before adding it to the stock, which gives an amazing smoky flavour. It’s also served with a thumbs up and a smile!

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Another incarnation of cha ca flavours, this time wrapped in rice paper at Highway 4:

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Also some pork ribs in barbecue sauce, also from Highway 4:

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Check out the crackling on this pork:

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Dinner at Quán Ăn Ngon:

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Believe it or not, we also managed to find time for non-food related sights and activities. I was going to talk about them here but I’ve just made myself hungry with all these pictures; I must go and find sustenance. Toodle pip!

Pastel de choclo: Chile’s best loved dish (recipe)

After completing the W trek we decided to treat ourselves to a stay in a cosy B&B, as a break from roughing it and a chance to rest and recuperate properly.

We chose Pire Mapu in Puerto Natales on the basis of excellent online reviews and had a lovely time. The hosts (Brendan is from Leeds and his wife Fabiana is from Puerto Natales) were very warm and welcoming. We soon got talking about food, cooking and Chilean cuisine. Fabiana kindly agreed to show me how to make a classic Chilean recipe, pastel de choclo, which we would then eat together for lunch on Easter Sunday.

Fabiana explained that since Chile is so long and extends through many lines of latitude, the cuisine varies greatly from tip to tip and between the coast and inland areas. Pastel de choclo, however, is adored throughout the country and is essentially the national dish.

It’s not unlike a cottage or shepherd’s pie, but with a topping of mashed sweetcorn (choclo) in place of potato. Also the filling combines chicken, minced beef, hard boiled eggs with softened onions, peppers, garlic (other versions often include raisins and olives although we omitted these). It’s as though every element of a typical farm is represented in each mouthful of pastel de choclo.

Although the components are very different, the end result is just as hearty, warming and comforting as the British classics – and as easy to prepare. It’s definitely a complete meal; no accompaniments are necessary, although we did use some of Fabiana’s homemade crusty bread to soak up the last of the juices in our clay bowls.

This is how Fabiana made it, on the beautiful antique AGA-style cooker which had been a wedding present to her parents, decades ago. I have added some thoughts about how I may tweak the recipe and method to account for UK ingredients, equipment and palate at the end.

Pastel de choclo – Fabiana from Pire Mapu’s recipe

(serves 4 – you can use four individual ovenproof dishes as we did, or put everything in one large dish and divide portions when you serve)

1 onion
1 red pepper
paprika
dried oregano
4 chicken thighs (skinned)
4 cloves garlic
200g minced beef
4 hard boiled eggs (peeled)
1 kg package of blended maize
200g sweetcorn kernels
sugar
salt and pepper

Dice onion and red pepper and crush 3 cloves of garlic. Soften in a little olive oil with 2tbsp each of paprika and oregano for a couple of minutes.

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Add the chicken thighs and cook for a further few minutes before adding enough cold water to reach just under the surface of the chicken. Season with salt and pepper, stick a lid on and leave to simmer gently.

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In a separate pan, prepare the minced beef in a similar way: crush the remaining clove of garlic, soften in oil with another tsp each of oregano & paprika. Add the minced beef, fry for a few minutes until brown, season and add a splash of water to create a tasty gravy. Leave to simmer gently.

Meanwhile prepare the topping: if using ready blended maize paste, drain off excess liquid in a sieve. Use a blender or food processor to pulse the sweetcorn kernels to a rough paste (let a few chunks remain). Combine with the drained maize – the texture should be like soft scrambled eggs. Put the mix in a clean pan to heat through on the stove, and add quite a bit of sugar – a couple of generous handfuls.

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By this point the chicken thighs should be tender and cooked through. Place one in the bottom of each individual ovenproof dish (or if using a big dish, one in each corner) and spoon over the red peppers, onions and juice from the pan.

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Sprinkle some minced beef around each chicken thigh. Tuck in a hard boiled egg – each person gets a whole one.

Cover with a thick layer of the sweetcorn topping, right to the edges. Dot with butter and sprinkle with more sugar to help brown.

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Put in a hot oven for 15-20 minutes or until the top is browned and the filling is piping hot.

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Serve!

Notes:

  • Fabiana says you can use your favourite spices; cumin is typical, or chilli powder if you like hot food. I think smoked paprika or chipotle chillies would work really well in this dish, particularly against the sweet topping.
  • I wondered about using poached eggs rather than hardboiled, so you have the joy of breaking into a runny yolk. Or even sous vide if you’ve got fancy kit!?
  • While I’m sure it could be tracked down in a specialist shop, I have never seen ready blended sweetcorn or maize in London. Fabiana is confident that making a paste from tinned sweetcorn kernels in a blender would work just as well. If the paste needs to be loosened, a little milk would be the best thing to add.
  • Chileans love very sweet food and I would use far less sugar than Fabiana did. Particularly as tinned sweetcorn in the UK is sweeter than the starchy Chilean maize anyhow. Also I want to experiment with brown sugar or even molasses, which would give a richer flavour than refined white sugar.

Buenos Aires bites

You can find excellent steak around the world but what we ate in Argentina’s capital was on another level.

Obviously, the quality of the meat second to none. Happy grass fed cows roaming free in the pampas make juicy, flavourful beef and the asadors manning the grills in parillas are experts at achieving a perfect charred crust with tender a punto flesh.

What I wasn’t prepared for were the astonishing low prices, abundant portions, and the sheer ubiquity of great steak restaurants, parillas, on virtually every street. When I asked porteños (Buenos Aires natives) we met to name their favourite parilla, they often responded with a chuckle because there are simply so many, it is very difficult even for locals to choose.

It is all a bit overwhelming and the only thing to do is get stuck in!

A recommendation from an Aussie foodie traveller led us to Don Julio in the Palermo neighbourhood for our first BA parilla experience. The restaurant was heaving and we had to wait for a table (we took this as a good sign, particularly when the waitress gave us a couple of glasses of plonk on the house to help pass the time). The prices (we’re talking around £15 for a dictionary thick slab of steak) let us order with impunity: bife de lomo (fillet) and bife de chorizo (rib eye) with a bangin’ bottle of Malbec. Regretfully we were too content gorging to photograph anything on the leather-clad tables or bother remembering the name of the wine, although this image from the web will give you an idea of the place. This was Mark’s overall favourite restaurant we tried in BA.

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Another top find was Gran Parilla del Plata, a former butcher shop in the San Telmo neighbourhood which still has butchers’ hooks and posters of the various cuts of beef around the room. This was my favourite – in part because of the side dishes. Garlic fried potatoes almost stole the show from the bife de chorizo mariposa (butterflied sirloin) we ordered to share: they must have used at least a couple of freshly crushed bulbs. The chimichurri and salsa verde condiments served as standard were fresh and full of flavour.

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Des Nivel is a bit of an institution apparently – the asador at the front casually tending to huge piles of sausage, ribs, steak and more is certainly an impressive sight. Totally no-frills; some TVs bolted on the walls, tuned in to the latest football match are the main decoration.

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We also savoured the sights and smells of the asados lining the streets of the San Telmo weekend antiques market.

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We first heard about La Cabrera from Mark’s sister Gill, who decided the steak served here would have the honour of breaking her long-term vegetarianism. While any red meat would surely taste sublime to someone deprived of it for years, Gill’s recommendation was bolstered by several other sources, so we were keen to check it out.

Luckily Mark and I were joined by a new pal we met at our hostel – the quantity of food may well have defeated just the two of us. Just look at this beautiful 800g beast!

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It’s like a hunk of dinosaur from Fred Flintstone’s table. La Cabrera definitely served us the most photogenic steak we had in BA, and the nibbles provided by the cover charge were the most plentiful, varied and interesting.

Sarkis in Palermo gave us some respite from all the steak – the popular, low price Armenian joint served lovely salads and mezze. As an afterthought we ordered some lamb to avoid any potential red meat withdrawal symptoms – better safe than sorry.

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We also squeezed in a visit to Cafe Tortini, the oldest cafe in the city, for a quick coffee before the loud American tour groups and their obtrusive camera flashes became too annoying.

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Before we left BA, we signed up to learn how to make empanadas (not unlike small Cornish pasties) at our hostel, along with a dozen or so others. There was a fun contest at the end for the best/most creative empanada – my effort won the prize of a free bar tab, woohoo! I may go into large-scale production back in England with my creation of meat stuffed, giant pretzel shaped empanadas. Definitely a gap in the market.

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It may be a stretch to say Buenos Aires is paved with steak, but I will personally refer to Buenos Aires as “Steak City” from now on.