Saturday, July 1, 2017

Learning about Vietnamese food on a Pandaw cruise

While in Vietnam John and I enjoyed Pandaw’s 10-day Halong Bay and Red River cruise. Pandaw is value-laden because everything is included. Halong Bay is the highlight of northern Vietnam and of the cruise; and, yes, it is beautiful, but I really enjoyed the shore trips along the Red
River and its tributaries because we visited places not frequented by most tourists.  Many small villages are noted for one specific product. In Gia Thanh village I marveled at an 80-year-old lady threading a needle (no glasses) and sewing palm leaves on a traditional Vietnamese conical hat.  

In a village in Hai Duong province villagers were making Green
Bean Cake, a specialty food of the area, and wrapping them up for sale. The sugar-cube size cake is made of green beans, sugar, vegetable oil, essence of coconut, and grapefruit flower. Years ago King Bao Dai visited the province and was offered the green bean cake to enjoy with his green tea. He liked the flavor so much he allowed the Golden Dragon, a symbol of royal power, to be used on the package. I should have tried the green bean cake with some green tea because I found it too dry and with very little flavor. 

In Ninh Giang I tried Banh Gai, sticky rice cakes, made from glutinous rice flower, gai leaf, sugar, mung beans, and wrapped in a banana leaf. I found this much more palatable.  Rice noodles are common part of many Vietnamese recipes. In one village I saw rows of rice noodles hung out to dry.

An on-board event included how to make Vietnamese spring rolls.
All the guests got to try making their own spring roll. Assembling the ingredients was easy but I need a little more practice to make my spring roll look as neat and as perfect as Chef Rotha’s.  The spring rolls are healthy and a variety of ingredients can be used. Chef Rotha, the cold chef, suggested using two rice papers to prevent the ingredients from breaking through. The rolls can be dipped in a variety of sauces but Chef Rotha was Cambodian and shared the recipe for his Khmer dipping sauce.

Vietnamese Spring Rolls
14 round rice paper wrappers 
Several springs of fresh mint leaves
7 oz chicken, cooked, cut in 4 inch long, one-half inch wide strips (cooked shrimp, peeled, and sliced in half lengthwise can also be used) 
7 lettuce leaves
1 cup cooked rice vermicelli, cold
1 carrot, julienned
1 cup fresh bean sprouts

Fill a large bowl with warm water. Dip two rice papers (or one) in water for about 1 minute, until soft. Lay the rice papers on wax paper. Start layering, making sure to keep the ingredients an inch from the sides.  Place four mint leaves on the rice paper. Add 2 or 3 pieces of chicken. Top with a lettuce leaf, a small portion of vermicelli, several pieces of carrots, and then several bean sprouts Add additional mint leaves (or cilantro). To roll, fold side inward, the tightly roll the rice paper. 

Khmer dipping sauce
3 garlic cloves, minced
3 medium red chilies, seeded and minced
2 tbsp lime or lemon juice
1 tsp sugar
1cup water
3 tbsps fish sauce
3 tsp ground peanuts
Blend garlic, chilies, juice, sugar and water. Add the fish sauce and stir. Stir in the ground peanuts. Recipe can be adjusted to taste by adding more water and/or fish sauce or chilies. For more information log on to

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