How I Reconnected with My Culture through Cooking

In this article, Ella Dao, the new Food and Drink editor, explores how learning to cook Vietnamese food has helped her reconnect with Vietnamese culture. She also teaches us a recipe for a Vietnamese Banh Mi (Sandwich) to try at home.


Growing up in Hanoi, Vietnam, I never actually learnt how to cook Vietnamese food. I did learn to appreciate the beauty of Vietnamese cuisine - always filling, savoury yet fresh - from my parents’ cooking and the wide range of street food available at every corner of my city. I was at odds with myself when I went to boarding school in America, as even the most authentic Vietnamese restaurants could never really satisfy my cravings for the taste of home. At times, l almost felt at a loss for my identity when I attempted and failed to make Vietnamese food from my vague memory of observing my parents in the kitchen and street vendors making Vietnamese food on the spot. 

I finally decided to learn to cook Vietnamese food after two years of being away from home. That decision was crucial in helping me reconnect with my family and my Vietnamese roots, values, and culture. Every time I made Vietnamese food myself in the tiny kitchen of my dorm, I was transported back to the sweltering heat of the Vietnamese summer. I would imagine myself hopping in a taxi and watching the lush green rice paddies on the outskirts of Hanoi roll away from sight at 70 km/h as the busy streets of the city emerge.

I would imagine the sheer magnitude of the crowds of people that fill the streets of Hanoi, each individual with his own motorcycle that he wields like a weapon as he weaves through the chaotic streets. I would imagine being dropped off at random street corner in the Old Quarter and sauntering my way through the maze of shops, almost mistaking the stroll for an adventure. I would imagine visiting a street vendor to taste the irresistible street food of Vietnam, such as banh cuon, extremely thin and delicate sheets of fermented rice batter filled with cooked seasoned ground pork, minced wood ear mushroom, and minced shallots with a side of fish sauce. 

Because Vietnamese food has become a big passion of mine, I would love to share with you a quick and easy recipe for making Vietnamese Banh Mi (Sandwich) at home. I have gone through many trials to perfect this recipe, so hopefully it will help you experience an authentic taste of Vietnamese food right in your kitchen. 

Vietnamese Banh Mi (Sandwich) Recipe 

Serves 2 

Fillings

Pickled Vegetables: (We’re making more than needed as the excess pickled vegetables can be eaten with rice, noodles, omelets, as appetisers and more. ) 

1 and a half carrots - julienned 

1 240g bag of radishes - julienned 

100g granulated sugar 

250ml vinegar 

250ml water 

1 teaspoon salt 

-> Leave everything in a jugfor at least 20 minutes. 

 

Other fillings: Parsley, cilantro, 1/4 of a cucumber - julienned. 

 

Pork

2 strips of pork belly 

1.5 tablespoons brown sugar 

2 cloves of garlic 

1 tablespoon fish sauce 

1 teaspoon soy sauce 

1 teaspoon black pepper 

1 teaspoon onion granules or MSG 

Salt to taste 

Rub the ingredients on the pork and cook with sesame oil and chopsticks to cook the pork well on all sides.  

Half-baked baguette at Morrisons: baked for 10 minutes at 200 Celsius degrees (fan oven).  

I would suggest that you start with making the pickled vegetables first, prepare the cucumber, then bake the baguette, and finally prepare the pork. When the baguette is fully baked, let it rest for 5 minutes, then get a sharp knife to slice it in half vertically and put the pickled vegetables, pork, and other fillings in.