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Mouthing Off

By the Editors of Food & Wine Magazine

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Chef Dream Trips

Ed Lee's Vietnam Food Tour

Bun Rieu in Vietnam

Bun Rieu Photo © Ed Lee.

When I go to a Vietnamese restaurant in the US, I always look for a wall calendar, the kind showing an idyllic landscape with a bamboo raft meandering down a calm river, or a pretty girl in a silk dress and long white gloves bicycling through a fruit market. It’s the place I’m hoping to find as the plane descends upon the verdant island of Phu Quoc on the southern tip of Vietnam. But wait, I’m also having flashbacks of Apocalypse Now and Robin Williams yelling, “Goooooood morning, Vietnam!” I try to focus on bahn mi sandwiches and Vietnamese crêpes.

This is my first visit to a country that is so foreign to me and yet so deeply ingrained in my consciousness through history, museums, film, TV and, most recently, through its cuisine. I’m here with Stuart Brioza, from San Francisco’s State Bird Provisions; Bryan Caswell, of Reef in Houston; and Top Chef: Texas winner Paul Qui from Austin—all chefs who have a working familiarity with Southeast Asian cuisine. We’re here with the good folks from Red Boat Fish Sauce to tour their factory and get a firsthand look at the food culture of Vietnam.

On the first day of our weeklong stay, we shopped at the wet markets of Phu Quoc, through a maze of crabs, clams, snappers, cobias, cuttlefish and lots of unidentifiable conch. Chickens and ducks are sold live; pork is laid out on wooden carving boards in the hot sun; and little old ladies poke you to buy lottery tickets. Fresh coconut water was the only thing that prevented me from passing out in the hot sun in front of a dusty table of clucking chickens. At night, we joined an overnight fishing expedition, drinking rum and beer as we pulled in nets full of anchovies that would make their way into the fermentation barrels to become fish sauce after a year. It was a long night, but an appropriate start to a trip where our meals would be perfumed in various ways by this omnipresent ingredient.

We ate at places high and low: From the streets of Ho Chi Minh City to the port city of Da Nang. It was surprising to see some of the dishes we fetishize here in the States, like bahn mi, treated in Vietnam the way they always have been—as basic street cart snacks. I was most excited by the dishes I had not seen before. Here are the nine dishes I will miss the most, the nine reasons I endure 30 hours on an airplane, jet lag and an aching back, the nine reasons I travel. SLIDESHOW: 9 MUST-TRY DISHES IN VIETNAM »

Edward Lee is the chef/owner of 610 Magnolia and MilkWood in Louisville, Kentucky. His first cookbook, Smoke & Pickles, will be out on May 1.

Related: 18 Vietnamese Recipes
Best-Ever Southeast Asian Recipes

Most Wanted Recipe

Johnny Monis's Thai Catfish Salad

Johnny Monis's Thai Catfish Salad

Photo © Con Poulos

To celebrate the 25th anniversary of F&W’s Best New Chef awards, one of our biggest stars shares one of his most requested recipes.

F&W named Johnny Monis a Best New Chef 2007 at Komi, his Greek-inspired restaurant in Washington, DC. He is now also the chef-owner of Little Serow, located next door to Komi. There, Monis offers highly spiced, boldly flavored Northeast Thai dishes like laap muu Chiang Mai, made with hand-minced pork. But that recipe isn’t ideal for home cooks: “It’s very labor-intensive and includes just about every part of the pig, including its blood,” he says. A wildly popular but more home-cook-friendly dish on Monis’s $45 prix fixe menu is laap pla duk, a vibrant catfish salad with mint, dill, cilantro and a spicy lime dressing; it’s served with a bowl of raw vegetables to balance the searing heat. “You want a really deep char on the catfish skin,” says Monis, who recommends wild salmon as an alternative. “It’s one of my favorite dishes year-round, but it’s best once the weather lets you get the charcoal grill going.” SEE RECIPE »

Related: More of America's Most Wanted Recipes
Delicious Thai Recipes
Salads with Seafood

Grace in the Kitchen

Omelets Demystified

© Con Poulos

The trick to this wonderfully puffy souffléed omelet is to beat the
egg whites until they form soft peaks, then fold them into the yolks.
© Con Poulos

Food & Wine's senior recipe developer, Grace Parisi, is a Test Kitchen superstar. In this series, she shares some of her favorite recipes to make right now.

I can understand people feeling a bit intimidated when making omelets: There are so many different techniques and styles. Do you stir the eggs until they’re set or do you leave them be, then flip and fill? Do you lift the set edges to let the runny egg seep underneath? As if it’s not already stressful and nerve-racking enough, I like using the soufflé omelet method where the yolks are mixed with cheese and flavorings and then folded into beaten whites to make the fluffiest omelet ever. (I think it takes much of the worry out, because once the eggs are in the pan, that’s it, you’re done. But more on that later.)

In this one, I've sautéed watercress and beaten it, along with some stinky Fontina cheese, into the yolks, folded in the whites and poured it in the skillet where it cooks over moderately high heat for about 3 minutes undisturbed. Topped with a bit more stinky Fontina, then broiled until the cheese is melted and the eggs are set, it finally gets turned out (halfway out of the skillet, then folded onto itself) onto a large plate where it starts to deflate quickly. Meaning? Eat it right away! Honestly, 10 minutes of (potentially scary) work never had a bigger payoff. SEE RECIPE »

Related: More Omelet Recipes
Three-Ingredient Recipes
Cheesy Recipes

Andrew Zimmern's Kitchen Adventures

Easy Duck à l'Orange

Duck à l'Orange

Photo © Stephanie Meyer.

When I was growing up in NYC in the ’60s, my dad would take me out every week for roast duck at any of the half dozen amazing Czech and other Eastern European restaurants that helped define the Yorkville neighborhood of Manhattan for generations. Those days are gone: The German, Czech and Polish restaurants that served some of the best traditional comfort food in the city are no more. It took me years and many trips overseas to figure out how to replicate the spiced orange duck that was so popular when I was a kid. It was fancy food back then, for sure. This recipe is easier than it looks, and the results are stellar every time. It’s foolproof. SEE RECIPE »

See More of Andrew Zimmern’s Kitchen Adventures

Wine Intel

Wine Rivals Take it to the Court

© Michelle Pattee

As the Final Four prep for their games this weekend, here's a look at a friendlier basketball competition that's been going on between the staffs of two excellent Sonoma wineries: CrossBarn, owned by star winemaker Paul Hobbs, and culty Pinot Noir producer Kosta Browne. In this photo, the teams face off on a court whose perimeter is lined with barrels that were used for Kosta Browne's 2011 vintage.

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