When Intrepid’s Eliza Anderson headed to Vietnam to get a firsthand taste of our new Food Adventures she expected to completely indulge in all the flavours of this fascinating country. But never did she anticipate discovering cures for everthing from dull skin to an upset tummy…
“I was there to cook, but suddenly I had a higher purpose. It seems food isn’t my enemy, but my knight in shining armour. According to the Vietnamese, there is a herb to cure any aliment or vanish any beauty flaw. I was sold! It’s easy in the West to view food as your adversary, but for people in Vietnam, food isn’t just about flavour, it truly feeds their soul and fuels their lives.
My teacher was Ms Vy. She is like the Estee Lauder of Vietnamese cuisine! She is the doyenne of cooking in Hoi An and owns four different restaurants. Travellers on Intrepid’s brand new Real Food Adventure – Vietnam visit her cooking school to learn not only how to replicate her wonderful dishes at home, but how to play herb doctor too!
The trip takes travellers on a food odyssey from north to south, market to cooking class, Halong Bay junk to rowing down the Mekong. But I know you’re probably desperate to know the herbal secrets to a healthy life and shiny hair, so here are some of the best food cures that I picked-up from Ms Vy”…
Feeling bloated – try pickled vegetables
These contain the bacteria necessary to fight infections in the bowel, that’s why Ms Vy says that “pickles are the yoghurt of the Vietnamese diet.”
Upset tummy – cabbage leaves
Cabbage is good for the stomach, especially in a broth. This is a Vietnamese staple and a bride must be able to prepare a good cabbage broth to prove to her mother-in-law that she can cook and look after her husband’s health!
Want to look younger? – black beans are the answer
Ms Vy will tell you that black beans have anti-ageing properties and for Vietnamese women this dish is a favourite for keeping their hair black and shiny.
Ms Vy’s pork leg with black beans, serves 4:
800g pork leg, cut across the bone
2 litres pork stock
1 tbsp shallots, pounded
1/2 tsp coarse black pepper
2 tsp sea salt
1 tbsp fish sauce
2 cups black beans
1 litre water
Soak beans for 3 hours in water. Drain well and wash thoroughly.
In a large saucepan put beans with 1 litre of water and 1 tsp salt and simmer for 30 minutes.
Bring pork stock to the boil. Add pork, shallots, pepper, salt, fish sauce and simmer 30 minutes.
Add the beans to the pork mix and simmer gently for 75 minutes. Season to taste.
Dull skin – you need seaweed
Seaweed serves as a tonic that’s especially good for your skin. It’s commonly found in Hoi An and this renowned recipe is from Ms Vy’s grandmother – who had very beautiful skin.
Seaweed soup, serves 4 as a starter:
200g first white fish fillets
1 tbsp vegetable oil
1 tbsp white spring onions, chopped
1 tbsp shallots, pounded
1/2 roma tomato, sliced
1/4 tsp sea salt
1/4 tsp coarse black pepper
1/4 tsp sugar
1/2 tsp fish sauce
1 litre chicken stock, hot
1/4 cup chicken stock, extra
1 sheet dried seaweed, 20x20cm soaked in cold water (if using nori no need to soak)
pinch dried chilli flakes
50g chrysanthemum leaves or green mustard leaves
In a small frying pan heat oil, add white spring onions, shallots and fish, stirring gently for 1 minute, add tomatoes and 1/4 cup of stock and cook for 2 minutes.
Bring remaining stock to the boil, add fish mixture, seaweed, salt, pepper, sugar, fish sauce and chilli.
Simmer 5 minutes on a low heat. Turn off heat. Add leaves. Ladle into bowls and season to taste.
Photo: Lucy Piper