Around the World in 80 Dates is a blog series designed to take me (and Tom) out of our comfort zones and force us to cook food from other countries. Each week, we use a random country generator to tell us where we will be cooking from. We have to cook at least one dish from this country, the more traditional the better. We alternate who’s cooking each week, this week is my turn.
I’ll admit that I felt a rush of relief when the random country generator landed on a place that I actually recognised for this weeks challenge. As interesting as it’s been to delve into the great unknown these past few weeks, there’s some comfort in just a little familiarity every now and then.
There are a few Vietnamese restaurants in Brighton (none of which I’ve been to, I’m afraid to say) and a couple of dishes of Vietnamese origin that I could name off the top of my head, so I didn’t feel completely in the dark when embarking upon my research.
This, coupled with a few eager suggestions from my friends on Instagram, meant that I was off to a good start before I’d even begun. For once.
There was so much to choose from, but in the end I settled for bahn mi because it seemed most accessible to me in terms of ingredients I’d have to get in. I’ve also perhaps let authenticity fall by the wayside just a smidge in favour of making it plant based.
According to my trusted friend throughout this challenge, Wikipedia, the components of a Bahn Mi are as follows: a combination of meats; often including spreadable pate, sliced cucumber, pickled radishes and carrots and coriander.
I decided to go down the tofu instead of meat route, frying it in sunflower oil until crispy then cooking for a few minutes in chilli bean paste. I had to go to the Asian supermarket for the chilli bean paste (it was a condiment I remember from a gorgeous turkey recipe my Mum whipped up one Christmas for leftovers and couldn’t find it anywhere else) and it was worth the trip.
I went on a bit of a detour to make my own vegan pate using this Lauren Caris recipe, all things considered it probably had no place on Vietnamese week (aubergines, peppers, carrots, chickpeas) but it really was delicious, and was an easy vegetarian way to add a different texture to the sandwich.
If I was doing things properly, I would have found white radishes somewhere, but I’ve been drunk or hungover all weekend and even making this at all was a stretch come Sunday so the pink ones had to do. I put them in a bowl with finely sliced carrots and some white wine vinegar, sugar and salt for about a half hour.
The sandwich was lush. Though if I’m honest, I wish I’d had the energy to make more of this week. I would have loved to have attempted more than one dish and learned more about Vietnamese culture, but it was Christmas party weekend and sometimes life just gets in the way.. you know?