On handling a raw Fertilized Fetal Duck Egg. (+ a recipe for Vietnamese Pork & Mint Meatballs)

Warning: some of the images in this post may be disturbing.  

One of the eggs I took home started bleeding.  Bright red arterial blood that pooled out from an impact crack like a horror-show wellspring from a vampire’s touch.  I wish I could say I was surprised, but I wasn’t, not really.  Aghast, and intrigued in a kind of art-school-meets-biology class sort of way, but not surprised.  Now, I understand, eggs don’t usually bleed, but these were special market mystery eggs, and so expected the unexpected therein, right?  The vender who sold them to me had done so with wide eyes and gesturing hands, begged me to take some safe brown chicken eggs, and loosed a flurry of instructions (warnings) that did not nothing to dissuade me from my purchase.  Ironically, after all that I was soundly convinced that I needed the two ovoids, heavy as river stones.  The surprising part is that I didn’t guess what I had actually bought until the blood came out, considering this is Vietnam and all…

Balut in the Phillipines and Malaysia.  Trứng vịt lộn in Vietnam.  毛蛋 Máo dàn – “feathered egg” in China. Pong tia koon in Cambodia.  Fertiized fetal duck egg.  It’s a kind of protein-rich and slightly gruesome snack that’s about as common as hot dogs around here.  Usually, it’s boiled till it’s cooked through, then enjoyed just like it’s regular non-corporeal cousin with a bit of salt and pepper.  In Vietnam, they like them pretty developed, too – recognizable as ducks, about 19 to 21 days old.

Here’s what I can tell you about handling them.

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1. The taste is pretty normal.

I was expecting a flavour that matched the appearance (Dante-esque?), but it turns out that a half-formed duck tastes exactly like duck.  And egg.  Some mixture of the two.  There’s a kind of guilty aftertaste that no amount of soy sauce can cover, but is it in any way worse than the way we usually treat ducks?  Or any other animals for that matter?  At least this one never felt pain or fear.

2. The texture is flipping weird.

Everything is flipside down and upways out, texture-wise.  The white is nearly solid plastic.  The yolk is firm, chalky, and laced with small veins.  And the fetus itself is poultry but delicately so.  Sacs and membranes abound.  This would be easier to take with a large – very large – ice cold beer.

3. Lược means boil in Vietnamese, and it’s good cooking advice.

It really does have to be cooked, lest it bleed all over your counter.  Ewwwww.

Granted, I boiled the first one, but the second I cracked straight into a pot of bubbling water, for the purposes outlined in point no. 4.

4. It makes a damned fine soup.

The flavour is intense and nice, and if you chop it up fine, it disperses right away into liquid and you’d NEVER KNOW it was once ever anything weird.  I made one of the best soups I’ve ever had by adding some carrot, chayote, fennel seeds, ramen noodles and some meltingly tender pork meatballs laced with fresh mint.

Just for the record, here is the recipe for the meatballs:

Vietnamese Pork Meatballs with Fresh Mint

from the Wishfulchef

  • 1 pound ground pork
  • 1 large shallot, finely diced
  • 1 clove garlic, finely diced
  • 3 tablespoons chopped fresh mint
  • 2 tablespoons cornstarch (I used AP flour to good effect)
  • 2 teaspoons agave nectar or sugar
  • 1 tablespoon fish sauce
  • 2 teaspoons soy sauce
  • a drizzle of vegetable oil if the pork is lean

A damned fine soup.

In a bowl, mix all ingredients together thoroughly with your hands. Roll into about 30-40 meatballs and place on a plate.  Bake until golden brown, about 20-25 minutes or until cooked through and not pink in the middle.  Or, have a pot of soup at a rolling boil and drop in the meatballs.  When they float to the surface, they’re done.

 

Mooncakes, Moon festivals, and our first days in Hanoi

Arriving in Vietnam, the first thing that hits you outside the airport doors is the blanketing rush of wet heat, and the way the dark of the night seems more velvety, and the sweat that’s already started to coat your skin is actually kind of pleasant, and the adventure begins then.  Out there are bugs the size of buckets, stores that sell only hangers and buckets, and more importantly (to some) – recipes that involve crazy things that are somehow impossibly delicious, people at this moment cramming pork neck into your dessert and you’re just loving it.

No, really, I promise, I swear.  It’s good.  We’ll get to that part.

If you’re lucky enough to arrive in Hanoi somewhere in the middle of September, the rush of arrival with be triple-fold and you can really revel in the wacked out festivities that are at a fever’s pitch everywhere as the taxi driver takes you to your hotel/hostel that’s inevitably in the heart of the warren that is the Old Quarter, ie – Mid-Autumn Festival central.  Stare out the taxi window.  Note the hundreds of faces, all young, and lit up with glowing pink, red and mint green from the shop-fronts, holding lanterns shaped like pentacles and buying inflatable fake mallets and drinking syrupy lemon tea on a SCHOOL night, no less.  Notice them mill around your car paying absolutely no attention to it, cause there are already motorbikes whipping around them that they have to give more care to, and you’re moving at a standstill anyway in the river of talking faces.

Spend the first night with your eyes half-spinning at all of this.  Get disoriented.  Stare at the banyans growing into the powerlines and have absolutely no idea what the city looks like beyond the three blocks that you can remember enough to return to.  Get some sleep.

Later, when you wake up, you might want to learn that the Mid-Autumn Festival (or Tết Trung Thu) is some serious but not in any way sombre business here in Vietnam.  The story goes that a man named Chu Coi (or Cuoi) loved a Banyan tree with special healing powers and it was obviously so rad that it was forbidden to pee on it, which his wife Chi Hang obviously did, and obviously (obviously) it started to grow upwards to the moon and took her right with it, where she lives to this day.  Apparently that’s part of what the lanterns are about – guiding her way back home (but really I just think the parents are making up for being so busy while they were reaping in that titular Harvest and now they want to tell their kids lots of colourful stories and give them 2 weeks to have fun ;) ).  There’s also a fairy tale about a carp that wanted to become a dragon, and eventually it worked hard enough and succeeded, becoming the symbol Cá hóa Rông – a reminder again for the kids that they can do anything if they perserve.  So yeah, it’s about the little ones.  And they are everywhere, and they are adorably agog with all the attention that’s getting paid to them.  It’s super cute.

Mooncakes are the sweet of choice for the festival, and you can find a confusingly vast but likely-to-be agreeable array of cakes in red boxes that are packaged so nicely it seems terrible to eat them yourself and not give them as gifts (but it’s delicious to do so, and I recommend doing both).  You can find those everywhere.  You can also – if you look carefully – find a very, very special kind of mooncake, called Bánh nướng nhân thập cẩm, or mixed cake.

I did some research with Google translate.  There’s crazy wonderful jazz in there.  I mean, the first thing you notice is that this thing is heavy.  There is a LOT going on.  Then, you cut in and notice that it’s a little like someone’s gelled up a grey mud puddle and trapped seeds, jellies and other mysterious objects inside, like a kind of edible amber, and it tastes, well, like….. sweet, gooey, aromatic, strangely meaty soft jelly candy with a wine-y kind of tone.

Here’s the general list, more or less:

nuts (cashews), roasted sesame seeds and melon seeds, sugar, Chinese sausage, pumpkin jam, lotus jam, ginger jam, lemon leaves, soya sauce, winter melon, pig’s nape fat, cinnamon apricot wine, chicken (!), and probably other things, wrapped in dense pastry, I DON’T KNOW.

It’s freaking great.

The green tea version above is pretty fabulous too, and even sort of normal, if that’s what you’re into ;)

A Street Food Map of Hanoi

The Street Food Map of Hanoi

(Some places are discovered by me; some are recommended from The New Hanoian; some from Stickyrice blog; some from Gastronomy blog.  It’s a work in constant progress.)

I first tasted genuine street food in Taipei.  Some towering psychedelic sundae of shaved ice, technicolour jellies, candied strange fruit pieces, condensed milk and dark sugar syrup drizzled on top; all frozen and chewy and rapidly melting into a fascinating soup.  And I fell in love.  It might have been sharing it with good friends with thick accents, talking Buddhism on a grassy corner stained saffron with streetlights, or it might have been listening to an impromptu guitarist sing romantic ballads in Mandarin Chinese for all the Taiwanese couples gathered round with their geometric hair and shy appropriateness.  It might just have been the sugar content, and the plastic spoons & the plasticky-er container, or the thrill factor of even obtaining it, but suffice it to say – from that moment on, I knew I had to live where this stuff was obtainable.  And not just shaved ice.  Street food.

Hanoi’s street food is inescapable.  It’s not just a place to eat or a kind of business, but the pulsating soul of this city, and it’s for this reason more than maybe anything else, that I can start to call this crazy place home.  Granted, I can’t eat it every meal of the day (indigestion my, friends, and carb/oil overload), but if I go too long without it I begin to crave the sound of the sitting women snipping bun noodles from their huge flat woven baskets, the cicada snap of sizzling mysterious compressed pork loaves getting swished around in oil, the blare of motorbike horns punctuating the clack of chopsticks and the conversation of the working class all around.

I mean, what’s the other option?  Yes, the refrain is that home-cooked food is soooo much better than eating out, but 50% of the time, that means making a PB&J cracker sandwiches, drinking watery Hanoi vodka and watching Vietnamese cable … while still knowing that 8 floors down and 3 feet to the left of my apartment is a place that serves whole black chicken (Canh gà hầm thuốc bắc) with medicinal herbs – head included, and lotus seeds, and tea broth, and shocked dining companions, and eyeballs, and laughing.

So this is my evolving map of the street eats in Hanoi.  I haven’t tried everything on it, but every spot seems worth a check-out, and every one I *have* been to has been a solid place to sit and observe surroundings while soaking in the refractive elements of the broth in front of you.  Chicken heads usually not included.

Dishcrawl: Montreal’s Chinatown Secret Menu Edition hosted by Jason Lee

Michel Cluizel's Sardines au Chocolat Lait ~ ♥♥

I’m distracted right now.  All I can think about is chocolate.  Chocolate, feuilletine, caramel, crèmes, glaçages, chocolate (more chocolate), génoise, syrups, brittles, mousses, sabayon, pralines and biscuit and millefeuilles and butter and cream.  It’s all dancing around my head, maybe a sign of the upcoming christmas season (which becomes increasingly about what I’m eating rather than what I’m gifting more and more every year – and I would argue that celestial dining with your most beloved of loved ones is the greatest gift.  Evah).

tiny puffs to amuse the bouche

Buuuuuut.  Even with that kind of introduction, I’m going to be talking about a mostly sugar-free adventure.  A Dishcrawl even.  This is the plum-backwards way we do things over here at Bubble Tea.  When other people have covered an event already so thoroughly, all I can do is be honest.  And boy, I would really love a resplendent single origin 70% dark right now.. ^^;;;;

Buuuuuuut.  I can tie this in.  Watch this!  See, it was a dark and temperate November 1rst Dishcrawl night, hosted by the ebullient gastronome Jason Lee of Shut Up and Eat, and things were surprisingly void of dessert.  Well, we did start with an ethereal and nutty-crisp bang by placing that little puff of confection – DRAGON’S BEARD! – on our tongues and letting it dissolve into softly sweet toasted acorn of gritty tongue-wakening chewiness.  You might even imagine that this was my favourite part of the night, and perhaps if I had never experienced it before, this candy might have been.

Buuuuuuuuuuut.  No.  That was reserved for the peking duck pancakes we enjoyed over at Mon Nan.  (It is at this point that I’m realizing that this post will in no way be thorough, informative, objective or complete.  Boring!  This is kinda just to complete my Dishcrawl coverage collection and give a brief recap of the yumz ingested).  It was at these round tables that I learned the correct way to spread hoisin on the thin house-made pancake of flour (apply first, before the insane crisp duck pieces).  Mon Nan is evidently the only place in Montreal that still makes Peking duck the proper way, and they’ve only whetted my appetite for more.  Other things to mention:  The meal starts (Number One!) with a thin duck broth floating with soft tofu, shared around the table washed down with amber tea – savoury, sweet and delicate.  Then, the pancakes, wrapping ’round slivers of green onion, threads of daikon and carrot, BIG CHUNKS OF DUCK (oho!) and hot sauce if desired.  Inhale, Construct, Repeat.  Finally (Number Three!) out comes a quick stir fry of fat sprouts and duck meat, refreshingly crunchy and a textural contrast the rest of the meal.  Lovely!

adorable gesticulating owner of Kam Fung

And so, on we go.  Next stop was a one-dish wonder at Maison Kam Fung, which is otherwise known for it’s killer Dim Sum brunch on Sundays, and had a pretty lively dining room on that Tuesday night when our party of 50 (ish?) descended on them en masse.  We started simply with one of the best spring rolls I’ve had in memory – darkly crisp skin, generously porky but not obscene inside.  However, I don’t tend to eat spring rolls, so there’s some grain of salt you should take with my opinion.  What I DO tend to eat a lot of is mysterious Chinese food, so the next dish I can confidently say falls under my jurisdiction of “silly Canadian non-Chinese xiaochi addict”.

Again, other people will introduce this with more depth than I.  Wor Siu Gai is a dish with depth, or at least Montreal specific history.  What was originally an ancient dish made with bird’s nest – an ingredient best enjoyed by the royal, the independently wealthy, and those with a taste for the dried saliva of cave birds – has been reinvented by Maison Kam Fung to become a glorious pink landmasse of ham, shrimp, crab, chinese sausage, wrapped in wonton skin, fried, served on a giant platter and covered with, and I quote, “Chinese gravy,”  yum yum.

cozy in the rice bowl

I’ve had more gastronomically sensational food – this went down like a bowl of perfect white rice and a block of seafood-tasting low-salt Spam – but gosh I don’t know if I’ve ever had the pleasure of eating so many different mystery meats in one mouthful before.  And the history!  I googled Wor Siu Gai and almost every rendition I could find called for chicken and not too much else, so this version really is a specialty of Montreal – try it at your next Maison Kam Fung gorging session!

the mystery, it oozes

Finally, I had my belly ready for the best part of the night.  The promise of dessert was ringing louder and louder with every step we took towards the Hong Kong-style bakery, Patisserie Callia.  I love me a squishy milky cool-to-the-touch sweetened bun.  LOVE IT.  The only hard part is deciding was the filling should be.  Mango custard?  Blueberry cream?  Red bean, sweet egg, lemon curd, sesame paste, or taro?  Eeeeek, I want to know!

Wait.  No wait.  *bites into mystery bun*.   Noooooo, I didn’t want to knooooooooooow!!!  :D

Seriously, poutine bun?  Wow, I’m suddenly welling up with all these mixed feelings ranging from inner giggling to mild sugar-deprived rage to disaffected cultural malaise.  Mostly just the yen for a real donut though.  At least, the accompaniment to “dessert” was panacea for the jilted sweet tooth – hot milky tea made with a blend of many different strong teas – highly aromatic, bittersweet, complex and roasted-tasting.  I think they were all black teas, I don’t quite remember  (as in, black and not green).  Each sip was slightly different, playing chimes at different places in the mouth, and in different harmonies with subsequent sips – definitely the most interesting cup of it’s kind that I’ve had, and I’ve had lot of Chinese milk tea.  Bubble Tea for Dinner is no mistake as a blog name.  I’d return to Callia in a second for another cup, bypassing even my beloved Patisserie Harmonie for a chance to dip my head in it’s swirling and very mature-smelling steam.

And that’s about it!  Whew, another Dishcrawl penned and ready to share with the world.  Thanks again to Jason Lee for being SO energetic and helpful and informative and friendly whenever I had annoying questions about the herb-using habits of the Vietnamese or how to properly wrap a peking-pan-duck-cake.

~~~~~ here’s where to witness the brilliance of topic-tying-in action ~~~ ……. \/

Alas, I don’t know if I can make it to the Chocolate Dishcrawl this Sunday, but I would love to, obviously.  If I can move my schedule around, I will see.  I also might just spend my ticket money on chocolate bars.  We’ll see.  (  It’s even – in some stroke of life-appropriate brilliance – hosted by chocolatier Olivier Piffaudat, who specializes in low and no-sugar confections, which would delight BF Cloudy to no end.  He’s on a sugar-cleanse!  Brave soul.  )

EDIT:  I am going!!!!  Yeehee.  Also, there are 2 tickets left.  Go go go!

Dishcrawl Coverage on Citeeze

Dragon Beard Candy on Urbanspoon

Mon Nan Village on Urbanspoon

Kam Fung on Urbanspoon

Patisserie Callia on Urbanspoon

100 Chinese Foods to Try Before Rebirth

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It’s no secret at all that I adore Chinese food, so it was with a little thrill that I found this master list of renowned delicacies that come from that huge nation – and with a small bit of regret that I haven’t had time yet to try them all!  This WILL have to be remedied, and now I have a neat cheat sheet for culinary blank spots I need to fill.  Yum!  How many can you cross off the list?  (I’ve bolded everything I’ve tried so far, in this life…) Continue reading