“The origins of dinner tonight, will be attributed to Sapa, in the Lao Cai province of northwestern Vietnam. They like to play with fire a lot up there. It will happen, on the other hand, on the side of the road in Hanoi. Thank you.” Continue reading
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.
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
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.
A long time ago, I had the nicest breakfast I’ve ever had while eating out in Montreal. I guess these things are a matter of taste, and for such meal with such clear delineations (depending on your location), it can run the gamut of very different styles. Some people go for classic fry-ups – eggs, pancakes, porkmeats, cheese, potatoes, and whincy awful fruit cups. Some prefer those old ideas reinvented in complex and delighting ways with accompanyingly more involved tabs at the end of the meal. Some like to stuff themselves. Some are happy with a bit of toast and jam and tea. For myself, I like to linger and use my fingers in the morning. Eggs are always welcome, as is a vegetarian meal – something simple, but substantial and naturally rich. I suppose this is somewhat French or Mediterranean in personality, and if this is your kind of brunch, I highly highly recommend Byblos Le Petit Café at 1499 Laurier Est.
For one, it’s affordable. And who wants sticker shock before any kind of caffeine has set in? No, it’s relaxing to peruse the menu and get excited about all the sure-to-be-just-exotic-enough options that are perfect for sharing around the table. It was a long time ago so I don’t remember the exact prices, but everything you see here in this post might have come to less than 23$, and we were splurging on extras like fresh juice and pastries.
For second, it’s delicious. It’s obvious that they put care into their food, offering a dizzying 25 different homemade preserves to enjoy with the fresh bread basket bursting with lovely carbs like pitas, wholemeal bread and sesame wedges. We chose a roseflower and orange marmalade and it was tops. I wish even there was a way to order a sample platter of all the preserves, because they all sounded really special.
The plate of olives, feta, herbs (mint, coriander and dill!), walnuts and pistachios was perfect. Nothing touched, just quality ingredients full of flavour and perfect for dipping sleepy fingers into and combining with everything else on the table. That particular breakfast item comes with a bowl of house-made halvah, softer and sweeter than what I’m used to (rich!), but very fresh and loaded with toasted sesame taste.
The omelette was very different from most you might find – incredibly moist, NOT overcooked, and tasting, of, well, egg. You might wonder why that’s special. Well, have you noticed how most omelettes taste like browned bits and cheeses and butter and arrive rubbery and cold? I like them this way. Warm, oozing, ethereal shmears flecked with blushing tomato, mmmm.
Finally, not to gush (ok, I’m gushing, and it’s worth it, I swears), Byblos, for some reason, has the BEST DAMNED CROISSANT I’VE EVER EATEN, in a bakery, restaurant or otherwise. Blistered shattering gossamer whorls of butterfat pastry – it arrived hot to the touch and disappeared before cooling off, eaten unadorned and melting on the tongue. I don’t even like croissants, normally (blasphemy, I know), but maybe I just haven’t had enough good ones, like this. So that’s my favourite breakfast in this city.
The tea is also sharply minty and comes with a mosaic of varied sugar-nuggets, nibbly rock candies in their own right. It’s a large enough space to accommodate any kind of party, and sunny throughout. I love Byblos! I’ll miss it.
BONUS! A little note about Iranian breakfast (information garnered from Wikipedia, natch): the traditional meal is called either sobhāneh (Persian: صُبحانِه) or nāshtāyi (Persian: ناشتايى). It usually comes with a variety of flatbreads, butter, Tabrizi white cheese/paneer, feta cheese, whipped cream sweetened with honey (sarshir), and a variety of fruit jams and spreads. This is what we had! Another popular traditional breakfast dish is a complex wheatmeal & lentil porridge served with shredded lamb or turkey, called haleem. Byblos indeed does offer a simplified version of haleem in the mornings, which I only wish I’d had the stomach-room at the time to try, because it sounds SO much like my thing, being a congee-girl and all, but alas that will have to wait for the next trip. I hear it’s good there, though.
tchotchke – (Yiddish) an inexpensive showy trinketOrigin:
1965–70, Americanism ; < Yiddish tshatshke < Polish czaczko bibelot, knickknack
(now obsolete; compare modern cacko withsame sense, orig. dial.); of expressive orig.
So’s, I love me some goat, y’know? It’s kinda like lamb but with more guts, heft, and twang (woo!). Annnnnd, it’s not the sort of the thing you’re going to find at the local sandwich shop or one of the myriad sushi express places that pepper most neighbourhoods. Thankfully, for the goat lovers there are options in the Mile End. Well, I know of one place now. Jardin du Cari.
The air when you enter is thick with spices. The walls are deep brick red and even in the depths of winter it almost feels like a short whirring fan in the corner to combat the “heat” would make the atmosphere complete. Jardin does Caribbean food in a simple and straightforward way and if you were curious about the exotic details of the cuisine this might not be the place to learn much, but it’s pretty tasty stuff for a fast lunch and it’s real food.
Cloudy got one of the famous rotis – curried chicken wrapped in a soft flatbread (7.30$), and I had to (obviously) get the goat curry (8.75$) with the optional addition of baked pumpkin on the side (+.75$). The pumpkin was bright and crammed with ginger and the curry was warmly spiced, smooth and studded with potatoes and fat chunks of long-stewed goat. The rice was just rice but it soaked up the ample sauce nicely and once slathered with the housemade hot sauce (DELICIOUS housemade hotsauce with real heat and real flavour), it was a treat of a plate. Also featured: fried plantains (a touch too sweet, but oh well), and a decent salad with actual vegetables and a zesty simple dressing.
I didn’t try so much of the roti, but the place slowly filled over the course of our lunch with relaxed locals… eating roti. So, it’s probably really awesome. Anything involving fresh bread, flat or otherwise, is generally a win. And, there is that amazing hot sauce. So… recommended. (The owners are also super nice.)
For the record here is a quick guide to Jardin du Cari’s menu:
Choose a protein – shrimp, goat, chicken or chickpea.
Choose a foods type – roti, curry, guyanese chow mein, or fried rice
= your thing. tada!
One more thing – YOU MUST ORDER THE PEANUT PUNCH!! Holy, it’s delicious and only 2.50$. It’s like if peanut butter collided with a milkshake and made an ice cold frothy nut baby. Mmmmmmmmmm.