Recipe: Stir-fried bitter melon and egg (kho qua xao trung)


Bitter melon is another thing that you either love or hate. Among my friends and relatives who have tried bitter melon, 42 percent(*) find it too bitter to try a second time. My mom is a special case. She used to shun it, then little me got a bad fever and had to eat it to help lowering my temperature (bitter melon has medicinal effects), mom was so worried that I wouldn’t eat it (like every toddler, I didn’t like food), but I chowed it down at first try, mom got curious, tried and started liking it too. That’s the story she told me, but I think she started liking it because she started making it, and everything she makes tastes great. Even in the Bay Area, bitter melon is somewhat rare and expensive. The only restaurant I know of that has bitter melon is China Village on Solano, and a plate costs 10.95 with 70% egg and 30% bitter melon. Sushi California used to have it as an Okinawan specialty but had to cut it due to low demand. 🙁 […]

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one shot: homemade hu tiu


From Mom: hủ tíu bột lọc. Hu tiu is a common type of rice noodle in Southern Vietnam, often served in noodle-soup form, the noodle soup dish is of course also called “hu tiu“. The usual hu tiu noodle is characterized by its thin shape and chewy texture. Vietnamese love chewy noodles just as much if not more than any other country, so people began using various methods to make hu tiu (*) chewier (the soaking time before grinding, the grinding, washing the rice flour, the mixing ratio with water and other types of starch, the thickness to spread the mixture into a film, the temperature and time to steam it). Bánh bột lọc(**), a type of savory snack, is made with tapioca starch (cassava flour), so I guess hủ tíu bột lọc also contains tapioca starch. I spent an hour googling but expectedly found little and contradicting information about hu tiu bot loc – nobody in the business would reveal their secret. What I found online is hu tiu bot loc originated from Cần Thơ, and what I found in my bowl are fat (and flat) strings, whose color […]

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Non-baked avocado pie with nut crust

Avocado pie with gyokuro.

Avocado pie with gyokuro. Thanksgiving. Gatherings. I was asked, “can you make dessert?” “Sure, I can make dessert.” Yeah right. Five seconds later, “OH EM GEE. WhatcanImake!” It’s a Western party with Western people. I had never made a Western dessert before, not even chocolate chip cookies from dough that comes out of a tub (and then you just shape it into cookies and bake them, or not – one of the weirdest things about American people is that they love eating raw cookie dough like the Vietnamese like noodle soups. I don’t get it). So of course I did the same thing I do everyday at work – and also what I tell my students to do when they ask me homework questions: I googled. Continue reading Non-baked avocado pie with nut crust

Why I Love Fried Rice


Yangzhou fried rice, kimchi fried rice, chicken and salt cod fried rice, whatever-that’s-in-your-refrigerator fried rice…I love it all. Fried rice is the ultimate comfort food – it’s filling, healthy-ish (if you put in a lot of vegetables), and just hits the spot every time. Perhaps the best thing about fried rice is how easy it is to make at home! As someone who is still really learning how to cook, trying out a new recipe usually means that I’ll be spending anywhere from 30min – 2 hours in the kitchen (actually sometimes it takes me 30min just to prep everything because of my lack of knife skills). So for me, when I want a quick meal because I need to get back to reading or studying, or just because I don’t feel like devoting that much time to cooking, my go-to is always making fried rice. It usually takes me 15-20 minutes to cook fried rice at the most and while it probably is not the healthiest meal to eat every day, I usually end up making some kind of stir fry or fried rice at least 3-4 times a week because of how easy it is. Also, since […]

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More Peach? Make Peach Sauce.

[…] now the hand is coming back. And I think that has a lot to do with food. Farming is gonna be hip again and people are going to think about the things they’re contributing to society. […] Hopefully what this is leading to is people learning to shop like all good chefs do: We go and get all the best [stuff] and come home and figure out what we’re gonna make. Italy became cool in the gastronomic world in the ’70s because people went there and the what-the-[stuff] moments or the holy-[stuff] moments were never based on truffles or super-intense technique. It was more like, “God, this is spaghetti and zucchini, and it’s this good?” It was because there was no noise in it. It was spaghetti and garlic and zucchini in season. – Mario Batali, Batali Beat, Lucky Peach Issue 3, 2012 – Continue reading More Peach? Make Peach Sauce.

For the Summer: Gyoza with Fruits and Flowers

What can you do with 24 squash blossoms? Twenty-four is too few for squash blossom canh, a clear soup that Mom used to make when I was little. The flower is the only thing of a pumpkin plant (squash blossom in Vietnam is pumpkin blossom) that I didn’t mind eating (I hate pumpkin). The flowers perish too quickly that American grocery stores almost never carry them(*). That scarcity, I can only guess, also raises them to the exotic level that makes the modern American restaurants include the word in their menu around this time of the year (summer squash blossom season) and feature a mere 3-5 flowers on a plate amidst the more common vegetables like zucchini and cauliflower. The craze has been around for at least a decade, Carolyn Jung said, and I don’t see it wilt away anytime soon. Although I dislike the place at first because it’s always too crowded, Berkeley Bowl gradually grew on me. It started when I realized, after many years away from Vietnam and living just a bit inconveniently far from the Asian markets, that I haven’t seen certain grocery items for ever, […]

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Ten-minute noodle and nectarine

It’s summer. Time for cold noodle. Refrigerated, ice-cold noodle. And all it takes is 10 minutes (that includes water-boiling time). Traditionally, the Koreans sweeten mul naeng myeon (물 냉면, “water cold noodle”) with sliced Asian pear and julienned cucumber. Asian pears are not yet in season (I don’t really know when its season is, but the tiny ones at Berkeley Bowl look too sad to slice), and when I want to cook my naeng myeon, like always, I never have what the recipe calls for, even if it’s just cucumber. So I did what everyone would. I ignored the recipe. Continue reading Ten-minute noodle and nectarine

Rice Paper Kimchi Roll – a cross between ssam bab and fresh spring roll

How can you bring kimchi to lunch at work without the smell of fermented cabbage? I like the garlic smell of my homemade kimchi, but I’m not sure if I want my office to smell like it. Besides, I’m not a fan of bringing multiple containers to work. I don’t even want people to see me with a fork at my desk, and it’s even worse with an empty but dirty container. The ideal lunch is some kind of finger food, preferably balanced. One afternoon, I decided to make ssam bab, a kind of roll with napa cabbage kimchi outside and stir-fried rice inside that I first saw in Kimchi Family and never in real life. You can find kimbab (rice roll in kim – seaweed) for very reasonable price in the Asian Ghetto just south of campus, but no Korean restaurants in the Bay dish out ssam bab. The only problem: I cut the napa cabbage leaves in half when I made kimchi, so now the leaves are not big enough to wrap up the rice, and things fall apart. Well, if I can’t make it the Korean way, I’m making it the Vietnamese way. Continue reading Rice Paper Kimchi Roll – a cross between ssam bab and fresh spring roll

Recipe for bánh dầy đậu – Vietnamese mung bean mochi

When I’m home, Little Mom pampers me with her food and sweeps me out of her kitchen, except when I open the fridge to snack, because her mind fixes on the idea that if she lets me touch the stove, I only make a mess. She’s right. Not to toot my own horn but when I’m home, I’m a lazy mess. So when I said Mom, let’s make bánh dầy đậu, she threw her hands up, said oh my sky there’s no more room in the fridge, made the bean paste herself, and only let me play with the dough. 😉 The mung bean paste filling is really the most important part of the Vietnamese mochi (similar to the Japanese mochi, but it’s 100% Vietnamese): you want it slightly savory, slightly sweet, and mashed. Little Mom is the queen of seasoning, so that part was flawless. My job was to knead the dough and roll up them balls. At least I didn’t have to pound steamed sticky rice into oblivion. I was kneading while watching TV with Mom. I was kneading when she sectioned her bánh bao dough into balls. I was still […]

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Alone in the Kitchen with an Onion

One of my onions grew a plump white sprout. So plump that I couldn’t bring myself to throw it out. I left it alone for a week. Then two weeks. Continue reading Alone in the Kitchen with an Onion