Anthony Bourdain was a world-renowned chef, a seasoned traveler, author, and a fondly remembered people’s person. Mr. Bourdain’ great love and appreciation for Vietnam - his “first love” - is no longer a surprise, with him having produced several episodes for not one, but two television series featuring different places throughout the country; in and around major destinations such as Ho Chi Minh City (old name as Saigon), Hanoi and in Hue. The following article is written in honor of the late Anthony Bourdain, aiming to retrace the culinary kings ‘foodsteps’ through his episode based in Saigon, named “Vietnam - There’s No Place Like Home”. During which, Mr. Bourdain is seen pondering whether or not he could make Vietnam his home, someday. “But with the sensory overload - a caffeine-like rush of heightened perception, one that always leads to good things” - Mr. Bourdain is heard saying as he navigates through an endless stream of traffic and across busy intersections on his way to his first ‘foodstep’ in Ho Chi Minh City (old name as Saigon).
* BANH XEO (SIZZLING PANCAKES/ CREPES)
As Mr. Bourdain nears his first stop in the episode named ‘Vietnam - There’s No Place Like Home’, a loud sizzling hiss can already be heard street-side as he nears the kitchen of the restaurant. Banh Xeo (or sizzling pancakes/ crepes); the word ‘banh’ means ‘cake’ in English, and ‘xeo’ is the sizzling sound it makes when being fried in a pan! Mr. Bourdain describes the dish as being “a wonderful mutation of the classic” (referring to the French crepe). Banh Xeo is composed of a savory white pancake made from a mix of water, turmeric powder and rice flour, and can sometimes be combined with coconut milk, too. Once the pancake is fried to a crisp in a pan, thrown on top are chunks of pork, juicy little shrimps, saffron, mung beans and fresh bean sprouts. “All of the senses are engaged here”, Mr. Bourdain exclaims as he peers onto the table set before him, holding a broad array of coloured assortments. Banh Xeo is eaten in combination with a platter of fresh local herbs like lettuce, cinnamon basil, fish mint and fresh mint. Chunks of the sizzling pancake are torn off and wrapped up in the fresh herbs, and then bitten into. Common condiments eaten in pair with Banh Xeo include fish sauce, chili, and lemon juice. You won’t need to master the art of using chopsticks for this one, since the crunchy wraps are simply eaten by hand.
* COM NIEU (RICE BAKED IN CLAY POTS)
As was noted by Anthony Bourdain himself “the first thing you notice is the sound of smashing crockery”. This establishment, Com Nieu Sai Gon, is run by a lady, Madame Ngoc, whom Mr. Bourdain has learned to love and respect over his many trips to Vietnam. Unfortunately, Madame Ngoc passed away after Mr. Bourdain’s first few trips to Vietnam, though, he continued to frequent her restaurant on numerous accounts following her passing. He says “Since my very first trip to Vietnam to make another TV show in 2000, I was hooked. Besotted by her landscapes, thrilled by the food, charmed - utterly enthralled by her people, particularly one special person; Madam Ngoc”. Madame Ngoc’s Com Nieu restaurant offers a huge variety of Vietnamese cuisine, however it is renowned for providing a uniquely traditional culinary experience in eating rice baked in clay pots, which are then smashed using a hammer, and thrown into the air across the room where a waiter catches the steaming rice, continues to flip it a few times before resting it into a bowl. Truly an unimaginable spectacle, so go and have a look for yourself! Once the clay pot rice is sitting still in it’s bowl, it gets cut into pieces, doused in fish sauce, oiled diced scallions and sesame. Yum!