My travel companions and I arrived on a flight from Kuala Lumpur at a brand new airport. After brief border security and a US $ 100 cash charge, we were in Vietnam. A story of colonial rule, a fierce revolution, the setting for many of my favorite movies and books, and a reputation for fresh, spicy and delicious food.
We headed by unlicensed taxi to Hanoi Old Quarter - where the action was taking place. There were people pruning power lines (!?), Street vendors pulling carts and a sea of scooters. The trail is not a trail, it is a parking lot for scooters. The road is for scooters. How are you walking somewhere? The answer is cautious, but we quickly learned that the mass of motorcycles behaves like a fluid; as long as you move in a predictable way, it just flows around you.
It seems that in the old quarter all the socializing, trading and eating takes place on or a few meters from the street. We had our first dinner in Hanoi sitting on shin-high stools, at knee-high tables by the side of the street, barbecuing okra, eggplant and spring onion with beef and pork on a foil-lined griddle. Salt, pepper, chilli and lime juice made a deliciously simple condiment for dipping (Muối Tiêu Chanh).
The next day, Phở Bo (beef noodle soup) for breakfast, Bánh Mì for lunch. The Bánh Mì was, by chance, the best sandwich I have ever eaten. The cushioned baguette seemed to make a dig in the French colonial period by improve on his most famous food. Char siu grilled pork is influenced by a long history of trade with China. It's like eating a delicious museum.
But you can't spend too much time marveling in Vietnam, you won't do anything. So it was time to clear your head with a market tour and a cooking class organized by the New Day restaurant. The market was peaceful - no scooters allowed - and our guide simultaneously led a foodie from all the stalls as she picked up the ingredients for the cooking class. We saw freshly cut pork and beef, frogs, squid, river fish, and poultry, all alive or too fresh to require refrigeration. My favorite was the Chao Ga, a type of rice porridge soup topped with fresh cilantro, chili, caramelized onions, and ground chicken.
The cooking class, with our bubbly tour guide and chef, was great fun and provided a good perspective on the common belief that Vietnamese food is the healthiest in the world. We learned that the classic fresh rice paper spring roll is greatly enhanced by a trip to the deep fryer, which is the custom in Hanoi. The dressing for the papaya salad was thickened with about half a cup of sugar. Meh. Delicious always comes at a cost and I think I will choose delicious over healthy any day of the week.
The night before we left, we were sitting on another small stool and enjoying a 20 cent cup of Bia hơi (fresh brewed beer, varying in alcohol content and widely hailed as the cheapest drink in the world). Suddenly, a street talent competition blossomed. A stage was hastily built and minutes later, dozens of school-aged children were singing pop tunes among the drunken tourists. And so, if I had to describe Hanoi in two words, I would say beautifully confusing. The street vendors, the propaganda, the power lines, the scooters, the history of war, communism, the police, the stories and the food, it would take me months to figure out even a block. Although everyone I met was quick with a smile and eager to help me learn, I arrived as a tourist and always will be. Check it out if you haven't been confused in a while.
Whether you regularly whip up Michelin-worthy meals at the drop of a hat or your cooking skills are best described as “fine, ” you can always benefit from the helpful little tricks of others. Here, 14 of our friends’, families’ and coworkers’ most-used cooking tips.
There’s a time and a place to whip out that complicated coq au vin recipe you’ve been dying to try. A dinner party isn’t that time. With a new recipe, you’ll likely be chained to the kitchen the whole time, plus, when you’re trying something for the first time, there’s always the possibility that it could go horribly wrong. When cooking for a group, we always err on the side of tried-and-true crowd-pleasers.
You do hours of prep work on an intricate dish, only to be totally disappointed once you taste the terminal product. Bummer. Instead of putting in all that effort only to be disappointed, taste while you cook. That way, you’ll realize sooner that the dish isn’t tasting how you’d like it to, and you can make all kinds of last-ditch exercices to save it. This doesn’t just work for bad-to-OK meals. Tasting midway through and realizing how perfect a dash of cayenne or a squirt of lemon juice would be can take a great dinner to legendary status.
Plating pasta means tossing some onto a plate and finishing it with a nice dollop of sauce right on the middle, right ? Wrong. Here’s how to take your carbs to the next level : On the stove there should be two pans, one with pasta and one with sauce. Cook the pasta to al dente and transfer it into the sauce. Then, add a little bit of pasta water ( literally just the starchy water the pasta has been cooking in ), which will help the sauce cling to the pasta while also keeping it the right consistency. Perfection.
In the pursuit of the perfect steak, you have to be OK with your kitchen getting a little smoky. That’s because, to get the mouthwatering sear we’re all after, the meat has to be dry and the pan should be pretty damn close to smoking hot. Trust us, it’s worth a few seconds of a blaring alarm.
Most foods are ruined by too much salt. Steak is different. When it comes to seasoning your meat ( before you cook it ), more is more. Use a generous amount of coarse Kosher salt—more than you think you need. Since most cuts of steak are pretty thick, even though you’re using a lot of salt, it’s still only covering the surface.
This one isn’t too complicated. Whether you’re making avocado toast, pizza, fried rice or a burger, the addition of a fried egg on top will not hurt your feelings. Trust us.
This one seems like a no-brainer, but we’ve definitely found ourselves in a situation where we assumed we knew all of the ingredients that went into chocolate chip cookies only to find out that we had about half the required amount of brown sugar. Ugh. to avoid a mid-cooking grocery-store trip, read the recipe from front to back—carefully—before you start.
Prepping céréales in mass quantities is less about taste than convenience. Rice, quinoa and even oatmeal last about a week in the fridge after being cooked. When we’re prepping any one of those, we double up our measurements and store the leftovers, which are then impossibly easy to use up throughout the week. Too tired to make dinner ? Heat up some leftover rice from the fridge and toss an egg on top ( remember ? ). Couldn’t be simpler.
So you fried up a pound of bacon for an indulgent ( read : delicious ) déjeuner. Great, just make sure you don’t throw out the grease in the pan. Instead, save it in the refrigerator or freezer ( it technically lasts for up to a year, but should be used sooner than that to take full advantage of its flavor ). Then, anytime you’re cooking something you typically prepare in oil, try cooking it in the bacon grease instead. You’ll never want to eat Brussels sprouts the old way again.
You’ve probably heard that whenever a dish is lacking a little something-something, the best thing to do is toss in some salt. But, we have it on good authority that salt isn’t always the answer. When you’re tasting a dish at the end and you think it needs a little oomph, often it just needs a splash of acid ( like lemon juice ) to round out the flavor.
You know the difference between a paring knife and a fillet knife, but do you know how to take care of them ? Or, more importantly, how to use them ? A set of good knives can be the difference between a stressful cooking experience and a great one. First, practice your knife skills. Look up tutorials on YouTube and practice chopping, slicing and julienne-ing. It’s amazing what you can do with your cook time when your prep time is shortened with solid knife skills. Then, once you’ve got your skills down pat, learn how to take care of your set. No one ever achieved kitchen greatness with a dull chef’s knife.
The key to tender, flavorful barbecue and roasts ? Cooking it on a low temperature for a long time. The same doesn’t go for roasting veggies. For crispy, perfectly cooked butternut squash, Brussels sprouts and more, remember the magic number : 400 degrees Fahrenheit. Any lower, and you risk pulling a pan of blah carrots out of the oven. It might seem high, but to get the nice roasted flavor, you need high heat. And while we’re on the subject, stop crowding your veggies in the pan, which will also make them soggy.
You know how just about every cookie recipe suggests that you chill your dough in the refrigerator for at least a few hours, but oftentimes you don’t listen because you just want cookies now ? ! ( Same. ) Unfortunately, this step actually does make a difference. In addition to limiting how much the dough spreads while baking, chilling your dough intensifies the flavors and produces that perfect chewy, crispy matière we know and love.
It won’t do your breath any favors, but never ( ever ) scrimp on garlic. In fact, we typically double the amount a recipe calls for. Apologies to anyone who was planning on kissing us.