An exercise in market cooking

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I have found a one bedroom apartment with a little kitchen to call my own. I now live next door to a rooster who can't tell morning from evening so he compensates by crowing every five minutes.  I am enjoying my days walking the streets trying to figure this insane country out. It is Tet (lunar new year celebrations) this week so the streets are lined with people burning offerings. The streets smell like diesel, incense and ash.  There are markets set up all over the place. Tables full of dried fruits and candied coconut, chocolates, sticky rice cakes filled with mung beans, sweets and lucky money. 

I was trudging through some back streets in Hanoi the other afternoon, my feet cracked in a day's worth of crud and the ashes of hundreds of offerings. I was tired and feeling sideways - an unfortunate side effect from too much street food and was craving a chance to cook for myself. I hadn't really ventured beyond pasta or instant noodles in my little kitchen yet.  A lady across from me was set up with some bamboo baskets full of vegetables, prawns, ginger, chill and Chinese coriander, and a deep red basket full of pipis (a tiny clam).  Everything you could possibly want or need for soup! 

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Back in Hoi An I was constantly being fed a lemongrass broth full of tiny clams. It seemed to be a dish you would serve with bia hoi (fresh draught beer) but in our case it was usually part of a ten course seafood feast. The pipis I found to be pure soul food. The perfect cure for when you are feeling slightly off. Every time we ate this dish it tasted slightly different. The first time the broth was clear and the clams were sweet. The next time, the broth was muddier, darker and more peppery. The next, it was firey. I had no idea where to begin but I was determine. 

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I didn't have a recipe to go off but the smiley lady who sold me the clams gave me some instructions in broken English and after some miming and odd hand gestures  I think it worked.  

Vietnamese Clams in Lemongrass Broth

INGREDIENTS:

  • 500 grams small clams (pipis if you are in NZ or Australia)
  • 3 lemongrass stalks, thinly sliced
  • 1 small birds eye chilli
  • small bunch of shallots, chopped roughly
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2cm knob of ginger, sliced thickly
  • 1 Tbsp fish sauce (more if desired) 
  • 1 tsp sugar
  • 1 lime cut into quarters
  • freshly ground black pepper

METHOD:

1. Rinse and scrub the clams. 

2. Heat some oil in a wok and sauté the lemongrass, chilli and shallots until tender. Add the garlic and ginger. Cook for a further 2 minutes. 

3. Add three cups of water, fish sauce and small amount of sugar to the wok and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer for a few minutes. Add the clams and put a lid on. They will begin to open almost immediately. Take off the heat and steam for about 5 minutes (not too long or they will be tough and disappointing)

4. Taste broth and season accordingly with more fish sauce if needed, lime and pepper. Serve immediately. 

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