Hanoi is home to hundreds of delicious dishes and prominent among them is bo nhung dam (beef dipping in vinegar hotpot).
Colourful ingredients for bo nhung dam such as fresh mint, basil, young banana, mam nem and many others. Photo: dienmayxanh.com
The beef hotpot with its sour, sweet broth mixed with fragrant coconut juice and vinegar is unforgettable, according to master chef Pham Tuan Hai.
Hai, who was a judge of Vietnam Master Chef, said he learned to cook the dish from his mother.
“Apart from fried beef that we often eat once or twice a week, my mother cooks bo nhung dam at the weekend to help strengthen our health,” Hai said.
The ingredients include beef (fillet mignon, beef brisket, shank and other parts), coconut, young banana, cucumber, pineapple, lemongrass, perilla, basil, lettuce, onion, garlic, fresh chilli, rice paper, fresh noodles, vinegar, sugar, salt, and mam nem (a pungent sauce similar to shrimp paste).
Mam nem is one of the main ingredients to make the dish more attractive, said Hai.
He said his mother chooses beef fillet to be soft and also shank and brisket for his father who likes to eat the hotpot with a cup of cuoc lui (home-brew rice wine).
As a careful cook, Hai said his mother orders fresh beef from a butcher near his house to make the dish tastier and more nutritious.
“When I was young, it was hard for me to learn how to cook the dish so I often stood side by side with my mother to help her but the most difficult stage for me is how to cut the beef as thin as my mother did,” he said, adding that his job was to make the dipping sauce.
The dipping sauce is made with two spoonfuls of cooking oil in a pan over medium heat then minced dried onion, lemongrass and garlic is added and fried until fragrant. Then five spoonfuls of mam nem are put in the pan as well as a cup of water, which is cooked until boiled. The sauce needs several pieces of chilli, sugar and broth mix (locally known as hat nem) before being scooped into a bowl, he said.
Apart from dipping sauce, making a tasty and pure broth is also important, Hai said, noting that his mother often used coconut juice for the broth to be sweet, and rich but with a light and fragrant flavour.
To cook, the coconut juice is poured into a pot with a small cup of vinegar together with fried onion and shallots and then boiled. Remember to put a coffee spoon of broth mix, sugar and salt in the pot before stopping cooking, he said.
“When the broth is cooked, our six family members sit around a tray, which is located with a mini gas cooker in the middle, to eat the dish. My mother told us that we should dip the beef in the boiled broth first then put it on a rice paper then wrap it with fresh noodles and fresh mint. The dish is tastier when dipped in mam nem,” Hai said, adding that his mother warned them that the dish should be eaten slowly to enjoy its aromatic flavour.
Hai said he has taught the cooking technique to hundreds of learners, many of whom have opened their own eateries.
Nguyen Thi Huan from Quang Ninh Province said each time she visited Hanoi, bo nhung dam is a must.
“I recently enjoyed the dish at a shop in the capital’s Old Quarter. When I arrived, the shop was already full of eaters. A woman sitting next to my table told me that she is also an addict of bò nhúng dấm."
“Oh, the broth has its characteristic sweet taste, the fresh noodles are white but soft compared with the noodles made by Quang Ninh producers, and fresh mint here is also great. I really experience it as a speciality. I think that gourmets will return to enjoy the food for many times like me,” Huan said.