101 - Vietnamese Culinary Inspiration

By Mary Luz Mejia
2005

If you feel like making your own Vietnamese pho or a tasty bahn mi sandwich and don't want to trek to the outer reaches of town to get your goods, all you need to do is head to downtown Chinatown where you'll find Vietnamese groceries at the Hua Sheng Supermarket.

They have shelves crammed with oodles of Vietnamese noodles, including the deliciously slippery bahn pho, ribbon shaped rice noodles created specifically for hearty pho soups. "Bahn pho" is printed right on the package, so you won't miss these noodles that take on the flavour of whatever broth, vegetables and/or meat you choose to use.

To give your pho and countless other dishes its distinctive Vietnamese flavour, pick up a bottle of nuoc man, or salted, fermented fish sauce. While that may sound strange to some, Vietnamese nuoc man gives dishes a delicate, salty kick that can't be duplicated or replaced by anything else. Used as commonly as salt in western kitchens or soy sauce in China, nuoc man makes an appearance in just about every savoury plate.

Made from layering anchovies and other small schooling fish from two to five inches long along with some salt in barrels, the fish are left to ferment, resulting in the famous Asian sauce. The first liquid that runs off naturally is called "nhi thuong hang" in Vietnamese. If you see this written on your bottle, it ensures you're getting the first extraction of the sauce, which is amber-like in colour and considered a better quality sauce. The rest of the sauce is extracted by pressing the fish, resulting in a much more robust and pungent sauce common to Phillipino and Thai cooking.

So while the smell may throw you off (it is fermented fish after all), nuoc man is meant to be used as a seasoning, and as such is truly amazing. Besides, what other condiment can give you protein, amino acids, just about every vitamin B, calcium, phosphorus, iodine and iron? It sure won't be ketchup!

Hua Sheng Supermarket
293 Spadina Avenue
Toronto, Ontario
(416) 263-9883