Bookbanner.EA
Our first book, out 2016
Saveur.bfba.200


« The Tree of Life (Part 3) | Main | Philippine Food Reads: Of Bananas and Drinking Food »

2008.03.13

Comments

Graham

Not jealous. Nope not at all...

I think it was on the Gastronomy blog I saw that she'd expanded to the place next door and gone for that more classic Vietnamese strip lighting, whitewash and shiny metal trestle table look.

Interesting note on the rice wine bit, don't seem to remember hearing that when I used to go there.

Nice pics. Brings it all back...

RST

Didn't we have a discussion on hot dieu mao AKA annatto not too long ago? I thought that it was on a post on bun rieu cua but I did a quick search through eatingasia and couldn't find. See how tricky that is: I always thought that the glistening reddish sheen on the surface of the soup (this one and many others) comes from the carotene/lycopene of the tomatoes (in the bun rieu cua of course, the red of hot dieu mao also enhances the color of the crab roe). But I bet you (it is quite clear from the pictures) that this one also has a spoonful of achiote oil finsihing the dish. BTW live snails (not just "oc" but also the tinier kind whose name escapes me at the moment) are readily available at Vietnamese stores in the US.

Re: she was an ambulatory seller

Haha. You're really turning Filipino, Robyn. That turn-of-phrase is such a Filipinism-being a favorite expression of food writers like Doreen Fernandez et al (I also use it a lot)

Sandy

Everything looks and sounds so fantastically delicious, I must see if any Vietnamese restaurants serve that here in the Bay Area! I love perilla too, I grow it in the garden.

gobsmack'd

I must agree with RST! I would have thought that living in Malaysia as you do you'd have used the term 'hawker' rather than newspeak! How Big Brother of you. In the Orwellian sense, of course; not the hideous so-called reality tv sense. Looks delicious, shame it ain't available here in Sydney.

RST

Gobsmack'd,

Haha, ambulatory is not newspeak at all. In the context of SEAsian food writing, it's one of the favorite terms of the late Doreen Fernandez, the greatest of all SEAsian food writers. On the contrary, that word "hawker" (preferred in Singapore/Malaysia when used in the context of street food: e.g. "hawker stands", "hawker centers" etc) is rarely used in Philippine food writing. The two senses do not necessarily overlap of course and in THIS case, ambulatory is the more precise of the choices. But it also reveals that Robyn has been catching up on her Fernandez readings.

Richard

lotsofcravings

if you didnt tell me, i wouldnt have thought snail was used in asian cuisine until recently! always associated snails with french and western food thus escargot..with a rolled tongue..

Robyn

Thanks Graham. Yes, it is a nice classic look, with those stainless steel tables. As for the rice wine vinegar, our friend My is a font of little-known culinary factoids.

RST - unless I'm mistaken that was an email discussion about my quang. I'd be surprised if she adds annatto oil before serving, I suspect it's in the broth. Will have to get myself into the kitchen next time and see.

Yeah, I find myself using that term alot. Reading too much Doreen Fernandez, I guess!

gobsmack'd - I guess I'm more likely to associate the term 'hawker' with stationary vendors. Not too many mobile ones left in KL these days. Or with vendors who have proper carts rather than two containers suspended from a shoulder pole. Just a matter of nomenclature is all, though. I didn't think about it before I wrote it, but the word 'ambulatory' seemed right for someone who is doing all the work with their feet (ie, not pushing a wheeled cart but carrying everything on their shoulders).

lotsofcravings - snails are all over Asian cuisines! In Shanghai we used to have pickled snails. Last week in Bali we watched a rice farmer harvesting snails from paddy. In the Philippines, there's a great Bicolano dish of snails in coconut milk with tons of chilies. And there's more. Maybe I should go on the Asian snail trail. ;-)

RST

Of the possible ways of expressing this idea (roving vendors, itinerant sellers etc), Doreen preferred ambulant/ambulatory almost certainly because "ambulante" (as in "vendedores ambulantes") is the simplest and most natural corresponding word in Spanish. (On Doreen Fernandez, see the article on her work in Gastronomica, Winter 2003.)

The word "hawker" (used in this specific sense of a streetside food vendor) is now universally understood in the (English-speaking) food world chiefly becasue of the Singaporeans who promoted it not only through food writing, but also in tourist materials such as ads taken out in Vanity Fair or New Yorker. However, it is by no means a commonplace. It is rarely seen in the discourse on say Mexican cuisine or Northern African. It is also not necessarily the first word to be applied in the current literature on the foodscape of China.

As Robyn mentioned, the archetype of the ambulatory food vendor in Southeast Asia is the man balancing a shoulder pole one end of which might actually carry a brazier with live coals for in situ cooking. (And in SEAsia, this man-with-the-shoulder-pole is ALWAYS Chinese-the mythical "beho" of the Philippines.) But there are many many other types: the man who roll a wooden cart holding cauldrons full of fresh corn steaming in their husks, children who jump on public buses to sell bags of cooked quails eggs or pumpkin seeds etc (And Doreen devoted several pieces to discussing different aspects of this type of business.)

But this is a dying breed. Elsewhere, ambulant food vendors have been regulated to the point of near-extinction. But they are an essential part of the life of every great public space. In a way, they are an index, within that public space, of the entire range of the possibilities of human interaction. Robyn and Dave evoked a little bit of this in their Quiapo posts: the chaos, the sense of constantly being surrounded by people approaching you, moving away from you, and by the smell of their food. On a recent trip to Marrakech, I was surprised to see how regimented even the food stalls of the great Jemaa-el-Fna have become. The great Jemaa-el-Fna! which some people call the greatest and most archetypal public squares on earth! Food stalls have been numbered, prices are listed, human relationships flattened to one between touts versus tourists. Somehow, something along the way has become lost forever.

Richard

Robyn

Well Richard, now we are getting close to that whole 'street food - preserve it or get rid of it?' argument. To me it's easily as much about the social/cultural aspect as it is about the food. The thought of going to, say, Bangkok or Saigon (where street food is more 'street-y' than it is in KL) and avoiding street food is just bizarre to me. It's as much about the human interactions as it is about what you put in your mouth.
Yet there are those who advise visitors to those countries to do just that.
Thanks for the comment re: the Qiapo post. You put into words what I should have.

gc

They call it 螺蛳粉 in Guanxi, snail soup and noodles with lots of chili oil and cilantro.

RST

By chance, one of the books that I have on my nightstand at the moment contains a thoroughly delightful essay on the gastronomy of snails. The book is a Spanish translation of "El que hem menjat" by the great Catalan writer Josep Pla, which Colman Andrews ranks among classics of food writing like those of Waverley Root and MFK Fisher. In the essay, Pla also discusses the famous snails of Burgundy and distinguishes between Catalan and Franch ways with snail.

Also by sheer coincidence, the first sentence of the essay includes a form of the verb ambular which we have been discussing: "cuando llueve en otono los caracoles corren, deambulan por su territorio..." There's no more precise word in this case to evoke the slow and rather aimless meandering of a snail.

And there is almost certainly no more exact adjective for a mobile food vendor than "ambulatory". The Latin word might seem a little purple at first to those who would prefer something pithier and more Anglo-Saxon, but no other word in the language quite captures the same senses of ambling, rambling, circling around and around. Those who have observed wandering food vendors know that this is exactly what they do: ambulate.

(Incidentally, "El que hem menjat" is an extremely rare book in the US. A thorough search of all the libraries in the US listed less than a half-dozen copies in the whole country. The copy I am reading came to me from William and Mary College through my public library's interlibrary loan services.)

Speaking of Colman Andrews, his "Catalan Cuisine" contains an entire section on "cargols" including if I remember correctly a recipe for a Mar i Muntanya which includes rabbit, snails, monkfish and cuttlefish all together.

And since we're on the snail trail here (and since you've just posted a recipe for ginataang kuhol), I have to note that the cookbook that I got you from Morocco (by Latifa Bennani-Smires) has a recipe for boiled snails-which is one of the most common of street foods in Morocco, a small cup of which costs no more than 5 dirhams anywhere in the country. Essentially the snails (a distinctive Moroccan variety-smaller, and, white with black circles) are cooked in a stock seasoned with green aniseed (habet hlaoua), caraway seeds, thyme, paprika, green tea, liquorice root (arksous), chiba (artemisia), mint, the peels of both bitter and sweet orange, chiles and a few grains of meska (gum-acacia).

Josep Pla wrote: "El caracol es un animalito muy curioso. Por un lado parece vagamente poetico." And those who wish to meditate a bit more on the poetry of snails can't do better than pick up a copy of "Escargots" (from "Le parti pris des choses") a sublime little piece by my favorite French poet, Francis Ponge:

Rien n'est beau vomme cette facon d'avancer si lente et si sure et si discrete, au prix de quels efforts ce glissement parfait dont ils honorent la terre!

Richard

Rasa Malaysia

I love bun rieu, but I don't like the oc...not sure if they are frozen here in the US, they taste and smell funny. I love the crab dumplings a lot though.

mary shaposhnik

IS there a "get rid of it" argument about street/ambulatory food going around? That's sad. I can't count the number of times here in the US I think that a street stall or corner vendor in SE Asia would have exactly what I need or want at that moment. I am not sure that the business model of cooking one or two things really well works when there is more overhead to pay. And yes, there are hygeine arguments, but those come from people who never worked in a kitchen...

RST, love your typically obscure and fascinating research finds (on the nightstand? you are brave to admit that)... I always had associated snails with Catalunya, but didn't know about snail-poetry...

And I never even once thought about snails in SE Asia, so thanks Robyn for this very interesting detour to Vietnam. Did you see them much around Thailand, or down in KL now?

Robyn

Thanks gc. Something to look for the next time we're in Guanxi. RST, did you come across snail noodles when you were last there?

Rasa - well, fresh snails are definately much easier to come by in Vietnam than they are in the US, so US restos may use frozen snail meat.

Hi Mary - well, Singapore made that decision a long time ago (IMO fixed hawker centers are NOT the equivalent of street food) and mobile vendors are harder and harder to find in KL. There certainly are those who advise avoiding street food in SE Asia for hygiene and health reasons, and some who say that SE Asia's best food is simply NOT to be found on the street.
Of course - not ALL street food is good, but neither is all restaurant food. And some street food might make you sick, but I've also gotten sick from eating at restaurants in the region. But the number of seredipitously revelatory foodie moments we've had after stumbling across this or that street vendor tells me that if you turn your nose up at street food as a category (in SE Asia at least) you're missing out on some unique culinary experiences.
But it's more than that, as RST points out. Street food, where it exists, is part and parcel of local culture and I'd no more want to see it wiped out than I would want to see historic buildings razed or wet markets paved over and replaced with Tescos and Carrefours.
RE: snails, we've encountered a variety of sea snails in KL, usually cooked in coconut milk (Malay style) or sambal belacan (Chinese cooks, usually). They're big in the Philippines and, I would imagine, elsewhere. Something to investigate further....

Aaron

Hey, oc hap nhoi thit is sea-snail, not the snail eaten by the French or the ones in your bun oc bowl, which are smaller, freshwater snails.

The comments to this entry are closed.

Our other blog: refurbishing a Penang shop house

Siem-reap-food-tours-150