Proper Clay Pot Cooking – 63 of 365

Clay Pots on the Flame

Alright, who’s in the mood for some proper clay pot cooking?   Forget that caramel chicken mess thrown into its sad room temperature bowl from last week down in the backpackers district.  Oh, you’re asking what the heck is clay pot food?  Well follow me to Com 37 at 37 Ly Tu Trong and we will sample a most proper $1.50 version of it served with rice, soup and a vegetable.   This is meat cooked in a small red hot ceramic pot sent straight from grill to table with liquid still boiling.   Unlike the platter of fajitas in America sizzling with smoky fanfare and stern warnings about all the nastiness that hot metal plate could inflict, delicious clay pot fish just quietly arrives at our own peril and awaits Darwin to strike.

And unlike that caramel chicken disaster drowning in its insipid plastic flavored sauce, Com 37’s well balanced cá kho tộ, or braised fish in a bowl, launches us on that very taste journey eluding pizza eating westerners down in Saigon’s backpackers area.   A soft fillet of basa fish complete with skin and bones simmers in fish sauce, black pepper, oil, and sugar.  Chunks of pineapple, onion, and diced chili pepper offset the sweet and salty broth with sour and spice.  Getting off the trail and dining with the locals not only keeps a lot of dough in the wallet, but provides a taste of Vietnamese culture beyond the safe tourist friendly choices littering the guidebook pages.

cá kho tộ

Keeping our eyes open beyond the package tour and guidebook stops can open up a hidden world so different than ours back home.  This is afterall why we spend good money to fly 28 hours halfway around the world, right?  Put down that menu at the overpriced western joint, walk out the door, and follow the stream of locals to their preferred food stand.   If you are a little nervous, think about this…a local restaurant depends on repeat business so the owners aren’t looking to rip off or sicken their loyal clientele.

Now that you’ve found your favorite local joint, keep your eyes open and take in all that our friends stuffed in that tour bus will miss.   For example, back in America, under the guise of feigning sophistication, I know we all try in vain with chopsticks to lift rice from plate to foodhole at any restaurant of Asian extraction.    But while eating my soft fish over here, I watched two office workers maneuvering chopsticks and a spoon to eat steamed rice.  Though eating rice with a spoon falls into the ingenious category, I have to wonder why Vietnamese use chopsticks to scoop the sticky kernels onto the utensil.  I mean, what is wrong with directly lowering the spoon into the rice to collect a portion with one scooping motion?

Weren’t spoons invented as a one stop shopping method to convey food from plate to mouth?  Adding the complexity of chopsticks just seems overkill and the waste of a hand that could be greedily grabbing even more food from the plate.  Oh well, it’s just an observation I see daily and one beyond the pages of those Lonely Planet guidebooks.  See?  Come with me off the trail and we can turn the most mundane people watching into a fascinating comparison of our cultural norms against theirs.   And now having learned rice is eaten with a spoon, we can join Vietnamese waitresses all across the fruited plain back home laughing as folks struggle to pick up one kernel at a time with their clumsily held chopsticks.

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Categories: Vietnamese Food

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