In Saigon a common lunchtime dish all across town is a large slab of meat stuffed tofu drenched in a tangy, fishy tomato sauce. A work trip to Hanoi introduced me to its cousin, đậu sốt cà chua. I suppose this one could fall into that ever favorite saying of Vietnamese people…”Same, same but different.” These friend pieces of tofu are paired with a salty tomato chunks and sauce but meat is nowhere to be seen. Leave it to the capital city to surprise me yet again with a new lunchtime delight.
These chunks of braised tofu are slightly firm on the outside from where sizzling oil does its scientific magic on the soy based blocks yet the insides remain creamy and firm. As for what went into that sauce, I sure can take a guess. Fish sauce and garlic seemed to be the star ingredients of this one and that Vietnamese gold gleaned from fermented fish in barrels leaves such a distinct canvas on whatever it touches.
After a few years in Vietnam, I have grown to enjoy anything containing this fish nectar. In my former life, I’d have never come within a million miles of this stuff. Now I find myself already running recipes containing this taste of Vietnam through my head that I can cook back in the US.
And as far as tofu goes, I used to think it was for vegetarians out in California. Fast forward a few years and my tastes have evolved nicely to where this is a regular staple of my diet. Just behind my apartment in the street market, a woman sets up a table with fresh tofu every morning. Right there I can exchange 50 cents for five blocks of the stuff, so how’s that for a cheap building block for a healthy meal?
Even with just a handful of meals left to go, new surprises such as this one pop up and inspire me to recreate them back home. I just wish I had another 365 meals left to get to know Vietnam even more.