The other day I brought my Vietnamese watercress soup (canh xà lách xoong) to the lab, and my lab manager was so surprised that it was so simple: handful of ground pork + watercress + water + salt/fish sauce = AWESOME soup. I think the real treasure of Vietnamese cuisine is our many different soups – at least 10 different types of noodles made from different starch, and many many kinds of greens that withstand the heat of soup well. And with the exception of some kinds of broth, Vietnamese soup is So.Darn.Simple.
Fish sauce REALLY makes a difference. If you’re allergic, or for some traumatic (?) reason, don’t eat fish, soy sauce would do fine, but fish sauce is the stamp of Vietnamese food. It adds such a depth a flavo-ew, did I just say “depth of flavor”?! Anyway, the “meat” is almost always a small handful of ground pork. Pork is so flexible – it’s flavorful, yet neutral enough to go well with any kind of greens. I swap it out for ground beef sometimes, but beef has a very distinctive taste that might dominate the taste of your greens, or just don’t go well with it. I also think it’s just because beef is traditionally expensive in Vietnam that we use pork more. Ground chicken works fine too, I think. The thing about ground meat is that it’s cheap (it can be any cut and it won’t matter), and you don’t have to use a lot of it. You can totally use bones if you feel like it, but with ground meat you can, uh, eat the meat ^_^ One stone two birds!
There you go, the “secret” of Vietnamese soup!
P.S: In other news (to avoid making this post look like it’s by a 5 year-old), we successfully grew green onions in a glass, with just water. You probably saw it somewhere on the net too. I was skeptical, but holy mother…, it’s effective! We just cut off the green part of store bought green onions, and put the white bulbs in water. Up comes new green part. Magic! Or…nature?