i know what you mean!

vegetarian bu’n bo`

Posted on: July 7, 2007

Yellow nectarines from this one farmer market’s stand are sooo good. I bought ten dollars’ worth of nectarines at 9 a.m. today before I went to SF to do my volunteering, just in case their stuffs get sold out early. I got 5 lbs at $2/lb. Then, at 1 p.m. when I got back, they lowered their prices to $1.50/lb to get rid of the day’s produce, so I bought another 6 lbs. plus some tomatoes. So far I have eaten at least 4 nectarines just today alone, so I don’t think we’ll have a problem with the 10+ lbs of nectarines. The farmers at El Cerrito Plaza are all sweet, especially the asian ones. I think both stalls are Laotians, but I can be wrong. One stall gave me extra bittermelons today while the other stall gave me free onions .


On the BART today I encountered something troubling. I was dozing off on my seat when an asian man in his 50’s woke me up in a friendly manner and asked me in Chinese if I speak Mandarin. I answered him in Mandarin, and his face lit up. He proceeded to tell me that he was from Taiwan, here for a visit since his friend is a professor…. My head was still muddy from the nap interrupted, so I didn’t quite grasp what was going on until I heard him saying that his wife is currently sick (or something, I didn’t claim that I’m 100% fluent, he spoke too fast), and he needs $20 to get him where he needs to be.

– do you have $20 you can help me out with?
– I’m sorry
– or just any, I swear I’m telling the truth
– I’m sorry, I don’t …

The man searched my sad face (I have a very tragic face whenever I don’t smile) and consoled me ,
– Don’t worry, I’ll just go ask someone else.
– I’m sorry.

I did have $20. But I also got scammed before, and I run into the same story from different people too many times on the BART that I don’t give money anymore. I just can’t help but feel so keptical these days. After the man left, I was lost in thoughts for the rest of the ride. It’s not that often people come up to me and ask me if I speak Chinese. They either ask “are you Chinese?” or they just speak Chinese to me. It’s not often that I choose to respond in Chinese right away. It’s sad and ironic that I learn all that glamourous amount of Chinese just to respond, in perfect Chinese with perfect accent, that I’m sorry, I cannot help. I studied languages so hard partly to reach out to people and there I was, using one among them to deny… I think I have seen that man on the train before…

Well, we can end on a happier note. Christina has been urging me to try out her bu’n bo` chay recipe since last week. She told me that she has made that dish repeatedly and everyone fell in love with it (“sooo healthy and so good!”). At the time, I said “Wait a minute, are you sure it actually tastes like bu’n bo` or it just tastes good?” She said “It tastes good.” . So while trying out her recipe today, I kept on telling myself, this can’t be bu’n bo`, because this combination of ingredients do not seem like they can depict accurately the aroma and flavors of bu’nt bo`…

So…. Of course I modified . Not that I don’t trust Christina’s judgment (well, I do some time, ha ha), but half way through prepping the ingredients, I was telling myself, this doesn’t make sense at all. The Buddhists use these things because they have to work around certain forbidden ingredients. Me, I’m not Buddhist, and I’m not even a freaggin’ vegetarian, why shouldn’t I use the real thing?? I’m pretty sure that whoever gave Christina the recipe was also confused, because they instructed her to use leeks in the stock, but they told her to use shallots in the sate’ chili . Here’s Christina’s original recipe, followed by my (quite radically modified) recipe. You can choose for yourself which one to try.

Christina’s vegetarian bu’n bo`:

Prepare the Broth:
1) Boil 2/3 pot of water
2) Cut carrots, cu cai, leek, and one red apple into approximately 2 inches long so that it’ll get cooked faster but not too small so that it’ll break all over the place.
3) Add a little salt
4) Keep cooking with the lid over the pot in medium to small heat for at least 4 hours (the longer you cook, the sweeter your broth is)
Prepare the Onions:
1) Cut hanh huong (red onions) into thin slices and cook slowly over medium heat with plenty of oil until it gets brown and remove the onions from the oil and place them aside. Keep the cooked oil in a clean container and use them to sauteed other vegetables or whatever later on.
Prepare the red color oil:
1) Buy a small bag of hot dieu (it’s the red seed) and use about 1/4 cup of the onion oil that you put aside earlier and about one teaspoon full of the hot dieu and cook in medium heat until you get the desired red color.
2) Dicard the seed and use the red oil and sauteed with the chopped up lemon grass (you can buy this ready chopped and frozen). Keep stirring for 15 minutes to get the full flavor. Pour this lemon grass with the red oil into the broth pot (after you have already discard the cooked vegetables).
Prepare the Meats:
1) Buy veggie lamb meat and tear them to pieces. Cut the white part of the green onions to marinate with the lamb meat with black pepper and a little salt. Use about one table spoon of the onion oil that you’ve put aside earlier to sauteed the lamb meat then pour it into the broth pot.
2) Buy your favorite mushrooms ( I recommend the white ones where people eat with salads), don’t use the mushrooms that have strong odors because you’ll ruin the flavor of the soup. Pour the mushroom into the broth as well. Remember not to overcook the mushroom.
3) If you like fried tofu just fry them and cut them in long thin slices like french fries and pour them into the broth pot.
4) Pour the cooked hanh huong into the broth pot and flavor the soup as desired.
Prepare others:
1) Cook the bun
2) Cut green onions and cilantros into small pieces

Here’s my Bu’n Kho^ng Bo` (no longer vegetarian )

1 red apple – quartered
3 large carrots – cut into thirds
1 yellow onion (why bother with leeks?)
5 fresh corn cobs (I cut the kernels off last week for a salad, saved the cobs for use later)

1 long daikon radish, sectioned
green parts of leeks (I used the white parts for the mock meat)

Fill pot with 4 quarts of cold water, add all veggies + some sea salt, bring to boil, then simmer over low heat, mostly covered, for 3-4 hours.

Chili paste in oil:
1/2 block of ready-minced lemongrass (they sell this in the frozen section)
2 oz paprika (about 1 cup I think)
4-5 large shallots minced
1/5 jar of shrimp paste in bean oil (rie^u to^m, not shrimp paste)
1 teaspoon shrimp paste (the stinky stuffs)
handful of fresh chili peppers (Thai peppers, not the huge halapenos)
1 cup of oil

Heat 1 cup of oil in a pan, medium-high. Add lemongrass. Fry for about 3-4 minutes or until the lemongrass turns golden (but not brown). Add minced shallots. Mix and fry until both turn light brown. Add 1/5 jar of “shrimp paste in bean oil” (about 2+ tbsp) and mix. Add shrimp paste and mix. Add fresh chili peppers and mix. Add paprika and mix, then turn off the heat. Scoop to jar and set to cool. This will make about 2 cu
ps of chili paste in oil.
Don’t wash the pan right away, use it for the mock meat next (the red color and oil left in the pan will give the meat a nice red tinge).

Mock meat:
1 loaf of Vegie Farm Vegetarian Ham (looks kinda like cha? lu.a) – slice about 1/2 of the loaf into thin slices like cha? lu.a
1 leek (white part) sliced thin (I used leeks because I ran out of shallots, but I think I’ll continue to use them next time, their mild flavor is quite pleasant).

Coat bottom of small frying pan with oil, then add leeks and fry until they turn golden, stirring once in a while. Toss the mock meat slices into the pan, coat them with leeks and oil, then add a dash of fish sauce (this is where vegetarian says bye bye), mix well, let cook on medium-low heat until 1 face of the mock meat turn slightly brown. Turn off heat.

Putting everything together:
While waiting for the broth to boil, mix 1 tablespoon of shrimp paste with cold water, mix really well, and let sit somewhere cool for the stuffs to settle.
When the broth is done, carefully scoop out all the veggies, pour the shrimp paste mixture into the pot, stop when you get to the murky bottom of the bowl. Toss that part. (Or you can use the whole bowl, I do! But others say to skip the murky part).
Tie 3-4 stalks of lemongrass together and add to the pot, turn the heat up to medium and cover the pot 2/3 of the way. Watch it so that the pot only boils gently.
Chop about 2 cups of fresh woodear mushrooms into the pot.

Let this boil gently for about 20 minutes.
Then pour the mock meat into the pot, use cold water to rinse the pan and add that water into the pot as well.
Lastly, add fish sauce to taste, then toss in 1 ripe roma tomato (quartered). One tomato helps bind the flavors of all the ingredients together very well, especially when there’s oil involved, that’s my one trick.

This recipe will make about 5 quarts of pure soupstock.

Serve with rice noodles, chili paste in oil, chopped cilantro, green onions, red/white onions, and rau ra(m.

Son said he’s very impressed. I say it tastes damn good, I might just stick to this Bu’n kho^ng bo` recipe from now on, in an attempt to eat less beef. Next time I’ll even skip the veggie ham and use a few slices of cha? lu.a. Son said it tastes very much like bu’n bo` too, and I think so! Shit, with ma(‘m to^m fish sauce in there, it’d better taste like bu’n bo` heh heh. That’s why it’s called Bu’n Kho^ng Bo`, not bu’n chay

Bu'n Kho^ng Bo`


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