This is a very simple cake from the Mekong Delta.  Not just popular in southern Vietnam but also in Cambodia.  They're named for their resemblance to a swallow's nest (a.k.a. tổ yến).   A traditional recipe would likely call for cơm rượu for leavening.   As with bánh bò, a well made bánh tai yến should have rễ tre (the "honeycomb" texture").  
   
Like all traditional Asian pastries, the ingredients are simple to track down.  And...guess what?  They're gluten free!

Ingredients:
-250g rice flour
-15g tapioca starch
-150g sugar
-175g water
-100g coconut milk      
-baking soda...just a tad
-enough oil for to deep fry with

Method:
Mix everything together to make a smooth batter.  What's that? You see lumps in the batter?  Pass the batter through a strainer.  

Fill a deep pot about 1/2 full with oil...or...fill the pot with oil until it's 1/2 empty. ;)  Either way, the pot needs to be able to hold twice as much oil as you're filling it with. lol  Heat the oil over medium high heat until it reaches 350'F.  

Using a small ladle, give the batter a quick stir, then pour a ladle's worth of batter (+/- depending your preference) straight into the oil.  By "straight into the oil" I mean, pour the batter in a steady stream, do not move the ladle/your are while pouring.  In about 10-15 seconds the cake should float to the surface, continue frying until they are light golden.
 

Note:
Only a pinch of baking soda is needed, seriously! 

Baking soda reacts with heat (releases carbon dioxide), while the starches in the flour expands and coagulates to capture the gases; this gives the cake their trademark honeycomb texture.  Too much baking soda = too much "reaction".  In other words, too much gas is released too fast for the starches to hold them together.  The result?  The batter will break into tiny bits and pieces.


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Is it possible to travel to Asia without stopping by Vietnam? For many people, yes it is possible.  For me however, the answer would be no. It just won't be right to pass by the land where my parents came from, a land where my ancestors are still buried a home away from home.  Nothing much to do in Saigon except for the usual; eating, shopping and getting clothes tailored.  After a few days I headed south into the Mekong Delta. It was my uncle's death anniversary (đám giỗ) and we were treated to a feast!

Roasted pork with pandan bánh hỏi, duck curry, beef stir fried with fresh leek bulbs, and lotus rootlet salad with free ranged chicken.
 

After our lunch feast, it was a time for a stroll in the "back yard"....  look what I found!

They're called "trái dâu" in Vietnamese.  Does anyone know the English name?

 Fresh bamboo shoots...ummm...

 Fresh pandan leaves...they grow like weeds. Apparently, they are considered weeds, as no one plants or take cares of them...they just grow...

 Fresh durian, ready to be plucked from the tree and eaten....

And...yes they were plucked from the three and eaten.  Delicious!

 Lotus flowers, so beautiful and graceful!

Before heading back to Saigon we stopped for a bowl of Hủ Tiếu Mỹ Tho.  Rice noodles with pork, shrimp, and chives in a clear aromatic broth....


A few days later it was time to head to Laos.  My tour flew me from Saigon to Hue for breakfast.  Then from Hue we drove over to Laos.


Hum....what shall we have for breakfast in Hue?  Bún Bò Huế, of course!  Our tour guide took us to a local hole in the wall place on Lý Thường Kiệt street.  I have to say the Bún Bò Huế in Huế is very different from what I have had in Saigon or Seattle.  The broth is not as pungent of lemongrass and shrimp paste and the fresh veggie mix has different herbs in it.  Most noticeable is the addition for Rau Má.


After lunch we boarded the bus and headed for Lao Bảo, the Vietnamese/Laos border.  Before crossing we stopped for lunch.  
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 Next up is Macau.... the funny thing is, a visit to Macau was not in my original plans.  My Hong Kong tour was consolidated so I had a few extra days.  It was either spend it in Hong Kong or...find something else to do...like go to Macau.  The Macau tour was only $100 so why not?  We took the ferry from Hong Kong and in a little over an hour we arrived in Macau.  Our tour guide picked us up and off we went!

First stop: St. Paul's Cathedral ....or should I say ruins of St. Paul's Cathedral.  It was breathtakingly beautiful!  Almost 200 years older then the United States.

Views of the city from the top of St. Paul's




 Sitting on the side of St. Paul's are a few shops selling goods tourist...more on that later.  But caught my eye was this cozy, humble little temple.  I looked like something you would see in one of those old Chinese kung fu movies... Charming!  I bet it is older then the United States too.



A few steps from the temple lies a small but well know pastry shop.  By well know, I mean their products are available in the U.S. ...or at least Seattle.  Besides their famous almond cookies, they had a wide assortment of other pastries.  Caught them in the act making these wafers; one of those sweet and savory snacks that asians are known to love.  A sweet crisp egg wafer with a strip of seaweed and salted peanut filling.

video


What's that I see in the pastry case?  A  Portuguese egg tart!  It was delicious!  Flaky pastry with creamy custard.  It was still warm, freshly baked. Yum!

Next stop Tin Hau temple.  Said to be built over 600 years ago, it still stands in glory.   The temple is dedicated to A-Mah (aka Tin Hau) and sits on the bay of A-Mah which in Chinese is "A-Mah Gau". According to legend, when the first Portuguese arrived the first thing they saw as the temple.  The locals told them they're at "A-Mah Gau"...and eventually "A-Mau Gau" became "Macau".



What else is Macau known for?  Casinos! ...of course!  Sorry, no cameras allowed inside....:(


And that concludes Macau, one of the most unique and charming places I've been.  A land where past and present complement one another.
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My month long trip to Asia actually started in mid-April.  I meant to post sooner but have just been busy...:D.  Better late then never right?  Here it is, first stop Hong Kong!

A few pictures of the cityscape highrises everywhere:





This picture was taken of from my hotel room.  We stayed at Harbor Plaza Resort City in Tin Shui Wai.  The hotel was nice but it was a bit out of the way....about 45 mins from anything.  So...we hopped on a Taxi to Ya Ma Tei for dim sum.... which was amazing!  Especially the Ma Lai Koh; so soft, and chewy with the right sweetness, and richness....


After Dim Sum we strolled around to explore the city (I was actually looking for Shanghai Street, which Florence mentioned to me, for buying kitchen stuff....Thanks Florence!).   We bumped into Tin Hau temple.  Of course, I had to stop by to pay my respects... 

Day 2:  of course more dim sum for breakfast; and then it was off to Aberdeen fishing village.

The famous Jumbo restaurant...Did not get a chance to eat there.   Although I would have liked to stop by for a meal; I assume most of their costumers are tourist....and well, tourist food isn't always the best food....


New building starting to pop up, right on the shores of the fishing village (what's left of it).  Apparently, the government is trying to reclaim the village (fill it with dirt to build more buildings).  Most of the villagers have moved on.  The 'traditional fishing village' is actually more like a bunch of small boat filled with tourist....sailing around witnessing the change that is happening.  I'm sad to say it's not much of a fishing village or any village...

Our tour dropped us off at a Jewelry Factory.   Yes...we went in knowing it's a tourist trap and yes, the prices are probably going to be much much higher then elsewhere...but we were already there.  The best you can do is not buy anything....right?  Right....just go in take a look and not buy anything.  So much for that!   The pendant you see above, modeled by yours truly originally cost $1600.   It's a luck Feng Shui pendent, it's a fan with a diamond in the middle. The blades of the fan represent good health, peace, happiness, and fortune.  The fan spins with movement (from walking) and makes a sound like a money counting machine. All of this is supposed to bring good luck to the wearer....  How cool is that!?!?  But for how much?  My mom got a smaller one, the price for that was supposed to be $250.  I told them $888 (luck number lol) for both..... and after about an hour of haggling they finally sold it for my asking price...more then half of their original price....  I'm positive the still made a profit...or else why would they sell it?  Although, I'm a pastry chef...I know I over paid....seriously, the diamond is in the middle is so small you can hardly see it, and there's not much gold/platinum in it...but hey! You only live once, and it's not like I go to Hong Kong everyday....at least that's what I telling myself.

Our tour continued into the City...a few pictures of the many high rise buildings in Hong Kong




Day 3:  Lantau Island/Po Lin Monastery


Our Vegetarian lunch....roasted pork, stir fried veggies with prawns, tofu, spicy mustard soup.  Delish!



We actually set out to the temple at around 11am.  I was warm and sunny at the base of the island but as soon as we got to the top/temple it was dark and raining....as you can see from the pictures above.  When I say rain I really mean RAIN!  Water was pouring down as if god was dumping buckets upon buckets of water down to earth.  The staircase leading to the giant Buddha statue became a waterfall.  I wanted to take a picture but it was raining so hard I was afraid to get my camera out.  Afterwards, due to the rain, everyone decided to leave.  Unfortunately, due to safety concerns the cable cars that take people to and from the temple does not run when the weather is bad.   So...a ton of people were waiting in line in the rain, for the storm to end and the cable cars to work again.  Our tour guide tried to call a taxi to bring us down but were all "booked"....he called again and told them we were willing to pay an extra $40 and what do you know!  The taxi came in 5 mins. 


A few pictures of the Buddha statue that I was able to snap during the brief moments that the rain stopped...  It was such a beautiful place, I only wish the rain came happened....  I guess it was just not meant to be.

What's for dinner?  Roast goose of course!  Hong Kong is know for Dim Sum and roast goose.  My mom always told me how she remembered my Grandpa/her dad brought a roast goose home from his visit to Hong Kong. She remembers it vividly how it was still warm (Hong Kong is just a 2 hour fight from Vietnam), and juicy, and meat being fragrant and the skin melting in her mouth; savoring every bite as they had the goose for dinner that day.   With so many places to eat how do you know who's the best.   Luckly, Jacky the executive chef of Wild Ginger (where I work) is a native of Hong Kong.  He suggested Yung Kee.  So Yung Kee it is.....



Their roast goose was amazing, the meat was juicy and marinated just right with a hint of sesame oil which I think they drizzled onto the duck just before serving.    Although the sesame was detectable it was in now way overpowering, only adding to the goose making it every so memorable.  Besides their roast goose, they also make their own century old eggs served with pickled ginger.   The egg was made very well!  Not a hint of ammonia, very mild creamy yolk with a transparent chewy 'white'.   Yum!

Hong Kong has so much to explore an taste.  I was only able to scratch the surface during my short visit and hope to one day stop by again.   Wherever you decide to eat the food is always delicious, seriously.....always delicious....


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 To everyone who showed up at my demo, THANKS FOR COMING. I apologize for not having enough copies of the recipes to handout... The recipes are posted below in case you didn't get a copy.  This was my first demo, and I think it went reasonably well.  Yes, I know, I need to speak louder and slower...I'm working on it...:)  Any feedback is much appreciated and anticipated.  Thanks for you support!  

Temple Rolls

Ingredients:
-2 potatoes
-2 bundles cellophane noodles
-4 tbs roasted rice powder
-1/2 cup fried tofu
-1/2 cup braised gluten
-1 tsp oil
-1 tbs soy sauce
-salt and pepper to taste
-fresh herbs, shredded lettuce
-rice paper

Method:
Peel and shred the potatoes. Rinse and drain the shredded potatoes before deep frying them until golden brown.

Soak cellophane noodles in hot water for 15 mins., drain and cut into approx. 2” long pieces.

Julienne tofu and gluten. Heat 1 tsp oil in a large wok; add soy sauce, tofu and gluten. Stir fry ingredients for a few mins, add salt and pepper to taste.

In a large bowl, mix everything together.

Quickly dip a sheet of rice paper in warm water. Place a lettuce and herbs in the center of the rice paper, followed by the filling. Fold the 2 ends in towards the middle and roll. Serve with dipping sauce (recipe follows).


Dipping Sauce:
-2 tbs each: crushed pineapple, sugar
-4 tbs coconut juice or water
-1 tsp each: soy sauce, salt, fresh lime juice


*Mix everything together.
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Taro Rice Pudding with Pandan Coconut Milk

Ingredients:
-1lb taro
-1/2 cup sugar (to be mixed with taro)
-1 cup sweet rice aka glutinous rice
-4 ½ cups water
-1 ½ cups sugar
-½ tsp salt
-2 pandan leaves, knotted

Method:
Peel taro and cut into bite size pieces. Steam until taro pieces over high heat for approx. 15 mins or until tender. Gently toss cooked taro with ½ cup of sugar and rest for at least 1 hour.

In a large pot, bring pandan leaves, salt and 4 ½ cups of water to a boil, add rice (rinsed) and simmer for 10 mins. After 10 mins, check the rice, it should be cooked (transparent) on the outside but still white on the inside; add 1 ½ cups sugar. Simmer for another 5 mins before adding the taro mixture. Continue to simmer, stirring occasionally for another 15 mins or until the rice is cooked. Served with pandan coconut milk (recipe follows).


Pandan Coconut Milk:
-1 can coconut milk
-1/2 tsp salt
-1 tsp sugar
-3 pandan leaves, knotted
-1 tsp cornstarch + 3 tbs water

*In a saucepan, bring coconut milk, salt, sugar and pandan leaves to a boil. Add cornstarch mixture and mix well until the milk thickens.
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Tết is lurking just around the corner which means there are things to check out left and right.  If you're looking for something to do....

This Saturday and Sunday the 29-30th, Tết in Seattle will be holding their annual event at the Seattle Center.  Come join the fun!

And....if you come on Sunday the 30th don't forget to check out the cooking demo from 2:45- 3:15PM.  Yours truly will be there cooking up a storm.  What will I be presenting?  Good question, any suggestions? 

Also happening this Saturday the 29th, Chùa Việt Nam will be making Bánh Chưng (Rice Cakes) and Chả Chay (Veggie Mock Meat Loaf) to sell for their annual fundraiser.  Come join the fun! We're starting at 9am and finish...when we finish.  Lunch will be provided, vegetarian...of course.  If it's just the rice cakes you're after, they're $7.00 each and will be available fresh and hot Sunday morning.  Our address is: 1651 S King St. Seattle, WA 98144

Be there or be square!
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With Tết just around the corner, it's time to fire up the stove and start pumping out sweet munchies!  Bánh Tổ is a must have for Tết.  There's no better time then now to fine tune your banana leaf mold making skills.  The recipe for Bánh Tổ can be found here.  Instead of steaming the cakes in rice bowls, the batter is steamed in banana leaf molds.  Don't have time?  The molds can be make in advance and stored in the fridge.  Ready? Set? Let's do this!

Step 1: wash the leaves and dry them with a towel, cut the leaves into approx. 1 foot wide pieces


Step 2: Stack 2 pieces of leaves so that they crisscross like so...

Step 3: Place a bowl/container (I used a plastic togo container) in the middle of the leaves, fold up the top and bottom sides of the leaves towards the container.


Step 4: Fold up the right side like so, then fold in the two corners.


Step 5: Use a toothpick to pin the 2 corners together.  Now repeat step 4 on the left side.
 

Step 6: You're almost done!  All that's left now is to 
trim the rim of your newly created mold with sissors.
That's it! Now all that's left is to fill them and steam...don't forget to stamp your cakes with red coloring (of course...) for luck!  Don't own a stamp? Go buy one :D....or.....cutout a few images from a lucky red envelope (bao lì xì) and use those! 

Have Fun and Happy Tết Everyone!




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