As Tet, Vietnamese Traditional Lunar New Year Festival is arriving, Herman is preparing banana leaves, meat, green beans, glutinous rice, among other ingredients to make Banh Chung (Vietnamese traditional cake), his favorite Vietnamese food.
The Indonesian chef wishes to visit Vietnam soon to celebrate Tet in the country and eat delicious ‘made in Vietnam’ Banh Chung cake. Herman took a photo with a Vietnamese kumquat tree. Photo: Herman Huang
Using a handmade mold from cardboard and replacing dong leaves with frozen banana leaves bought at Asian stores, Herman has the delicious cakes with a nice smell of glutinous rice, greasy meat, and green beans ready after about 10 hours. Living in Quebec (Canada), every time the festival comes, 37-year-old Indonesian Herman is excited to cook some traditional Vietnamese dishes to feel the festive atmosphere. “Banh Chung is the indispensable plate in my home these days. Although the ingredients are quite difficult to find, I still try to make it with a taste similar to the one made in Vietnam,” said the Chinese-Indonesian man.
Showing them on a cooking group on Facebook, he received many compliments for not only the nice cake but also his fluent Vietnamese in describing it. “I always hope one day I can soon visit Vietnam again, celebrate Tet in Vietnam and eat delicious ‘made in Vietnam’ Banh Chung,” he said.
Passion for Vietnamese cuisine
Before coming to Canada to work as a chef, Herman studied and lived in Australia where he met and made friends with some Vietnamese. Often invited to eat many Vietnamese dishes, he fell in love with the unique cuisine of the Southeast Asian country.
|Vietnamese Banh Chung cake made by Herman. Photo: Herman Huang
“The first Vietnamese dish I tried was Pho which impressed me very much. The broth is very special and rich. It is so different from the noodles of other countries. Indonesian food is usually hot and spicy, so tasting Vietnamese food is a completely exotic experience,” he said.
The more Vietnamese dishes Herman tries, the stronger love he has for them. He has spent much time searching the recipes of the food along with asking Vietnamese friends to make them with the most original flavor.
The first Vietnamese dish that the Indonesian cook made was fresh spring rolls at a friend’s house. It was an unforgettable memory for him. The rolls were broken at the beginning. Then he learned how to wrap them correctly and in good shape.
His passion for Vietnamese food urged him to visit its homeland in 2018 and 2019. The trips gave him an opportunity to taste many original dishes and inspired him to discover more and more.
“I am very impressed with fish sauce. Initially, the taste was very strong but quite interesting. Then the more I eat it, the more I like it. Now I always have a bottle of fish sauce in the kitchen. Besides, I also tried shrimp paste which flavor is quite difficult to describe. I still can’t eat this dish, honestly,” he said.
|The Banh tam mi of Steamed Cassava Cake, a specialty of southern Vietnam. Photo: Herman Huang
Plan to offer Vietnamese food in Canada
For Herman, the taste of Vietnamese cuisine is very rich and distinctive so when cooking it, the hardest thing for him is to make the food with the most original Vietnamese taste possible, especially as he is used to spicy Indonesian dishes.
“Vietnamese food has some dishes which are easy to make and others which are more difficult. The most important thing is how to cook it in the way that people could recognize it as Vietnamese food and not any other country’s food,” he said. So far, he is confident to make about 20 Vietnamese dishes, ranging from savory dishes like Banh cuon (steamed rolls with minced pork and mushroom) and Banh xeo (Vietnamese pancake with beef, shrimp, and bean sprout) to sweet ones like banh troi (a dessert made of glutinous rice filled with mung bean paste bathed in a sweet clear or brown syrup made of water, sugar, and grated ginger root), peanut candies, or even famous egg coffee. He is most confident with quay (deep-fried dough) as the form and taste are quite similar to those made in Indonesia and China.
Not only being satisfied with cooking for himself and his friends to enjoy, but Herman also plans to open a Vietnamese restaurant in Quebec. “I think Vietnamese food is quite famous in the world, especially Banh mi (Vietnamese sandwich). Moreover, there are quite a few Vietnamese restaurants in the area where I live, so with my love for Vietnam and Vietnamese cuisine, I want to bring it to everyone everywhere.”
|The Thit quay xiu mai or Char Siu Pork. Photo: Herman Huang
From his passion for food, Herman has also taught himself Vietnamese for about six years. He admitted that he was good at reading and writing but still struggled with listening and speaking because he did not have many opportunities to practice with Vietnamese. “Vietnamese is probably the most difficult language among those that I’ve learned,” said the fluent speaker of Chinese, English and French.
For two years, due to the outbreak of the pandemic, Herman has been unable to travel to Vietnam. He plans to return to the country as soon as the situation gets better to visit more provinces and cities and enjoy their specialties. “I really want to try bun mam (vermicelli with fish sauce), I heard it’s very special. I definitely won’t miss this dish when I return to Vietnam,” he shared.