Vietnamese food, while not new, is still rather unique in the Czech Republic. Their traditional cuisine usually combines five fundamental taste “elements“; spicy (metal), sour (wood), bitter (fire), salty (water) and sweet (earth). The main ingredients include seafood and sauces, rice, herbs, fruits and vegetables and is considered to be one of the healthiest kitchens worldwide
Finding these ingredients was more difficult in 1995, when Ha Minh and his sister, Ha Linh, first came to the Czech Republic from the overcrowded but beautiful city of Thai Binh in Vietnam. They journeyed here to rejoin family who had come before the revolution and although they say life here is comfortable they find local foods a bit fatty and short on veggies.
Officially there are approximately 55,000 Vietnamese living in the Czech Republic with around 20,000 in Prague and nowadays many companies, like the Sapa market in Prague 4, import traditional foods which make shopping easy for both Ha Minh‘s home and for the restaurant, Madame Lyn in Prague 2, that he and his sister have been running for the last year.
Both home and restaurant fridges are full of fresh veggies and the spice racks are loaded with coriander, lemongrass, mint, salt, anise, cinnamon and nutmeg. Nearly all dishes are served with rice or noodles and a variety of sauces and soup is part of most meals.
They are introducing their cooking with a three part meal made up of a newly popularized dish called, Bun dau mam tom – which he serves with traditional pho soup and a lotus root and shrimp salad. Ha Minh says the only special tools you need to make this dish are a grill, a pan and a good cook.
Beef (large enough portion for approximately four thin slices per bowl of soup)
Note: Portion sizes for ingredients depends on how many people you are serving.
Precook beef by slow boiling in a pressure cooker* with water and a little salt until tender and cooked with a little pink in the middle and slice into thin strips and set to the side. Boil vermicelli as the label directs, strain and set to the side. Chop the onions, chili peppers, and scallions and keep separate in individual bowls. Put a serving of vermicelli in the bottom of each bowl. Layer on four or five slices of beef, then the bean sprouts, a good pinch of onion, and scallions and a few peppers. Add a 50/50 mixture of broth and water and stir in fish sauce to suit your personal taste.
Bun Dau Mam Tom
Pork knee (enough for several slices per portion)
Tofu (enough for several slices per portion)
Vietnamese balm (slightly citrus flavored long leafed vegetable)
Mam tom (very strong-smelling purple shrimp paste)
To prepare mam tom put about 3-4 tablespoon of shrimp paste in a bowl with a pinch of minced garlic and dilute with water until it drips off the spoon.
Precook pork knee in a pressure cooker with a little salt and water until tender, cut into thin slices and set to the side. Pan fry tofu in small amount of oil until it becomes yellowed. Boil vermicelli as the label directs, strain and set to the side.
To serve put a portion of vermicelli on a plate and arrange a few slices of pork to one side and tofu on the other. Garnish with Vietnamese balm and red perilla and serve with a side dish of mam tom.
Vietnamese Shrimp Salad
Mix a few tablespoons of each liquid in a bowl with a pinch of sugar.
Shrimp (enough for a few per serving)
Red bell pepper
Pan fry shrimp in a little oil until cooked. Chop enough of each type of vegetable for the number of people being served. Toss in a large bowl with dressing until evenly coated.
Garnish with crushed peanuts and a bit of fresh coriander and top with a few shrimp.
He had the grill, the pan and he is definitely a good cook. The soup is tasty and filling, the main dish itself is elegantly presented and simple but it’s the squid sauce that gives it that special something followed by the crisp salad with the tangy lotus roots and served in the lovely Madame Lyn’s.
*Broth – families usually keep a large bottomless pot and is made from various left over meats and bone scraps and slow boiled with a bit of salt, onion and ginger. It is meant to be quite strong and is usually diluted with water. Standard bouillon cubes can be used as a quick alternative.
*Pho sauce – This is a mixture of star anise, nutmeg and cinnamon sticks. Overheat them in microwave, crush them, then slow boil in water and strain. Premade sauce can be found at Sapa or Thai’s Asian food shop.
*Pressure cooker – if you don’t have a pressure cooker slow boil the meat over low heat until tender.
Thai’s Asian Food Shop
Libušská 319/126, Praha 4
Directions to Sapa: take bus 113 from metro Kačerov (Red line) or bus 197 from Smíchovské Nádraží bus station to Sídliště Písnice
8:00-18:00 (some shops open until 20:00; opened on holidays)
Madame Lyn Vietnamese Restaurant
+420 606 307 777
Photos by Margot Buff.
Where do you go for your pho fix?