1997….From Hong Kong to Hanoi

After graduating university and living in London for a couple of years, I knew that I hadn’t finished living in Asia, so I packed my bags and decided to head off for 3 months travelling, with the aim of ending up in Hong Kong to hang out with my friends who had already made that move. Needless to say, Hong Kong in 1993 was open to anyone with a British passport so I decided a move there was just what I needed. I spent a fun packed and hard working 3.5 years, starting with an Australian outside caterer, and ending up managing a restaurant and bar. I credit Andrea Stedman of the Continental for opening my eyes to a totally new style of food. Andrea was way ahead of her time, and our little deli in Quarry Bay served food reminiscent of what Ottolenghi is turning out today. Based on the multicultural influences in Australia, it was all about the simplicity of flavour, and by being brave with bold flavours. I worked for Andrea for 2 years and managed her outside catering business, looking after events which ranged from a dinner for 2 on the top of the princes building to a cocktail party for 500 at Government House… Chris Pattens residence at the time.

After working for Andrea, I moved onto work for another fabulous Aussie, Kim Murphy and managed one of her restaurants in Wanchai, before deciding London was calling and it was time to go home. Our Ap Lei Chau flat was packed and ready to go, and we had a 2 month holiday in Australia and NZ planned when Kim asked if my boyfriend and I wanted to help her on a project in Hanoi. Well… Hanoi in 1997 was obviously going to be a challenge… but it was not an opportunity we were going to turn down! So our belongings went to London as planned, we did our Australia/NZ holiday and then went on to Hanoi to open The Press Club – a French/Vietnamese joint venture.

From Hong Kong to Hanoi… two worlds which could not be further apart. It was incredible. The crumbling French colonial buildings, the crazy motorbikes whizzing around Hoan Kiem lake, the lack of infrastructure…. the charm of Hanoi was unmistakeable. We rented a house from an elderly Vietnamese man who spoke to us in French and bought me flowers once a week. My boyfriend took a motorcycle taxi to work for US$1 each way. We had a lady come and clean most days, and cooked the most amazing Vietnamese food at least twice a week. Life was challenging, but we loved it. Our colleagues were gorgeous – young happy smiling Vietnamese who wanted to embrace the new world having been brought up in the Communism of North Vietnam. It was a fascinating time to be there.

The food was inspiring – unlike anything I had tasted before. Light, fragrant with herbs, fresh salad, salty, spicy, sweet… like Thai, but more subtle, and the French influences of bread and coffee. My favourite lunchtime treat was to go out with my team and eat street food – Bun cha – chargrilled pork belly and little pork meatballs with fresh salad and noodles was my absolute favourite.

Dinner last night was inspired by those lunches….

Pork & Lemongrass meatballs with salad and grilled aubergine

600g Minced Pork

1 stick Lemon grass

5 Kaffir lime leaves

1 clove garlic

1 knob of ginger

1 red chilli

1 Tsp brown sugar

2 Tsp fish sauce

Handful of coriander

2 spring onions

Salt to taste

Put all the ingredients except the pork into a small electric chopped and whizz until smooth. The mix with the minced pork in a large bowl until all combined. Shape into meatballs.

1 Aubergine – Sliced and grilled on a pan or BBQ

Dressing:

1 red Chilli

1 clove garlic

1 Tsp brown sugar

Juice of 1 lime

4 TBs Fish Sauce

Handful of fresh mint

Handful of fresh coriander

Mix the dressing ingredients together with your electric chopper (or chop herbs, chilli and garlic by hand and then combine with the remainder of the ingredients.

Little Gem lettuce to serve, extra coriander.

Chargrill or BBQ the meatballs – turning to ensure they are nicely browned and cooked all the way through.

Lay your lettuce leaves out on a flat plate. Place the grilled aubergines on one side of the platter and drizzle with a good amount of dressing. Place your meatballs on top of  the lettuce leaves and drizzle with the remaining dressing. Garnish with the coriander.

Eat, Enjoy and imagine being on the side of a  busy street with the sound of motorbikes whizzing by.

*For non pork eaters, you can substitute with minced chicken.

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