Welcome to the 60s…with a touch of ‘Nam

Tease. Spray. Tease. Spray. Tease. Tease. Tease. That’s what I spent a good hour doing last Friday afternoon, trying to get my silky, black-that-looks-red-under-the-light hair into a bouffant. It wasn’t just for fun, although I wish I had the time to throw myself back to the 50s and 60s all the time; it was for my dance studio fundraiser, which was 60s themed.

That was after I spent three hours making, for the first time, Vietnamese rice paper rolls. I’m not really sure how many I made in the end – it was enough to fill up three medium plastic plates – but it felt like it took forever. It was fiddly, messy, wet and testing. Testing of how tightly I could roll everything up without ripping the paper; testing of how well I could judge the ratios of all the cucumber, carrots, vermicelli, mint, coriander, mung beans, hoisin + soy + sesame + garlic sauce mix so that I had enough of everything and not too much or too little of anything; and testing of my conviction to finish it all.

I often think to myself when I’m cooking, and in many other situations as well, and I asked myself constantly that day: is this really worth it? Will anyone actually appreciate all the time I put into this?? I tasted the end product a number of times because quite a few of the rolls weren’t done tightly enough so the fillings were prone to falling out, or the paper ripped so the fillings actually did fall out. They needed a bit more flavour but they did taste really refreshing and light. I ended up dripping some sweet chilli sauce over the top in the hope that this would give the rolls more flavour. I assume people enjoyed them because there were none left at the end of the night. But then again, there wasn’t really much left of anything by the end of the night. Dancing makes for hungry play.

From this experience, I would not recommend making these rice paper rolls for an event unless you have a lot of time and delicate handwork. That’s not to say they’re not worth the effort – if made well, with care and good flavours, these can be spectacular – but just remember to be friendly with Time if you do make them.

I looked at two recipes for these rolls:


Also, I didn’t make a dipping sauce. The lovely mums helping out in the kitchen on the night walked around with the food on platters, offering them to the guests, so I don’t think they would have appreciated sloshy dipping sauce spilling everywhere. However, if it’s appropriate definitely make a dipping sauce – it just adds so much more flavour and you don’t want to spend all that time making something bland and uninteresting.

Photo: Tao Lin

Photo: Tao Lin

Melt-in-your mouth tofu stir fry with oyster mushrooms

When I hear people talk about how gross/bland/weird tofu is or how it’s something that only vegetarians and vegans should eat, I think it’s a real pity that they haven’t had a good experience with it. Yes, it is bland if you just have it by itself with absolutely no seasoning whatsoever but for those who have had it done well, you will know that tofu can taste fantastic.

In terms of mushrooms, champignon/button mushrooms have never been my vege of choice, although I eat them happily enough. I much prefer the textures and tastes of shitake, enokitake, straw and oyster mushrooms; I think this comes down a lot to the fact that I grew up eating predominantly Chinese food and I take a particular fancy towards Asian foods.

My mum’s tofu and oyster mushroom stir fry puts together two ingredients that some people may find foreign but once you try it, you’ll see there is nothing gross, or bland, or weird about it.

Ingredients consist of the Holy Trinity (sliced ginger, sliced garlic and diced spring onion), soy sauce, oyster mushrooms, fresh tofu of medium firmness (not silky or dried tofu), cornflower/starch, water, salt and vegetable oil.

The oil needs to be heated in a wok (just enough to cover the bottom of the wok) and the garlic, ginger and spring onions should be cooked in the oil for a minute or two. Cook the tofu first, moving it around in the wok regularly. It should start to get softer the more it cooks and as you move it around the wok, it should start to break apart a bit. Once this happens, add in the mushrooms. My mum sometimes takes the tofu out of the wok to cook the mushrooms and then adds the tofu back in later but either way works.

Tofu and oyster mushrooms 1

Fry the mushrooms for a couple of minutes until they are tender, gradually adding in a bit of water (only a couple of teaspoons) during the process. Lastly, add in salt and soy sauce to taste and then enough cornflour/starch to just slightly thicken the sauce. When cooked right, the tofu should be slightly browned on the outside and melt in your mouth – or if you’re like me, it’ll fall apart when you try to pick them up with chopsticks because you fail at the delicate art of chopstick holding (spoons essential).

Serve with freshly steamed rice and a drizzle of sesame oil 🙂