Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Fertilized Duck Eggs in a Tamarind Sauce (serves 1-2)


Since I am in between jobs I have decided to take this rare and amazing opportunity of my life to visit with my nearly 95 year old Ah Ma (grandmother in Teochew) in Vietnam for the next 3 months. Basically, I am staying until my visiting visa runs out. My husband asked me if the visa was longer such as 6 months or a year would I have stayed that long. I answered "maybe". My main goal for this extended visit is to spend quality time with my Ah Ma. I am also looking forward to celebrate her 95th birthday and the Lunar New Year. My Ah Ma is very independent. I am glad to see she continues to do all of her activities of daily living (which in nursing we use the acronym ADLs). She even washes all of her own clothes and dishware/chopsticks. This is her current morning routine; after waking up while in bed she would exercise her legs by peddling them in the air. She believes this makes her legs stronger. She then washes her forehead skin lesion (what looks to me like psoriasis that she has for about 10 years) carefully with a clean cotton pad in warm previously cooked water. She also washes her eyes with another clean cotton pad. She said she washes her good eye first then the bad eye. She suffered from glaucoma and lost her right eye many years ago. Although she has one good eye she can see far better than many people I know with two or four eyes. Since my visit she said everything I made for her tasted very good. I am glad I met her approval because she was an excellent cook in her culinary days. She always said that if you do not like the food then eat less. Just don't ever insult the cook by saying anything negative. I wish everyone has her attitude!

After over 24 hours of flight time and what seemed like days of traveling on the plane from Boston I finally made it to Tan San Nhut (Ho Chi Minh City). I was happy to leave the airport to be greeted by my uncle and a cousin. One of my cousins has a car service and he had one of his drivers come to the airport to escort me back to Nga Ba An Trach (a small village about 3 miles from the nearby larger city of Soc Trang). The ride was very comfortable due to better road conditions and lack of traffic. We left after 11 pm and made it to Ah Ma's home around 3:30 am (covering 134 miles). For Vietnam that is very good driving. In the past I had to pass 2 ferry crossings and that easily took 6 plus hours for the same distance. When I got to my grandmother's I decided to sleep until 8am in order for my body to get acclimated to the local time zone. 

Two days after arriving in Vietnam, I borrowed my uncle's bicycle and peddled down Highway 1 to the other side of the village to visit my relatives at Minh Chau Restaurant. My second maternal aunt and uncle (known to me as Di Y and Di Tia in Teochew) own this tiny family-run eatery. Perhaps I am a bit biased but I think they have the best noodles in this area. I have blogged a little about their restaurant in the past. 

I have eaten many boiled fertilized duck eggs (known as hột vịt lộn in Vietnamese) in my life but never had it with a tamarind sauce. Di Y (pronounced yee ee) introduced me to this dish while I was visiting her. She walked me through the process of making it when she was not too busy with customers. She said the sauce must have a balance of sourness, sweetness and saltiness. She mentioned to me she just learned about this dish recently herself from one of her exercise group ladies. A few of my cousins told me that they like it but do not know how to prepare it. Some people especially those who did not grow up eating them cannot eat fertilized duck eggs. Some told me that they cannot fathom swallowing a baby duck's beak, feathers and bones. I grew up eating them so I find it normal. To me ingesting these eggs is equivalent to eating both an egg and a duck in one sitting--which I find it to be a two in one bonus! The perfect egg is when the white part is small (in Vietnamese a term known as "úp mề") and the baby duck is not fully developed.  You don't want the egg when the baby duck is about to hatch! The feathers and bones will be too tough to chew if this happens. After cooking all of the interior of the egg may be consumed. Sometimes when the egg is too matured the egg white gets too large and tough to be tasty and I typically discard this part. You may check out the Wikipedia link for more info on balut or fertilized duck eggs. 

fresh fertilized duck eggs at the market
boiled fertilized duck eggs
tamarind pulp and seeds and hot water = tamarind juice
Ingredients:

Fertilized eggs (4-8 cooked), removed the shells and reserved any duck juice
5 Tbsp hot water
2 Tbsp tamarind pulp with or without seeds
1 Tbsp sugar
1 tsp salt
1 Tbsp garlic oil
Roasted peanuts, garnish
Rau ram (or Vietnamese coriander), garnish

Method:

1) Put water and tamarind pulp with seeds in a small bowl. Gently mash the tamarind pulp with the back of a spoon to remove the meat and render as much juice as possible.
2) Drain the tamarind juice into a small pan over medium high heat. Add sugar, salt, garlic oil and duck juice. Cook for about 2-3 minutes.
3) Add the eggs. Gently coat the eggs well with the sauce. Let it simmer for about 4-5 minutes.
4) Remove and serve with chopped roasted peanuts and rau ram (Vietnamese coriander).

*To make garlic oil, finely chop as much or as little garlic as you will need. Fry this with a little oil until the garlic is a beautiful golden brown. Transfer the contents to a bowl or container immediately to stop the garlic from further cooking and burn.
*Some people discard the duck juice but my aunt and I like to add it to the sauce.

the proper way to eat these boiled fertilized duck eggs in Vietnam
include rau ram (Vietnamese coriander) and a salt/pepper dip
Boiled Fertilized Duck Eggs

Ingredients:

Fertilized duck eggs
Water
Rau ram (Vietnamese coriander)
Salt and black pepper mixture for dipping

Method:

In a pot place the duck eggs inside and add enough water to cover the eggs.
Boil for about 20-25 minutes.  May eat with rau ram (or Vietnamese coriander) and salt and pepper dipping.

*The tiny tea cups (seen above) used to hold the eggs came from China. My grandmother came to Vietnam to marry my grandfather (Ah Con) when she was 18. She came to Vietnam with just a portrait of Ah Con and a knowledge that he was also Teochew. She came without knowing a single word of Vietnamese and had to learn. She speaks both Vietnamese and Khmer but with a heavy Tewchew accent. She returned once to China after 50 plus years later to visit relatives and bought a tea set as a souvenir. I took the photo (seen below) of my grandmother and my maternal eldest aunt (currently visiting from Minnesota) after I have arrived to Nga Ba An Trach (Vietnam).

my Ah Ma and Tua Y--her 75 year old daughter (2014)
Addendum:
Here are a few photos that I took from my aunt's exercise class. They meet just about every evening around 5pm at a local school ground.

bar exercise
The auntie at the center front in a white shirt
and blue bottoms is the instructor.
She dedicates her time to improve these people's health.
The red fan exercise is everyone's favorite!
a group photo

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