I dined like a Queen during my recent visit to Vietnam. Our table was usually a seafood smorgasbord of prawns, shrimp, oysters, and clams. Because seafood in Vietnam is relatively cheap, we took full advantage of it and stuffed our faces. Among all the fancy seafood dishes we had, the dish that caught my attention was a peasant dish of boiled vegetables and a savory dipping sauce, Mam Kho Quet.
Mam Kho Quet is fish sauce braised in a clay pot with chunks of pork belly and dried shrimp. This savory dipping sauce is served with vegetables such as carrots, broccoli, daikon, and okra, simply boiled and cut into bite size pieces.
It's a dish derived from poverty in Vietnam when farmers had plentiful vegetables and very little protein. The little protein they had, pork belly or pork fat, is rendered to add calories to an otherwise meager meal. The sauce is slowly braised in a clay pot until thicken and served as a dipping sauce for the vegetables. A small clay pot of sauce can serve an entire family.
Although this dish is peasant food, you will find them in high-end restaurants nowadays all around Saigon. It's a taste of the past that is making its way back to the mainstream.
Savory Vietnamese Vegetable Dipping Sauce (Mắm Kho Quẹt) Recipe:
- 2 1/2 tablespoons fish sauce
- 3 tablespoons granulated sugar
- 2 tablespoons of pork fat; diced
- 2 large garlic cloves; minced
- 1 small shallot; minced
- 2 tablespoons of dried shrimp; soaked in warm water at least 5 minutes, rinsed, pat dried then minced
- Assorted vegetables cut into sticks or bite sizes (carrots, broccoli, cauliflower, daikon, okra, bitter melon, etc.)
- Mix together the fish sauce and sugar. Set aside.
- In a small clay pot or small sauce pan, toss in the pork fat. Stir the pork continuously to render the fat. Once crispy, remove from pot and set aside. This will be added back as garnish. If you want a healthy version of this dish, omit the pork fat and use a tablespoon of vegetable oil.
- In the same clay pot with the rendered pork fat or vegetable oil, add the garlic and shallot. Stir until fragrant.
- Add in the shrimp and stir until fragrant.
- Add in the fish sauce mixture.
- Cook for about 20 minutes or until the sauce reduces to half and thickens.
- Add the fried pork fats on top.
- In a large pot, boiled your vegetables. Some vegetables such as carrots will require a longer cooking time so put those vegetable in the pot first. Drain in a colander then served with sauce.