It’s time once again for my annual public service announcement: There is an incredible event happening in Carthage right now; an event responsible for ballooning the population from 14,000 to 100,000 but only for a few days; an event home to delicious foods, some of which you’ve likely never had before.
Marian Days is here. Finally.
Carthage has been home to the Vietnamese American Roman Catholic festival and pilgrimage for 42 years. For attendees, it’s a reunion of family and friends and a time of worship.
For rubber-necking guests, it’s a sensory explosion. The sights, smells and sounds are incredible and a reminder of how small our corner of the world really is. Experiencing difference is so important in learning and practicing empathy. So go. Even if you’re just in it for the food.
The whole thing can be intimidating, but if you’re willing to be vulnerable and ask questions, you’ll be put at ease. There are lots of grab-and-go dishes lining tables outside the food tents; if something isn’t labeled, just ask what it is. Your money goes to a church whose volunteers are running the food tent.
My advice is to try everything. I’ve had things I’ve loved and things I wished I hadn’t put in my mouth. No regrets.
Step inside one of the many food tents and have a seat. Note the condiments on the tables and try them all; the fish sauce-based nuoc cham is perfection. It’s sweet, spicy and vinegary, and I want it on everything. The food tents are restaurants; there are menus in English (some even have pictures), and a server will approach you to take your order. That’s the easy part.
What’s hard is choosing what to order. Lucky for you, I have some suggestions.
If you only plan to go one time, I would suggest otherwise. There are simply too many delicious dishes and not enough room in the stomach. Story of my life.
Play it safe with crowd favorites:
• Pho, an incredible noodle soup with herbs and your choice of meat.
• Bun, which is a lot like pho without the broth and is sometimes described as “noodle salad.”
• Banh mi, a meaty, herby sandwich on a crusty baguette.
• For Pete’s sake, don’t leave without a boba drink, which comes in a variety of flavors, my favorite being taro.
Boba drinks come with or without the boba, which are chewy, marble-sized tapioca pearls.
If the basics bore you, trust and believe that there are plenty of other exciting options. My mouth is already watering for the spicy pho I love so, even though I do remove the gelatin-like cubes of coagulated blood resembling chocolate pudding. We all have our limits.
The food tents at Marian Days will be open until Saturday night. Go. Once you’ve fallen for the fresh flavor explosion that is Vietnamese food, try these recipes. Fox Farm Whole Food is a great place to grab any of the Asian ingredients you may not have on hand.
1 cup hot water
1/2 cup white sugar
1/2 cup freshly squeezed lime juice
1/3 cup Vietnamese fish sauce
2 medium cloves garlic, minced
1 small bird’s eye chili, minced (optional)
In a small bowl, whisk together water and sugar until sugar dissolves. Add in lime juice, fish sauce, garlic and chili (if using) and stir to combine. Use immediately or store in an airtight container in the refrigerator.
Recipe source: www.seriouseats.com.
Vietnamese lettuce wraps
1 bunch scallions, green parts only
1 head bibb lettuce, leaves separated and halved through rib
4 ounces cooked thin rice noodles
8 ounces roasted pork tenderloin, cut into 1/4-inch slices
10 cooked medium shrimp, peeled, deveined and halved lengthwise
20 tender tops of cilantro stems with leaves
20 mint leaves
Nuoc cham sauce, for dipping
Bring a 4-quart saucepan of water to a boil; add scallion greens and immediately drain. Separate on paper towels and set aside.
Place 1 lettuce leaf half on a work surface and top with a small amount of the cooked noodles. Place a slice of pork over noodles and then top with a shrimp, place a cilantro top and mint leaf over shrimp, and close lettuce around fillings to create a wrap.
Tie a blanched scallion green around the lettuce wrap to secure it closed; repeat with remaining lettuce leaves, noodles, pork, shrimp, cilantro tops, mint and scallion greens until you have about 20 wraps. Serve with nuoc cham for dipping.
Recipe adapted from www.saveur.com.
Bun thit nuong (Vietnamese grilled pork and rice noodles)
1 1/2 pounds pork shoulder (any cut will do)
1 package rice vermicelli, small or medium thickness
3 tablespoons shallots, minced
1 1/2 tablespoons garlic, minced
1/4 cup sugar
1 tablespoon fish sauce
1/2 tablespoon thick soy sauce
1/2 tablespoon pepper
3 tablespoons neutral cooking oil
Mint, basil, cilantro
Pickled daikon and carrots
Slice the uncooked pork thinly, about 1/8 inch. It helps to slightly freeze it before slicing. Mince garlic and shallots. Mix in a bowl with sugar, fish sauce, thick soy sauce, pepper and oil until sugar dissolves. Marinate the meat for 1 hour or overnight for better results.
Bake the pork at 375 degrees for 10-15 minutes or until about 80% cooked. Finish cooking by broiling in the oven until a nice golden brown color develops, flipping the pieces midway. Assemble your bowl with veggies, noodles and garnish. Mix the whole bowl up and pour the fish sauce on top, or make individual bites and sauce it slowly.
Recipe adapted from www.hungryhuy.com.
Amanda Stone works in educational services, marketing and special features at the Globe. Contact her at 417-627-7288 or email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.