Last fall, Nick and I finally made our way to Vietnam, and to say that we were excited about the food is the understatement of the year. The food of Vietnam varies greatly by region, and true to its reputation, the small and charming town of Hoi An served us the best and most interesting dishes in all of Vietnam. Central Vietnam, where Hoi An is located, is the food bowl of Vietnam. Farms and orchards abound in the region, and its coastal location ensures a steady supply of fresh and varied seafood. Hoi An was also a bustling trading port back in its heydays in the late 19th century until the early 21st century. Chinese and Japanese merchants made their way here hundreds of years ago, and their influence is felt the most in the food. The Chinese left behind a legacy of noodles and spices; the Japanese the emphasis on simple but quality ingredients; and the local Vietnamese provided the raw materials.
This recipe is my attempt at replicating the mind blowingly good mango salad we had at a small family ran restaurant just off the Friendship Bridge in the heart of Old Town Hoi An. Every time I make this, I’m taken back to that bright and sunny morning we spent walking along the numerous streets and back alleys of Hoi An discovering the many tiny eateries and shops tucked in assuming shop houses. Hoi An is one of my happy places, and I hope this recipe makes you happy too, or at the very least, smile.
(Makes 3-4 servings)
- 4 green mangoes
- 2 red or green Thai chiles, with seeds, chopped
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- ½ cup fresh lime juice
- ¼ cup fish sauce
- 2 tablespoons sesame oil
- 2 teaspoons palm or light brown sugar
- 2 medium shallots, thinly sliced
- 1 tbsp grated ginger (best to grate over bowl or mortar used to make dressing)
- ½ cup fresh mint leaves
- ½ cup Thai basil (double mint leaves if unavailable)
- 2 tablespoons toasted sesame seeds
- Salt and pepper to taste
- Peel the green mango using a peeler. Once done, rinse the peeler and use it to peel thin strips of the mangoes until you reach the seed in the middle. Keep turning the mango as you’re peeling to ensure uniform slices. You can also use a mandolin if you have one, making sure to use the thinnest setting. You want to have thin and even mango ribbons
- If you have a mortar and pestle, pound together the garlic, chiles, shallots, palm sugar, and a few mint leaves until it forms a rough paste. Add lime juice, fish sauce, grated ginger, and sesame oil. Mash ingredients together until they form a smooth paste. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
- If using a food processor, add the garlic, chiles, shallots, palm sugar, lime juice, fish sauce, and grated ginger. Pulse until the consistency is a chunky paste. Turn on food processor and slowly add the sesame oil. Blitz until the consistency is that of a smooth and thick sauce. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
- Place mangoes in a bowl, add mint and Thai basil, drizzle the dressing, and mix thoroughly. Transfer to a serving bowl, and add sesame seeds on top right before serving.
NOTE: Dressing can be prepared a day or two in advance. Store in an airtight container in the refrigerator.