For a long time, my only interests in travel were to Europe. Soak up the western European culture, feel all fancy-like with my croissants, cacio e pepe and jamon iberico and head back home to Melbourne to pay off my severely depleted credit card. Not a bad life, but not exactly adventurous when it comes to travel.
Don't get me wrong, my visits were amazing and a great eye-opener. But it was not exactly the greatest test to visit countries with similar food, accessible transport and a fairly decent grasp of the English language to fall back on. I needed a bigger challenge. Flights were cheap to Vietnam, so guess where this tightarse chose to travel next?
I was the most immersed in a culture I have ever been in my life. The people were beautiful, the streets were loud and pungent and the food crazy, crazy, crazy good. Everything was so fresh and full of amped up flavour.
The one area I really struggled to throw myself into their culture was breakfast. Instead of a giant bowl of pho or the odd bowl of congee I'd see around the traps, I did as many tourists did and ate the banana pancakes. It was a little embarrassing for a food-obsessed person, but I stopped short of buying a "Same Same but different" muscle top to cement my shame.
On my last day in Saigon, I decided to throw caution to the wind and dig into a bowl of pho. Beefy, soupy, noodley, amazingy. Herbs, chilli and lime were added according to your own tastes. It's no wonder Bill Clinton had eaten three bowls (or so said almost every pho shop in our quarter).
It's only recently I've gotten into the savoury soupy breakfast. I woke one recent weekend and decided this was it: my days of sweet porridge were coming to an end. It's the kind of revelation truly deep people have these days. I'd begun my transition with a visit to St Ali trying their salted butter porridge with brown sugar: kinda half and half sweet and savoury. Good, but not whole savoury cigar.
I definitely had my savoury pants on this day. That doesn't sound appetising does it? This was a rich, deep, meaty porridge. It was almost like a risotto made with oats - and the pancetta gave it the smokey kick up the backside it so deserved. The drizzle of egg yolk through the mix on served to enrich the sauce even further.
When I decided it couldn't possibly get any more rich, I decided to shallow fry some truffle polenta to enjoy on the side. Subtlety is certainly not my strong suit. Actually, I don't think I own that suit. If I do, it's crumpled up in the bottom of my wardrobe. Or left at the cleaners for the past 6 months.
I'll be perfectly honest: I couldn't eat a whole serving of this dish. It was filling and intense and I enjoyed every mouthful. But I know my limits and this one defeated me. No matter. More for Ron.
So while it's not Vietnamese in style, this breakfast was a definite break in tradition for me. It wasn't porridge with bananas and it wasn't eggs on toast. And it was totes delicious. Bill Clinton would have eaten four servings, I know this much for sure.
1/3 cup oats
1 tsp olive oil
3 thick cut rashers of pancetta, cut into lardons
1 shallot, finely diced
1/2 carrot, finely diced
1 1/2 cups chicken stock
1 cup kale, finely sliced
2 tbsp dried mushrooms
1/2 cup hot water
1 tbsp white vinegar
Soak mushrooms in the hot water and cover for at least 10 minutes. Remove from the water and slice finely.
Heat olive oil in a frypan and saute pancetta until just colouring. Add the shallots and carrots and saute further until the vegetables have softened. Add the oats and toast for a couple of minutes, stirring regularly to ensure they don't burn.
Add the stock and simmer, stirring occasionally, for around 5 minutes. Add the kale and cook for another 3 minutes.
To poach egg, bring water to boil in a saucepan. Reduce to a simmer and add the vinegar. Crack the egg carefully into a mug and lower into the water, tipping the egg out gently. Cook for around 3 minutes, or until the white has set but the yolk is still runny. If you like the yolk firm, I'm not sure we can be friends anymore.
To serve, spoon the porridge into a shallow bowl and top with the poached egg. Season well and serve with some crusty bread or fried polenta on the side.