World-famous Chinese-American chef Martin Yan is deeply in love with Vietnam and its cuisine, and is willing to promote it to the rest of the world.
Yan has recently launched a 26-episode reality show titled “Martin – Taste of Vietnam”, in which he travels to 15 provinces and cities including Hanoi, Ho Chi Minh City, Lao Cai, Ninh Binh, Da Nang, Hue, Nha Trang, Tien Giang and Can Tho to explore and showcase their places of interest, intriguing cuisine and culture.
The 64-year-old food expert shared his profound love for Vietnam, saying he was even thinking about moving to the country if the show is a success.
In 2008, Yan and some of his friends visited Vietnam from Hong Kong during the Tet holiday.
“The heartwarming welcome the Vietnamese gave me – as a total stranger, not a famed chef – impressed me most,” Yan recalled.
His love for the country has budded and blossomed since then.
Martin Yan is harvesting rice with ethnic minority Dao Do women on Muong Hoa valley, filled with terraced paddies in northern Lao Cai province’s Sa Pa town. Photo: Hoang Thach Van.
This June, Yan and his extended family of more than 40 members will take a long trip to Vietnam.
“I’m more than ready to showcase Vietnamese cuisine to the world,” Yan said with his iconic jerk of the thumb.
‘Martin Yan- Taste of Vietnam’ show is broadcast on the Asian Food Channel (AFC) and several American channels, in addition to local TV networks.
The show, in which Yan joins local artisans in preparing two to three dishes in each 20-24 minute episode, will also be aired in 25 other countries.
Yan is groping for crabs and eels just like a real farmer. Photo: Lam Chieu.
Martin Yan is learning to make My Long coconut-scented banh trang (rice papers) in southern Ben Tre province’s Giong Trom district. Photo: Hoang Thach Van.
The most unforgettable dish
When asked which Vietnamese dish impressed him most while he was filming the show, Yan replied without hesitation: ‘It’s com tam (cooked broken rice)!’.
“Tam is what falls out from normal rice and contains fewer nutrients. Instead of discarding them, the Vietnamese frugally use them to make such a tasty, healthful dish,” Yan commented.
A cha ca (fried fish paste) small-scale business at Xom Moi market in central Khanh Hoa province’s Nha Trang city. Photo: Hoang Thach Van.
The most delicious, cosy meal
Yan considered the meal which he himself prepared with home-grown fish and vegetables and shared with a large family in Vung Vieng fishing village in northern Quang Ninh province his most delicious one.
Though the family couldn’t even afford a light bulb, they gathered with the total stranger and shared an intimate meal.
Martin Yan is having his favorite meal with fish and soup together with a fisherman family at Vung Vieng fishing village in northern Quang Ninh province. Photo: Lam Chieu.
The most beautifully strange dish
Yan said he was lucky to taste the flamboyant petals of vo thuong flowers during his visit to Viet Hai fishing village in Hai Phong city’s Cat Ba National Park.
The petals of the flowers, which look like upside down lanterns, are usually dried and made into jam, a local specialty.
Their pistils are also dried and used as an aromatic tea, while the sour-tasting leaves serve as spices in several local dishes.
Martin Yan made Hai Huong cha ca, a famous brand name in Nha Trang. Photo: Hoang Thach Van.
Martin Yan and Miss Vietnam 2010 runner-up Hoang My are tasting fresh vo thuong flowers before turning them into jam. Photo: Lam Chieu.
Among Yan’s friends in Vietnam is French chef Didier Corlou, who left behind his fame as one of France’s top master chefs to act on his heart’s desire.
Armed with 30 years of experience in working at the global Sofitel hotel chain and ‘directing’ hundreds of banquets for top-ranking politicians in Paris, Corlou’s destiny with Vietnam began in 1991, when he worked at the Sofitel Metropole in Hanoi.
After falling in love with a Hanoian woman and her dishes, he decided to stay in the country.
After exploring Vietnamese cuisine, Corlou realized that nuoc mam (fish sauce) is an indispensable spice in many local dishes.
He invented the Sel de nuoc mam (Salt of nuoc mam), a mixture of nuoc mam and unrefined salt.
Yan and Corlou once prepared a four-course French meal with Vietnamese spices.
Corlou kept reminding Yan to pour some nuoc mam into the dishes, while Yan was sneezing the whole time from the aroma of the spices.
Martin Yan and French chef Didier Corlou are preparing French dishes with Vietnamese spices. Photo: Lam Chieu.