Cao lầu - Vietnamese noodle dish

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Cao lầu is a traditional noodle dish from the town of Hoi An, in central Vietnam. I was introduced to it while visiting the country earlier in the year and found it very tasty. I therefore wanted to recreate it even if that meant I had to use quite a few alternative ingredients.

The dish is traditionally made with pork and specific cao lầu noodles which are made from local rice that has been pre-soaked in water with lye made from wood ash. The noodles are thick and yellow in colour with a slight smokey flavour. For this dish I have substituted pork with tofu, the cao lầu noodles with thick brown rice noodles and deep-fried croutons with some crisp bread.

The recipe below is my attempt to replicate what I had at a local vegetarian restaurant in Hoi An and is definitely not authentic but I really liked how it turned out. So if you’re looking for something savoury, simple to cook yet super satisfying try this recipe and let me know how you liked it!

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This recipe serves 4 people

Ingredients

3 cm ginger
2 garlic cloves
1/2 - 1 chili (depending on how hot you like it)
1 onion, coarsely diced

1 block of tofu

Handful of mushrooms, I used chestnut and shiitake
1 veggie bouillon
2 -3 tbsps Chinese five spice powder (a mixture of cinnamon, ginger, cloves and pepper)
1 tbsp maple syrup
1 tbsp soy sauce
3 1/2 cups water
1 lime squeezed
1 package thick brown rice noodles

2 cups crunchy lettuce
1 cup basil leaves
1 cup cilantro
1 lime cut into wedges
1 package crispbread broken into pieces

Method

Using a pestle and mortar grind down the garlic cloves, chili and ginger. If you don’t have one, press the garlic, finely slice the chili and ginger. Dice the onion coarsely and add everything together in a large pot with some oil. Turn the heat to medium and fry until translucent.

Drain the water from the tofu and lightly press any excess water from it using a kitchen towel. Slice into medium size cubes and coat with sesame/peanut/olive oil. Bake in oven until slightly brown at 200 degrees Celsius.

In a small bowl mix the vegetable bouillon with a bit (1/4 cup or so) of hot water until it disintegrates, add the soy sauce, maple syrup and five spice and stir. Add this mixture to the garlic ginger pot. Then add the lime juice and 3 1/2 cups of water, wait until it boils. Finally add the noodles and wait for them to cook.

Remove the tofu from the oven. Prepare the lettuce, basil leaves and cilantro so they can be easily added to a bowl, slice the lime into wedges and break the crips bread into pieces.

Serve the soup with the tofu pieces, lettuce, basil, cilantro and crisp bread and a lime wedge on the side for flavouring.