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Coconut ice-cream with pandan sticky rice (kem xôi)

>> Monday, February 28, 2011

Delicious Vietnam #11

Coconut ice-cream with pandan sticky rice (kem xôi)

It was a cold winter day with typical Hanoi weather. Light rain, and with the icy chilliness that went deep to the bones. I took Mr. B. to my favourite ice-cream shop in Hanoi. Second favourite to be fair. The top one was at Tràng Tiền street, which sold the best mung-bean flavor ice-cream. But that day, I wanted to show mr. B kem xôi – basically coconut ice-cream served with tiny bit of pandan flavoured sticky rice and toasted coconut pieces. It was cold, but I enjoyed such a sweet treat wholeheartedly.

Truthfully the kem xôi I ate that day wasn’t as good as I had remembered. The ice-cream was made of cheaper ingredients, and didn’t have that creamy texture of a good ice-cream. The sticky rice part was, thankfully, really well-done. Sticky rice could be really dry but this shop had mastered how to cook it perfectly. The grain was al dante. My favourite bit of kem xôi was the toasted coconut pieces, which have wonderful nutty and coconut flavor and aroma. I always believe that such addition was the key to make kem xôi special. It was the link to bind the ice-cream together with the sticky rice component of the dish. (And, who can disagree that pandan and coconut are borne for each other?)

Coconut ice-cream with pandan sticky rice (kem xôi)

So, kem xôi has been my craving ever since. Even though my childhood treat isn’t the tastiest ice-cream I have tried, the toasted coconut flavours never lose its appeal on me. I have always wanted to try to make coconuc ice-cream. No, not the recipe with loads of coconut milk/cream, but something else. An ice-cream recipe which gives me that toasted coconut flavor.

I guess I have Tony Tan to thanks for (thank you!). It is his coconut ice-cream recipe which helps to satisfy my craving. The recipe is perfect, although I did double the amount of toasted coconut to really define the flavours. Of course, I made pandan sticky rice to pair with the ice-cream. And more toasted coconut! Kem xôi, just like the old days, only better!

This post is my contribution to Delicious Vietnam #11 (march edition). This edition is hosted by Nam Nguyen at The Culinary Chronicles. More details can be found here.

Coconut ice-cream with pandan sticky rice (kem xôi)

Coconut ice-cream with pandan sticky rice (kem xôi)

The ice-cream part is adapted from a recipe by Tony Tan, appeared in Gourmet Traveller.

Printable recipe

The sticky rice
100g sticky rice (the normal kind) – soaked in cold water overnight
A pinch of salt
50g castor sugar
½ tsp pandan paste (if you have fresh pandan leaves, this will be better)
The ice-cream
100 g desiccated coconut (plus more, to serve)
300 ml pouring cream
300 ml milk
100 gm dark brown sugar
6 egg yolks

Extra: toasted desiccated coconut to serve


For coconut ice-cream, toast the coconut in a frying pan over low heat, stirring occasionally, until golden (4-5 minutes). Transfer to a saucepan, add cream, milk and palm sugar, then bring to the simmer over low heat. Simmer for 1 minute, remove from heat, cover and stand for 10 minutes to infuse. Meanwhile, whisk yolks in a heatproof bowl to combine, then add cream mixture, whisking continuously to combine. Return to pan and stir continuously until mixture coats the back of a wooden spoon thickly (5-6 minutes). Strain through a fine sieve into a bowl placed over ice, pressing solids to extract all liquid (discard solids), cool completely in the fridge overnight. Freeze in an ice-cream machine according to manufacturer’s instructions and freeze until required. Makes about 1 litre.

For the sticky rice part, drain the rice and put in a microwave safe bowl. Add in the pandan paste, a pinch of salt and just enough water to barely cover the surface of the rice. Stir to combine. Cover with cling wrap. Cook in the microwave for 5-10 minutes or until the rice is cooked. (The cooking time depends on your microwave. Stir in between and taste – don’t overcook the rice). Alternatively, steam the sticky rice with a steamer. Once it is cooked, stir in the sugar and cool completely.

To serve: one part sticky-rice, one-two parts ice-cream and top with lots of toasted desiccated coconut!

Coconut ice-cream with pandan sticky rice (kem xôi)


Delicious Vietnam #10 – Deconstructing Vietnamese Coffee {Hanoi Style}

>> Monday, February 14, 2011

Perfect looking Vietnamese coffee

Vietnamese iced coffee, the sweetened version loaded with lots of condensed milk, has been the favourite snack of many in the western world. But truly, that weak and sweet coffee is nowhere close to the local version in Hanoi which is so strong, fragrant and almost liquor like. One sip, and the addiction starts.

Vietnamese coffee is brewed using finely ground dark roast coffee. Different blends produce an array of tastes and finishes. Various coffee houses also have their own way of roasting coffee beans. Trung Nguyên, a popular brand, uses cocoa butter and cocoa flavouring in their coffee. The aftertaste is sweet, chocolaty and vanilla like. Chicory is added to certain coffee brands for smoky dimension. I know Mai does. Others are more pure in their approach – just strong black and intense flavours.

The basic coffee menu is quite standard across places. We Hanoians order coffee by color code. Black coffee is well, black (đen). Coffee with condensed milk is called “brown” (nâu). Then, you can have it hot or with ice. For example, đen đá is iced black coffee, and nâu nóng is hot coffee with milk.

Vietnamese coffee

If you are new to Vietnamese coffee, start with iced milk coffee (nâu đá or cà phê sữa đá). This has large portion of condensed milk, and when mixed with black coffee liquid, the result is like coffee and rich chocolate together. It normally serves in tall glass in three layers – condensed milk, hot coffee and crushed ice. To drink, just use the spoon to mix everything together. Delicious!

My personal favourite is nâu nóng (hot milk coffee). Typically, the amount of condensed milk is much less, just enough to bring out the dark coffee flavours. The coffee is smooth and buttery but not milky.

Just like a shot of espresso is not everyone’s favourite, black Vietnamese coffee (cà phê đen) is reserved for the addicted only. Served in a small cup, it is pure black liquid – so dense and dark. The coffee is not bitter (if done well), but very smooth on the palate and has that liquor like effects. Sure, it can be tamed by adding some crushed ice. But still, be warned. The coffee can be really strong.

Hanoi Cafe Corner

Making coffee is a science, and also an art. Traditionally, Vietnamese coffee is made with a small metal French drip filter. It takes good experience to pack the right amount of coffee to create enough pressure so that the speed of coffee drop is not too quick, or too slow. A while back, coffee is served with a filter at the table. However, time changes. It seems that no one has enough time to wait around anymore, so Hanoi cafés opt to brew their coffee in advance. In my recent trip, I asked for a filter, and no one serves that anymore.

At home, I admit using a filter still produces the best Vietnamese coffee, but my dad has good results using coffee pot, the kind you would use on the stove. It’s quick and relatively simple to prepare.

Tastes and addiction aside, Hanoi café culture is something so unique and special, you must experience it once if coffee is your thing. Introduced to the local residents in the early 20th century, coffee has been the favourite of the upper and educated classes although cheaper coffee is available everywhere.

Everyone has their favourite café – either for the décor or the taste. I am of the later crowd. My favourite Hanoi café experience is in small, simply decorated shops around town. Nothing fancy but a few vintage items as decoration. The chair and tables are tiny, packed in small area. Uncomfortable it may seem, I can stay there for hours, alone with a book or chitchat with friends.

A few recommendations – this is not a comprehensive list of cafés in Hanoi, but rather the ones I kinda like. Do try if you ever get a chance to visit Hanoi. :)

+ Café Mai: A childhood favourite. Their original shop was so close to my school, and the fragrance of their roasted coffee beans got me addicted to coffee. Mai’s coffee has a sour finish (if drinking the black varieties). It has several locations, but I frequent their Nguyen Du operation.
+ Café Thọ: Very popular with the young crowd. Great space. The coffee is strong and good. There are several more cafes close by, but this one is a firm favourite of mine.
+ Café Giảng: one of the Big Four café fame that is still around today. After being forced to move out from their original spot in the Old Quarter after years of operation, it is now available at two locations. I like their home-style feel and approach. And because it brings back the memories of the old Hanoi, something I have a heart for.

Vietnamese coffee

This post is prepared for Delicious Vietnam #10, which is hosted by Mai of Flavour Boulevard. Pls head to her blog for the roundup!


A moment in life #48 - Hanoi colors

>> Thursday, February 10, 2011

At the moment I am in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia to enjoy the last leg of my Lunar New Year holidays. Soon I will be home, hopefully inspired enough to start cooking again in the kitchen…

Browsing through my photos to write up a post about Hanoi café for Delicious Vietnam makes me feel incredibly homesick. These photos show you the vivid side of Hanoi although I took them during the quieter days of the New Year.

Every girl in town seems to own a pretty Vespa. So stylist. I want one :)

Hanoi colors #1

Hàng Dầu Street is always busy and full of intimated designer shoes. Yeah, they look vibrant and real, aren't they?

Hanoi colors #4

How about these?

Hanoi colors #3

And finally, the colorful baloons for the child in us... :)

Hanoi colors #2


Happy Lunar New Year from Hanoi!

>> Wednesday, February 02, 2011

Hanoi & tet

Ahh what a feeling to spend the last moments of the Lunar calendar in my hometown, Hanoi. The moments are bittersweet….

Bitter moments when I realize that my hometown is no longer the same. It’s changed and evolved so quickly and I can hardly recognize it all. Sadness was the moment I saw my grandparents and realized that they too grew old. But happy and sweet are the moments of joyful reunion. Of family, and love.

Hanoi is far more crowded than I remember. However, in the past two days people have gone back to the countryside to reunite with their loved ones. Hectic moments are no longer here. Instead, I can feel the peace and calmness that I used to know.

Tomorrow is the first day of the Lunar New Year. For us Vietnamese, it will be the year of the Cat. For the rest of the Asian population, it will be the year of the Rabbit. ;) On this occasion, I wish everyone a really happy new year.

And I hope you enjoy some moments I captured on the streets of Hanoi in the past two days!

Happy new year! Chúc mừng năm mới!
Season’s greeting! Cung chúc tân xuân!

Plum blossom in Hanoi 
Plum blossoms (hoa đào) are the favourites for Lunar New Year. This year has been so cold, so there has not been much blossom. No worry though since it's getting warmer here.

A Hanoi Tet corner

We use these leaves to perfume our bath on Lunar New Year Eve. I think the leaves are called Lá Xông or Lá Hương. (Need to check with mom ^^)

Hanoi - Tet

Red is such a joyful color for us Asians!

Motorbike and flowers

This is so HANOI! Hahaha! Flowers on motorbike!

Hanoi Flower Market

Beautiful spring colors!

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