In September 2008, Maggie and I flew to Rome to join a coach tour of Italy; it was our first overseas trip together. We met our tour guide – Marco the Magnifico – on the evening before the tour commenced. Addressing our group, he uttered the infamous words: “this is not a holiday; it’s a tour”!
And that has been the case for all but a few days of our many subsequent travels – we go touring, either on an organised itinerary aboard a coach or a boat, or under our own steam, by car or train.
Last month, however, we broke away from our established pattern and travelled to a faraway resort – The Grand Sheraton Da Nang – and had a holiday. No wake-up calls, no repacking the luggage every second night. Just a beachside bar, an abundance of dining options, one of the world’s great mattresses for late awakenings and free-range siestas, and a swimming pool, all 210 metres of it at a constant waddling depth of 1.3 metres.
We booked this holiday with a view to having a “taste” of Vietnam and then deciding if we would return for a thorough exploration, ie go touring. And “taste” we did, especially your correspondent. I would begin each day with a bowl of pho or similar and continue to select mostly Asian dishes from the diverse menus at the resort’s three main dining spaces. So0n enough, Maggie joined the party, finding the Vietnamese style of salads very attractive; more of that, in a follow-up post.
Of all the dishes I ordered, the one which really got my palate excited and begging for more was the head chef’s version of the Laotian dish ‘duck larb’. (Larb is the generic term and can be made using minced meat of various types.)
The duck larb I ate at the resort – not once, but twice – included some non-traditional, small, crunchy pieces of peeled pear, which added appealing texture and flavour variety. Once we were back home in Melbourne, we found a recipe that gave us a sound starting point, from which we added our own twists, including the fruit element.
Here is a plateful of our version of Duck larb, followed by our recipe
vegetable oil, for shallow frying
3 large French shallots, peeled, halved and thinly sliced
2 duck breasts, skin removed and reserved, flesh finely chopped (350g – 400g)
3 cm piece of ginger or 1½ tsp ginger powder (we use powder if step 1 doesn’t work)
1 tbsp arborio rice or similar
20ml lime juice
15ml fish sauce
2 tsp caster sugar
60ml chopped parsley, or 30ml each of parsley and coriander
30 ml chopped mint
½-¾ tsp chilli flakes
1 crisp apple or pear, peeled and diced (use about 80g)
4-6 crunchy lettuce leaves (to refresh your palate at regular intervals!)
- Peel the ginger and slice it finely (about 2mm). Dry roast the ginger in a small frypan over mild heat until dry and toasted (12-15 minutes). When cool, pound it in a mortar and pestle until finely ground. Set aside.
- Add rice to pan and cook over medium heat, shaking occasionally, until toasted (3-4 minutes). Tip into mortar and pestle and grind to a powder. Set aside.
- Pour vegetable oil into a flat-based wok to a depth of about 4mm and heat until hot. Add two-thirds of the shallot and stir occasionally until golden brown and crispy. Remove and drain on paper towel.
- Slice the duck skin into strips (about 8mm long), add to wok and turn occasionally until crisp and golden. Remove and drain on paper towel. Discard the oil and wipe out the wok.
- In the meantime, use three separate small bowls to combine fruit and 2 tsp lime juice; remaining shallot with fish sauce and 2 tsp lime juice; and 2 tsp ground rice, 1 tsp of the ground ginger, the chilli flakes and the sugar.
- Heat wok, add chopped duck meat and 2 tsp of water. Stir frequently until duck is cooked through (3-4 mins). Remove from heat. Spoon out excess liquid.
- Add the herbs and the contents of the three small bowls. Briefly stir to combine.
- Serve scattered with the fried shallot, duck skin and 1 extra teaspoon of the rice powder with the cos lettuce leaves on the side.