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Tacos al Pastor July 12, 2007

Posted by adrien in Food facts, Mexican Cuisine, puerto vallarta, street foods.
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For the last diner in PV before our trip to Vietnam, some tacos al pastor will make it: delicious, fast and we will bring along with us a good taste of Mexico to South East Asia.
There is about 20 tacos al pastor places in Puerto Vallarta, some very good and others really bad, but my favourite one is Tacos Sahuayo on Pancho Villa, at the corner where was the Honda Motorcycle shop. It is a tacos stand on the street, they have been there for more than 10 years, are opened from 8 PM to 3 AM and closed on sunday. I remember the first time my wife brought me there, I ate 15 tacos…the record is still unbroken..
There is no table at this place, you will be on the boardwalk, sit on Coca-Cola plastic chairs, eat in plastic plates covered with a plastic bag, but you will eat one of the best tacos ever.
The first lebanese immigrants brought with them to Mexico in the 20’s the vertical skewer rotisserie (which is common in Middle Orient: doner kebab in Turkey, shawarma in Syria, guss in Irak, gyros in Greece and commonly named kebab in France). But instead of goat or lamb, it is pork which is used for tacos al Pastor.
After being marinated in spice, herbs, onion, annato paste (which gives it the red color), the meat are placed on the skewer, topped by a pineapple, charbroiled as the skewer rotates in front of a vertical BBQ. Then the meat is thinly sliced and served on a small tortilla with chopped onion, cilantro and a chunk of sweet pineapple (this chunk of pineapple is really the cherry on the cake, it gives to the tacos al pastor a fresh and sweet taste, a juicy texture which will allow the flavour to explode in your mouth. I always ask for the double pineapple.
But it is not ready to eat yet, you have to give it your personal touch. There are 5 kinds of sauce: 2 red hot sauces, 2 green hot sauces and a avocado based green mild sauce. There is also some limed-onion with habanero slices, it is delicious but becareful to the orange habanero, it can be your worst ennemy for an hour. And if you want it even hotter, you can ask for a perfectly grilled Jalapeno. The problem with the jalapeno is sometimes it can be sweet, very lightly hot, and other times it is the devil’s instrument. But make sure to taste the spcicyness first and avoid all contact with your lips…
One last but not least ingredient: the grilled “cebolla de cambray” or spring onion bulb. When well grilled, it is crunchy outside and fondant inside and it surely will make you order for more tacos even though you are stuffed.
A taco al pastor costs 7 pesos, but there is also regular tacos such as asado, volcano, gringa..which I wil describe in another post.
If you have a big party at home, Tacos Sahuayo can also come to your place and amaze your guest.
As I am writing this post somewhere in the sky between Los Angeles and Taipei, I can not added pictures and video. But promised, I will do it when I will be back in Vallarta.

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Good Morning Vietnam! July 8, 2007

Posted by adrien in Uncategorized.
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Two more days and Gerardo and I will board the plane from Los Angeles for Taipei, then from Taipei to Saigon. We will be in Vietnam for more than three weeks and will go from Phu Quoc Island (the most meridional territory of Vietnam, where is made the best Nuoc Mam) to the Northern Moutains of Vietnam, near the borders with China. We will enjoy vietnamese food for 3 three weeks, there is more than a hundred plats on our list: pungent flavor of the Mekong Delta specialties, the diversity of Saigon’s Restaurants and street foods, the delicacy yet hot and spicy of the Center, and the simplicity and subtle flavors of the Northern Cuisine. We will work for a week with some marvelous Vietnamese Chefs and friends.
There is only one concern: that our stomach will not be big enough.

Some “Ketjap” for your French fries? July 5, 2007

Posted by adrien in Food facts, Ingredients.
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Three years ago, when I went to LA for a business trip, Chef Sumanth Das of Aramara at Four Seasons Punta Mita (Sumanth had previously been the Executive Chef at Monsoon in Chicago and at the Peninsula Chicago as Sous Chef of Shanghai Terrace) asked me to buy for him some kecap manis (pronounced Ketjap and means sauce in Indonesian and Malaysian).
At first taste, it seemed to be a sweet soy sauce. But it is much sweeter, much thicker and the flavor much more complex than regular sweet soy sauce. This syrupy-molasses thick sauce is actually an Indonesian soy sauce generously sweetened with palm sugar and seasoned with garlic, star anise, galanga..etc. Malaysia which has a lots of cultural links with the
Archipel, has also kecap lemak, which is less sweet. You can find easily kecap manis in Asian supermarkets, the most famous is ABC brand.

But what brought me here today is not only the taste of kecap manis but also the name, specially the way it is pronounced: kechap or ketjap. I was so intrigued by the similarity with the ketchup so I made my little research and my intuitions were confirmed. English and Dutch sailors brought the Ketjap from Southeast Asia to Europe in the 18th century, where other ingredients such as mushrooms, anchovy or nuts were added (mushroom ketchup was a la mode under Victorian era and it is still available for the subjects of Her Majesty). Tomatoes was added only later in America.

At Bai Sri, we use kecap manis to make our cinnamon sauce for the Tofu Brochette.

Ladies and Gentlemen, before dipping your French fries (which is certainly not originated from France but Belgium) in your Ketchup, please have a little thought about how different peoples of different cultures in the world can be linked in a way that we can not imagine. First World or Third World, our cultures are rich in the same way, poors or richs, we will have at the end the same futur.

And when it comes to food and language, only the death ones remain the same. Fusion Cuisine is not a fashionable movement of the 20th century, it has been there a long, long time ago.

The blood of Vietnamese Cuisine July 4, 2007

Posted by adrien in Ingredients, Vietnamese Cuisine.
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Even though used throughout Southeast Asia (nuoc mam in Vietnam, nam pla in Thailand, ngan byar yay in Myanmar or Tuc Trei in Kampuchea (Cambodia), it is in Vietnamese Cuisine that fish sauce is omnipresent.
I remember after spending a year studying in Notre Dame de Garaison (a beautiful 16th century monastery in the Pyrenees) without none Vietnamese food, the first night I got back to Paris, what I was fancied for was just a bowl of plain rice with some nuoc mam. The taste and flavor of nuoc mam reflect so well the soul of Vietnam: the saltiness of tears (caused by centuries of wars, civil wars and those against invaders); of the sweat of slavery under a thousand years of Chinese domination and a century of French colonization; of the South Chinese Sea water that drunk thousands of boat peoples in their thirst of liberty, the fishy smell of the 3500 km of coastline, of infinite numbers of fishing ports and the gigantic Mekong Delta, and finally the sweetness bitter tainted of hope and nostalgia.

But let’s get back to the main purpose of fish sauce as a cooking ingredient: it is made with salt and anchovy, fermented and aged in wooden barrels. In my opinion, the Vietnamese nuoc mam is better elaborated and therefore has a subtler flavor than its Southeast Asian alter egos. The Thai nam pla (the most used in US Thai Restaurants is Tiparos but the Squid brand or Trang cha are far better) is saltier, less sweet and less strong in taste but the flavor is also less complex, meanwhile the Filipino patis (the most famous is Rufina Patis) is even saltier and heavier.
While Vietnamese constitutes the first Southeast Asian population in the United States, Thai fish sauce is the most sold. This might be explained by the American trade embargo on Vietnam (1978 –1994), which allowed Thai fish sauce exporters to position comfortably on the northern american market and even European market (Vietnam was the only exporter of nuoc mam to Europe since the 19th century but has stopped its exportation with the arrival of the communists in 1975 and let the door opened to Thai fish sauce). However, it was harder for them to reach the quality of Vietnamese nuoc mam. (Actually, to respond to the quality expectations of the market – most of fish sauce buyers are Vietnamese- tons of Vietnamese nuoc mam was imported in Thailand, mixed with Thai fish sauce and re-export to the US under Thai Brands as a Thai product). Even though today, lots of vietnamese fish sauces are thought Thai products. The best example is from importfoods.com, a commercial site hailed by the New York times and Martha Stewart Living, which said about Viet Huong (means in vietnamese Flavor of Vietnam) Three Crabs: “is a product of Thailand and processed in Hong Kong”…
Without any chauvinism, I strongly recommend you Vietnamese fish sauce, especially the ones which come from Phu Quoc (the largest island of Vietnam which houses more than a hundreds nuoc mam producers, where high rate of protein anchovy can be found in abundance in the southwestern water of the island in their season from August to December) or Phan Thiet, and it is primordial that you can read the mention of nhi and Thuong hang on the label. “Nhi” means first extraction and “Thuong hang “ highest quality. Nhi is for Nuoc mam what extra virgin is for olive oil: first extraction, better quality and more expensive. I remember a visit of a fish sauce factory in Rach Gia when I was a kid. We assisted to the first attraction and I was amazed and disgusted how the first extraction was pungent and thick. Actually, the fish sauce we found in the bottles is already diluted at 80%.
Most nuoc mam is made with anchovy (some are made with mackerels and are more expensive), but some producers in Phan Thiet and Phu Quoc combine different type of fish just a wine producer combines cepages to get better flavors. Since 2002, Phu Quoc’s nuoc mam is regconized as “Apellation d’Origine Controle” products in France and Europe (just as wines, Champagne and Cognac).
In Bai Sri, we use mainly Viet Huong’s The Three Crabs brand which is for me the best. It has a good consistency in quality: subtle flavors, delicate aroma and translucid amber color. We only use Tiparos nam pla for Pad Thai.

More than the blood of Vietnamese Cuisine, nuoc mam truly connects his lost sons to their homeland, and Vietnam to the world.

La Pitahaya or the Dragon Fruit July 2, 2007

Posted by adrien in Fruits & Vegetables.
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Finally the rain has come (with almost a month late) and so has come a bit of freshness. Thanks God because it started to be very, very hot those last days.

Along with the rains has come also the first dragon fruits of the season.
The Pitahaya is a fruit of a cactus belonging to the Hylocereus family and originated from central and South America. I’ve heard that a French naturalist brought it with him to Indochina in the 19th century. (I remember there was a Hylocereus cactus on the balcony of my Grand-Ma’s house in Nha Trang, and we kids were forbidden to go near the cactus and touch the fruits, which were destinated to be on the ancestor’ altar. And what is on the ancestors’ altar is sacred). Now a day, Vietnam is the first dragon fruit producer and exporter of the world. Actually, the Pitahaya name in Vietnamese is Thanh Long, which means “fruit of the Dragon”. Some also call it in English strawberry pear.

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We started to make our pitahaya field five years ago. Natives of Bahia de Banderas know better Tuna (the nopal cactus fruit) or Pitaya (which is like the dragon fruit but smaller and yellow outside) but there was almost no dragon fruit here. I have seen a few times Hylocereus Cactus in the jungle but it will cost us a lot of works to get the fruit, unless we are monkeys or birds. As a matter of fact, the hylocereus cactus is thin and flexible so it needs a tutor to grow up to reach the sun. Thus, the flowers and fruits are up to 100 feet high in natural state.

The flower of the Dragon Fruit is precious. It is about 15 cm long and can reach 30 cm of diameter. But as all beauties are ephemeral, the hylocereus flower blossoms at night and start to die with the first sunrays. So the best time to go on a Dragon fruits field is at 6 in the morning.

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You can find Dragon fruits in Vallarta from the end of May to November in Fruit Forest (the mother company of Fruit Forest in Guadalajara: H&C Global distributes our Dragon Fruits) but I have notices some pitahaya this year at Soriana in front of Sam’s Club.

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In our fields, there are 3 cactus which give fruit with red pulp. The taste is lightly sweeter then the regular fruit but it is aesthetically less interesting.

July 1, 2007

Posted by adrien in News & Events.
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Agricola Vimex July 1, 2007

Posted by adrien in Uncategorized.
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If there wasn’t Agricola Vimex, there wouldn’t be Bai Sri.

Growing organically and exclusively more than 25 South East Asian crops for Bai Sri, Agricola Vimex and its sisters companies Agricola Sapa and Agricola Dalong also ship out weekly around 80 000 lbs of asian herbs and almost the same weight in tropical fruits to Los Angeles, Houston, San Francisco, Toronto, Vancouver…

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Founded twelve years ago by my Uncle Chuyet and his friend Toai, two late fifties ingeneers victims of the economic downturn of the early 90’s. The path that took A. Vimex during the first seven years was very winding and almost lead them to bankruptcy. Then Toai, who was the Agronome Engineer, unfortunately passed over, Chuyet, alone, continued to loose money for two other years.

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I came from France to Puerto Vallarta in 2002 to take over Agricola Vimex and I realized that the task which was awaiting for me will be a real challenge. There were none structures in the company, it is very hard to find workers (working on the fileds under the sun of Puerto Vallarta is a tough task, and most of the people here prefered to work in hotels and resorts, where the salary is very low but the tips promising), the ones we got..some of them don’t even speak spanish, and responsability and professionalism in this laborship level are a sort of terra incognita. My first priority was creating Departments, assigning task and responsabilities, structuring sales, getting new clients, and the most important: giving to my workers the sens of responsablity, to make them like their jobs, to make their jobs a good one and make sure that they don’t want to loose it (I will talk about what I have done about it later on in another post). We have had very hard times but we have done also very hard works and with my Uncle’s experience, we made it. Today, Agricola Vimex is a big family of 160 persons, with the same interests, the same goal and trust toward each other. Today, I know that they won’t let me down and I am sure that they have the same feeling.

Nufar Basil & Opal Basil