Peter Cornish goes on a culinary exploration of a British favourite and finds the social good that is being spread by bread and jam makers across Ho Chi Minh City. Photo by Jonny Edbrooke.
There’s something quintessentially British about a slice of bread and jam, perhaps consumed with a cup of tea or covered with a second slice of bread to make a jam sandwich. Deeply ingrained in our national heritage, it invokes memories of yesteryear, a slice of white bread smothered in a layer of strawberry jam at the start of the day, or an afternoon snack when coming home from school.
Our American friends get in on the game with a layer of peanut butter, while our French neighbours start their day with une tartine. Let’s face it, a slice of freshly baked bread smothered in homemade jam is one of life’s simple pleasures enjoyed by many round the world.
Its British origins are said to hark back to the 19th century with the repeal of the Corn Laws, opening up the country to cheap white flour accompanied by freshly baked loaves for the country’s working classes. Jam was traditionally made once or twice a year until sugar taxes were lifted, bringing mass production of cheap and sweet jams to the urban poor.
The jam sandwich got a boost up the social ladder with the introduction of afternoon tea, trimming the crusts and perhaps replacing an unadventurous strawberry jam with a raspberry or blackcurrant. Now a mainstay for many across the social spectrum, we thought we would have a look at some of the best bread and jam in the city.
La Boulangerie Francaise
Our search brought us to a bakery that’s doing more than just baking delicious bread – they’re providing vulnerable Vietnamese youngsters with the chance of a brighter future by teaching them the fundamentals of the job of a baker.
Baking French inspired breads and pastries in Hue since 1999, La Boulangerie Francaise has recently expanded its operations to Ho Chi Minh City in partnership with Thu Duc College of Technology and the European Institute of Cooperation and Development (IECD), a French non-governmental organization working in the field of social and economic development.
Students welcomed on the training programme come from provinces around Southern Vietnam. All are recruited from disadvantaged backgrounds and go through an extensive testing process including a motivation interview and entrance exam. The programme strives for diversity and inclusion with a typical intake having over 60% girls and 20% from ethnic minorities.
The breads they learn to bake are made according to traditional French recipes and include baguettes and sourdough loaves. Most use a natural leaven and slow fermentation process, of around 20 hours, that contribute to an enhanced taste, easier digestion, and better preservation, all of which contribute to delicious breads with a flavour reminiscent of home.
The students’ baking also includes Danish pastries welcome at any breakfast table. Produced following a recipe process giving that perfect buttery taste and flaky texture. The croissants and pain au chocolat are made of dough layered with butter, not cut with beef tallow as usually used here, then rolled and folded in succession in a process known as laminating.
Charlie Sellier, Project Manager for the new bakery, explains how the students are taught to see baking as “a natural and social link that can bring people and culture together.” Besides the traditional ‘must haves’ of baking, such as bread and croissants, they also try to bring established French know-how and local flavours together.
This combination of cultural flavours is on show with their signature product, the Mango Turnover, a Vietnamese adaptation of the famous Danish called Chausson aux Pommes. Developed in the first La Boulangerie Francaise in Hue, they have switched the hard-to-find apple with a locally sourced fruit.
The Kalamansi Meringue Tart (adaptation of the Lemon meringue tart), the Chocolate Tart and the Cashew nut / Passion Fruit Tart creations followed exactly the same rationale, by simply adapting the traditional process and recipes to local ingredients. All of them are full of flavour, melting in the mouth and encouraging you to reach for a second.
Le Fruit Artisan Jams
After finding our breads we went in search of something to spread on them and came across another socially oriented producer, Les Vergers Du Mekong (LVDM), managed by French owner Jean-Luc Volsin, source their fruits from the richest orchards of Vietnam.
LVDM work closely with farmers in the Lam Dong region of the delta to form farm villages, with an ambassador appointed in each village representing the values of the company and ensuring the farmers are supported through the communication of information essential to their growing and harvesting processes.
Currently working in close cooperation with about 2000 farmers spread over 5000 hectares of the fertile delta, LVDM have developed an app that helps farmers input and share data that can be used to build up a bigger picture of what is happening with every type of fruit in the region. Plagues of pests or disease can spread quickly between farms so providing critical information and assisting with the use of control measures can prevent crop loss.
Priding themselves as a healthy and sustainable brand they produce artisanal jams and British style marmalades that compliment perfectly the bread baked by La Boulangerie Francaise. The jams are simmered in small batches by trained and skillful ‘confituriers’ who cook by sight, scent and taste using traditional copper pans.
Using no artificial ingredients and chopping and preparing the fruit by hand, there is nothing mass production about their jams. With familiar flavours such as strawberry jam and orange marmalade, their portfolio of 12 jams and honey use local fruits to produce flavours such as mango and star fruit, kumquat marmalade, banana and dragon fruit and blossom honey, all of which are a welcome addition to any breakfast table.
As well as jams, LVDM produces a range of juices and, in partnership with French company Folliet, a range of gourmet fair trade and organic certified coffee and loose-leaf teas.
A wonderful accompaniment to a slice of bread and jam, the teas are picked and rolled by hand using the most tender buds and leaves producing subtle and light flavours served with milk or lemon.
Whether you’re a coffee or tea person, it’s hard to beat a cuppa with a slice of bread and jam.