The seasons are turning in Saigon, and it’s that time of year when you can actually stand outdoors without getting heatstroke or rained on. And that means it is once again time to fire up the barbeque. By Brett Davis. Photos by Vinh Dao.
Things sometimes work a little differently here in Saigon. Ok, so that is something of an understatement. But as we move into the (slightly) cooler months at the turn of the year, the humidity drops and the regular rain storms give way to clear, if somewhat hazy, skies.
Which, unlike in most parts of the world, makes ‘winter’ the perfect time to drag out the barbeque, scrape down the grill and clear it of the remnants of the last time it was used months before. With the help of a coupe of suppliers of the key ingredients required for a successful grill session, you will be cooking in no time. So call your mates, ask someone to make a salad (because you sure as hell won’t do it) and get cracking.
Getting some quality protein at a reasonable price can sometimes be a challenge in Vietnam, which is why the barbeque staple of the humble, and sometimes not so humble, sausage comes into its own.
Meatworks in District 2 opened its doors a couple of months ago, and their range of snags are made on site from local and imported ingredients. Proprietor Thanh Charles tells me he goes for an 80/20 ratio of meat to fat rather than the usual 70/30 in order to keep the sausages a little leaner.
You a can pick up a selection of chicken, pork, beef and lamb snags ranging in price from VND 260,000 to VND 420,000 per kilogram, so you can fill the grill and it won’t break the bank.
The classic beef barbeque sausage is always a go to, but if you want to signal your outdoor cooking sophistication you could opt for the beef and merlot snag. The chicken and sage is great for a white meat option, but my personal favourite has to be the lamb, honey and rosemary. The first time I tasted it, it was a fork drop moment.
The quality of the skin of the sausage is important, if it is of inferior quality the snags will easily rupture. Meatworks use all-natural imported pork and goat skins. Cooking technique is also crucial.
“The trick is to cook using low heat,” Charles says, “that way they cook evenly and the skins won’t burst.” (BTW, this guy’s so Australian he must know what he is talking about. Hailing from Melbourne, he worked for Fosters for a decade before moving into the meat business. If you are going to choose a couple of industries to spend your career in, those aren’t a bad choice.)
Right, got meat, now need something to burn it with. Many of us have the standard local barbeque that consists of an aluminium box with a thin wire grill on top. You can pick these up in various sizes all over town from what I call the ‘everything aluminium’ shops. Just look for the sun glinting off everything ranging from tables to clothes racks.
For the uninitiated, getting the charcoal going can be a challenge. My tip is to use plenty of kindling and have an electric fan on hand to pump plenty of oxygen into the coals. It can be a time-consuming process but the smoky flavour rewards persistence.
If, like me, you really can’t be arsed going to those lengths and you want your outdoor experience to be a little less work intensive then go for the gas option. Fortunately, there are a host of great units available from the good folk at Saigon BBQS.
Options start with the two-burner Gecko model for VND 9 million, and range up to the every-man’s-dream five-burner deluxe T-Rex. It even has a rotisserie. I want.
Made here in Vietnam from quality stainless steel, one of these babies will keep you happily grilling for many seasons to come.
Finally, when you have assumed the traditional barbeque positions – guys standing around the grill, girls in the kitchen – you don’t want to be traipsing inside for a fresh beer or arguing about whose turn it is to go to the fridge. Do that and you might end up being asked to do something, like help make the salad.
The ubiquitous yellow Styrofoam coolers actually do a very good job keeping your beverages on ice and are cheap as chips. You can pick up a roughly 20 litre size for less than VND 100,000. There is a shop down the end of Yersin Street in District 1 that has them in every size imaginable.
So there you have it, everything you need to get the barbeque season off to a winning start. Just try to remember, as you survey the wreckage of your kitchen and outdoor area the next morning, how much fun it was.