Friday, March 9, 2012

Vietnamese Tacos – Homemade corn tortillas with Lemongrass Prawns, and Turmeric Dill Fish (Cha Ca)

In Lucky Peach #2, there was an article by Harold McGee on dry-aging and he examines our perception of food through our experience with it via our taste and smell receptors. He uses the example of coriander which has a love-hate divide and looks at it from a cultural experience. If you have grown up with it, like I have, then you will generally finding it a pleasing herb but if you are not accustomed to its taste, you may find it strange and repulsive. Harold identifies Vietnamese and Mexican cuisine as being common users of coriander, so if you grew up with Vietnamese food where coriander is frequently used as a garnish, than you’re likely to be receptive of Mexican food and its regular use of coriander like in guacamole and salsas.

My conclusion – If you like Vietnamese food, you will enjoy Mexican food too due to a shared love for coriander.

Lucky Peach #2 also featured a recipe for Korean Ssam burritos, an idea that David Chang conceived in 2005 but never really took off for his restaurant. However, since 2009 Korean style tacos have taken the LA food truck scene by storm by Roy Choi and his Kogi Korean BBQ trucks.

My conclusion – If you can make Korean style burritos then you can make Vietnamese style ones too (note the conclusion above that Vietnamese and Mexican food is meant to be together). Vietnamese like wrapping stuff up and filling things too like rice paper rolls, banh cuon and banh xeo.

After reading Lucky Peach #2, I was inspired to come up with my own style of tacos – a fusion of Vietnamese and Mexican cuisine. I present to you Vietnamese style tacos.

 Taco Ingredients

Vietnamese Lemongrass Prawn Taco
Vietnamese Turmeric and Dill Fish (Cha Ca) Taco

I decided to make some “tacos de camarones” (prawn tacos) and “taco de pescado” (fish tacos). For the prawn tacos, I cooked some Vietnamese lemongrass prawns and accompanied it with salsa, topped with some coriander. For the fish tacos, I cooked Cha Ca which is a famous Hanoi dish comprising of turmeric and dill marinated fish which is grilled or fried, and generally served with more dill, other herbs, crushed peanuts on top of rice noodles. It’s one of my favourite Vietnamese fish dishes, so fragrant, simple to make and really tasty. If you ever travel to Hanoi, Cha Ca is one of those must try dishes like pho.

You can use store bought tortillas or make your own. I tried to make tortillas from scratch for the first time. When I was looking up how to make tortillas, I settled with corn tortillas as they were the easiest to make. All you have to do is mix together masa corn flour with warm water. The corn tortillas turned out great but I think that next time I will try to make flour tortillas as I think they will provide a better base for the fillings (note:  flour tortillas were used for the Korean Ssam burittos recipe featured in Lucky Peach #2). I was going to buy a tortilla press but was given a tip by Matt of Abstract Gourmet that the same effect can be achieved with a chopping board, using it as a weight to press onto the dough, which is how Marcelita’s empanadas are made.

I put everything together with a squeeze of lime over the top and was really happy with my efforts. I had no doubt while I was frying up the lemongrass prawns and turmeric dill fish that they would be great fillings because they are delicious on their own, and the flavours worked out well wrapped up in a hot corn tortilla.

I will keep working on my idea of Vietnamese tacos – learn to make flour tortillas and keep experimenting with different fillings…and maybe one day, when the bureaucracy permits, I will have my own food truck which I will call "Apocalypse Now" (in reference to the film) and serve my Vietnamese tacos to the masses!

All recipes below.

Corn Tortillas

(adapted from Gourmet Traveller)


•    2 cups masa flour
•    pinch of salt
•    1 ¼ cup warm water


Place the masa flour in a bowl with a pinch of salt, then add in the warm water. Mix together with your hands to form a soft pliable dough. Form into a ball, cover with plastic wrap or a damp tea towel and rest for at least 20 minutes.

Divide the dough into 16 pieces and roll each piece into a ball.

Prepare a plastic sheet and place a ball inside it, then place a heavy wooden chopping board on top and press down hard to flatten the dough into a thin disc. Set aside on greaseproof paper.


Line a tortilla press with greaseproof paper or plastic, place a ball on it and press gently but firmly in press to form a thin disc. Set aside on greaseproof paper.

Heat a frying pan on medium-high heat without any oil. Peel greaseproof paper from the tortilla and cook the tortilla, turning twice until slightly browned. Repeat with remaining tortillas.

Stack cooked tortillas in a large bowl lined with a tea towel as you go and rest to steam gently and soften slightly (3 minutes).

Vietnamese Turmeric and Dill Fish (Cha Ca)


•    400g firm white fish fillets (I used cod), cut into 2cm pieces

Turmeric and Dill Marinade
•    1 tablespoon crushed garlic
•    2 tablespoon shallots, finely diced
•    ½ tablespoon grated galangal (or ginger)
•    1 tablespoon dill, chopped
•    pinch of ground salt and black pepper
•    1 teaspoon turmeric powder
•    2 tablespoons fish sauce
•    2 ½ teaspoons sugar
•    1 tablespoon vegetable oil


Mix the fish pieces thoroughly with the turmeric and dill marinade, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 1 hour.

Heat some oil in a frying pan or grill and cook the fish until it is evenly brown on each side and cooked through.

Vietnamese Lemongrass Prawns


•    15 prawns, shelled and deveined
•    2 stalks lemongrass, peeled and sliced into thin rounds (use bottom third only)
•    2 shallots, roughly chopped into small pieces
•    2 garlic cloves, roughly chopped into small pieces
•    1-2 fresh red chillies, deseeded and roughly chopped
•    pinch of ground salt and black pepper
•    ½ teaspoon sugar
•    1 teaspoon fish sauce
•    2 teaspoons vegetable oil


Pound the lemongrass, shallots and garlic together in a mortar and pestle, then add in salt, pepper, sugar and fish sauce, and pound until finely ground. Mix in vegetable oil.

Note: This can also be done with a blender or you can grate the lemongrass, shallots and garlic with a microplane and mix with other ingredients.

Marinate the prawns with the lemongrass mixture, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 1 hour.

Heat some oil in a frying pan or grill and cook the prawns on each side until lightly charred or the prawns have changed colour and are cooked through.



•    3 ripe tomatoes
•    2 tablespoons, chopped coriander
•    ¼ red onion, finely chopped
•    1 small red chilli, finely chopped or a splash of Tabasco sauce
•    2 teaspoons olive oil
•    juice of half a lime
•    salt and pepper


Combine all ingredients in a bowl and season to taste.


  1. This is definitely getting a run in my kitchen. You have the best ideas!

    1. Thanks :) Look forward to seeing your results! Lucky Peach gives me the best ideas, I love this magazine.

  2. I read that its a genetic thing, as to whether or not you like coriander! Some find it has a soapy taste which is due to your taste receptors interpreting the coriander in a different way than others! I also def agree with you about it being a cultural thing as well - the same can be said for vegemite, were bought up with it and most Aussies like it, but no one else does!

    1. I have read articles about the genetic thing but I think that you could probably acquire a taste for it overtime if you tried. Vegemite is a great cultural example! I love it.

    2. I know several other ABCs that can't stand coriander either! I never saw any coriander anywhere in China so maybe that is why.

    3. Hi K-bobo I guess it depends on what ABCs ate at home and what they have been exposed to. That's interesting that you never saw much coriander in China, Chinese cooking generally uses spring onion more as a garnish than coriander.