Vietnamese beef fondue, bo nhung dam

by Forager on July 2, 2010

The recent long weekend represented a great opportunity to gather friends, head out of Sydney, down to the home of my best friend, L-bean, and feast! And everytime we catch up, we write another chapter in the book on feasting!

L-bean is more than just a best friend – she’s a sister to me. She is a patient, understanding, nurturing soul – listening to me whinge and wail and reliably supporting me when I clumsily made my way through every teenage milestone, quarter life and all the crises related to getting older. She swapped school lunches with me when it was clear the monotony of my mother’s packed lunches were about to make me cry. She introduced me to the many wonders, flavours and ingredients of Vietnamese food (I can credit her with my obsession with hu tieu noodles). When my mother’s non-negotiable regime of 3 solid meals of rice each day resulted in not weight gain as she’d fervently hoped, but a deeply ingrained rice phobia, L-bean taught me to accept and eventually eat rice through the wonders that are tomato rice and nuoc cham. She ensured I was well-fed with delicious home-cooked dishes when I temporarily moved out of home whilst I was doing my honours degree and was up at all hours conducting experiments and stupid time points at 3am. I owe a lot to L-bean and without a doubt, she has helped shape both me, and my love of food.

Throughout our friendship, she has cooked for me but through intense training, the Co-pilot has taught me the basics of cooking and now, I can cook with or even for L-bean. We’re entering a different and even more fulfilling phase of our friendship and I’m only now becoming acquainted with the pleasure of cooking with my old companion, sharing tips and recipes interspersed with excited chatting, catching up on gossip, and hysterical fits of laughter.

So with all the Thai cooking I’ve been doing recently, on the first night I decided to cook up a Thai feast for everyone, starting with an entree of tom yum goong that featured in a recent post. Again, using 5 bird’s eye chillies and this time fresh oyster and enoki mushrooms and a generous amount of prawns. This time we also took the heads off the prawns and threw them in at the very beginning with the chicken stock and allowed them to thoroughly infuse their flavour into the broth. We simmered the prawn heads for about 5 minutes before scooping them out and starting with the rest of the recipe as per the post. The effect was an even more intensely flavoured soup – so rich in prawn, herbs and spices. This was served with fluffy steamed rice.

tom yum goong or hot sour soup of prawns

Tom yum goong or hot and sour soup of prawns

For our mains I decided on som tum pu, or Thai green papaya salad with salted black field crabs. You can find the recipe here in an earlier post. I love som tum, but this version is my favourite. The black field crabs aren’t everyone’s cup of tea (the Co-pilot always wrinkles his nose at them), but I adore the pungent, fishy, salty flavours of these critters.  Given it was the start of the long weekend and we weren’t in danger of annihilating work colleagues or clients the next day with our garlic breath, I made this som tum particularly garlicky and spicy.

Som tum green papaya salad

Som tum pu: green papaya salad with black field crabs

My favourite pairing with a som tum is deep fried soft shell crab. The Thais love crab and it features prominently in many popular Thai dishes from stir fries and noodle soups to fried rice. Whilst the soft shelled variety isn’t strictly a common Thai ingredient, I have a weakness for them and soft shell crab is excellent value! A box of frozen soft shelled crab will hold 4 – 6 crabs depending on their size and at the Sydney fish markets they can be found for about $20.

To prepare the crabs, L-bean and I thawed them out and pulled out the gills (otherwise known as dead man’s fingers). We cut them into quarters and patted them dry of excess liquid. To fry, we dunked the crab pieces into an egg wash, then into corn flour seasoned subtly with salt, pepper, chicken powder and curry powder. The pieces were then dropped into hot oil a few pieces at a time to not crowd the pan and then drained on kitchen towels.

Frying up the soft shell crab

Frying up the soft shell crab

I find the spicy, refreshing flavours and crunchy textures of the som tum complement the heavier flavours of the crispy, meaty fried crab perfectly. It’s a match made in Thai heaven!

Soft shell crab som tum

Soft shell crab with som tum

I made a very simple but well-loved Asian dessert to finish: sago (hey, I’m not much of a dessert maker so this is about my limit!). The sago was boiled in water until the opaque balls turn clear – this may require you pouring off the water, adding more and continuing to boil if the liquid becomes too thick and gloopy (the liquid becomes saturated so to get efficient cooking you need to increase the volume of water and allow more dissolution). The cooked sago is drained then coconut cream added to lubricate the pearls. I added pureed and whole sweet canned lychee and some of the sugary syrup to flavour it.  Simple and a cool, soothing finish to the spicy meal.

Lychee sago dessert

Lychee sago dessert

Hot on the tail of my Thai feast, the next night L-bean prepared a Vietnamese feast for us. She’d originally planned to cook Vietnamese campfire beef but that required us leaving the warm, cosy cocoon of her home and venturing out into the icy, windy night to grill the beef on the barbecue. That plan was quickly scuttled and she prepared for the steamboat pan for beef dipped in vinegar (Bỏ nhúng dấm), which is commonly listed as “Vietnamese beef fondue” on menus. This fondue has nothing to do with cheese – the name refers to the action of dipping a thin slice of beef into a bubbling broth to cook it – and then the beef is wrapped with other ingredients in a rice paper roll. It’s like Chinese steamboat or hotpot and given the wintery weather howling outside right now, entirely appropriate.


Vietnamese beef fondue (Bỏ nhúng dấm)

Ingredients (serves 4)

Rice paper roll ingredients:

  • 600g of thinly sliced tender cut of beef (we used scotch fillet)
  • 1 medium daikon radish, peeled and cut into 3- 4cm long batons
  • 1 large carrot, thinly julienned
  • 1 bunch of common mint, leaves picked
  • 1 bunch of Vietnamese mint, leaves picked
  • 2 Lebanese cucumbers, halved lengthways and cut into diagonal slices
  • 1 head of butter lettuce, leaves removed and washed
  • 3 stacks of rice vermicelli, soaked in hot water and cut into thirds
  • 2 birds eye chillies, de-seeded and finely chopped
  • 1 sweet pineapple, peeled and cut into small chunks (optional)
  • nuoc cham
  • white vinegar
  • sugar

Fondue broth:

  • 1 brown onion, sliced into thin rings
  • juice of one young coconut (young coconut juice drinks are suffice)
  • 1.5L of chicken broth
  • splash of white vinegar
  • splash of oil

Nuoc Cham:

(there are many variations on this sauce – this is the L-bean’s recipe; with volumes for non-engineers or those that have long forgotten ratios and fractions. Makes 200mL)

  • 0.9 parts (50mL) fish sauce
  • 0.5 parts (30mL) white rice vinegar
  • 1.5 parts (80mL) water
  • 0.8 parts (40mL) white sugar
  • Slivers of pickled carrot and radish to garnish



  1. Preparing the nuoc cham is smelly business – make sure your kitchen and house is well aerated! Bring the water, vinegar and sugar to a low simmer and stir until the sugar is dissolved. Turn the heat off and stir in most of the fish sauce (turning off the heat at this point makes it a marginally less smelly process). Taste and add the rest of the fish sauce as necessary to bring it to the right level of salty/sweet balance. This step is because the amount of fish sauce depends on the brand and age of the sauce you are using. To prepare the dipping sauce for the rice paper rolls, pour a small amount into a bowl and garnish with a few slivers of pickled radish, carrot and as much chilli as desired.
  2. To prepare the pickled vegetables, soak the daikon radish and carrot in separate containers filled with water with a healthy splash of white vinegar and sugar. Leave these in the fridge to pickle overnight or at least 4 hours. These can be done a day in advance and will keep for several days.
  3. Assemble the other fresh herbs onto platters (we used 2 for convenience), and the meat onto a separate platter.
  4. Prepare the fondue broth at the table using a tabletop stove: heat oil in the pan on medium heat, then add the onions and fry till slightly soft.
  5. Pour in the young coconut juice, splash in enough vinegar to give it a vinegary tang, then add the chicken broth and bring to the boil. The broth is now ready to use.
  6. Dip a rice paper sheet into hot water for a second to soften (we used specialty flat rice paper holders but a plate will do. Compile your rice paper roll with all the fresh ingredients you want in preparation for the beef.
  7. Take a slice of beef and swish it about in the broth till just cooked. Place on top of your rice paper roll ingredients and wrap. Voila! Your rice paper roll is ready to be dipped in the nuoc cham and eaten.
Vietnamese beef fondue set up

Setting up the Vietnamese beef fondue

The L-bean’s platters of fresh meat, vegetables and herbs were so pretty, vibrant and colourful. The pineapple isn’t a usual ingredient with beef fondue, but since she’d prepared it for the campfire beef she decided to include it in the platter. I really liked the sweet, fruity flavour it added to the roll.

Rice paper roll ingredients

Rice paper roll ingredients (clockwise from top): lettuce leaves, pickled radish, Vietnamese and common mint, rice vermicelli thread, chilli, pickled carrot, cucumber and pineapple

The platters of thinly sliced scotch fillet were also artfully arranged. It’s important to use a tender cut of meat and have thin slices for this dish. Thick or tough cuts won’t work since the meat needs to break easily with each bite to avoid you awkwardly pulling out the entire slice of beef with the first bite.

Beef fondue

Beef for the fondue

To prepare the fondue broth we start by frying the onions – and the great aspect of this dish and similar dishes like steamboat or hot pot is that it’s great fun and everyone gets involved – or at least here, L-bean’s husband, Spamtaro and our friend Dennis do the cooking whilst I balance on a chair trying to get an aerial shot of the action!

Frying onions for beef fondue

Frying onions for the beef fondue broth

Next, the young coconut juice goes in. This was the most intriguing ingredient for me as I don’t often cook with fresh coconut. It added an element of nutty sweetness to the broth.

Adding young coconut juice to the beef fondue broth

Adding young coconut juice to the beef fondue broth

Once the coconut juice comes to the boil, white vinegar is added – giving the dish it’s Vietnamese name and literal translation “beef dipped in vinegar”. To finish the broth, chicken stock is added.

Adding vinegar to the beef fondue

Adding vinegar to the beef fondue broth

And finally when the broth is bubbling and hot, the convection currents sending the onion rings on mad dashes around the pot, the beef goes in and we see where “beef fondue” gets its name. Spamtaro kindly pauses mid-dip to allow me to take an action shot. Within seconds, the beef is cooked through.

Beef fondue in action

Beef fondue in action!

Tips for perfect rice paper rolls:

  • Usually the biggest mistake people make when handling rice paper for the first time  is holding the rice paper in the water until it softens. If you’re using hot water all it takes is really a quick dip in the water and straight back out. The residual water will do the rest. If you hold you rice paper in the water until it’s soft, you’ll end up with soggy rice paper with no stretch and no texture.
  • Rolling nice rice paper rolls is very much a case of trial and error to test how much you can cram in, and how deft your fingers are at rolling the delicate rice paper around the amount you’ve crammed in. The key to success is NOT being greedy and starting with a modest amount so you get the hang of the rolling technique first (I routinely fail this step and cram more than is reasonable into the first roll). Try spreading the ingredients out so it doesn’t bulge in the centre of the roll and allowing the lettuce to overhang on one end for a prettier presentation effect. Then, whilst holding the ingredients in place, I fold the top down tightly over the ingredients, then fold the end in and secure it, then tightly roll everything down towards the bottom edge.
  • Having the rice paper and the other fresh ingredients ready and putting the hot cooked beef on last on top of the other ingredients will help here – putting the beef on the rice paper roll first and allowing it to heat and weaken your fragile rice paper whilst you compile the other ingredients will result in torn rice paper and a mess of a roll.
Making rice paper rolls

Making rice paper rolls: the key is to leave your greed behind and compile a modest pile of ingredients

As ever, the process was interactive, great fun and delicious!

L-bean was ever the considerate host and in the event we got sick of the beef or finished it, she had two flounders waiting in the wings, cleaned, scored and ready to flour and fry. The beef was so deliciously tender and flavourful we were hardly going to get “bored” of it, but since she’d prepared it, we decided to fry up the flounder anyway. The beef was substituted for the flaky white morsels of flounder flesh in the rice paper rolls. L-bean also whipped up a quick green spring onion oil to accompany the flounder, made simply by heating up a few tablespoons of oil in a pan then frying chopped spring onions for a few seconds until just heated through.

Though fried, the flounder was a tasty alternative to the beef rolls and amongst the two options, we all ate more than we should have. A strategic mistake as we were all trundling straight to bed for a few hours of precious shut eye before the Australia vs Germany football match in the 2010 FIFA world cup. Thankfully a belly full of delicious food sent us into quickly into deep food-coma slumber.

Fried whole founder with spring onions in oil

Fried whole founder with spring onions in oil

The next morning we woke at the ridiculous hour of 4:30am and watched the game. Like the time, the game too was ridiculous. I would have fared better had someone shaken me awake, slapped me in the face with the flounder and put me back to sleep.

To cheer up our deflated Aussie pride, the L-bean fixed us some delicious, fluffy buttermilk pancakes served with sweet fresh strawberries.

Buttermilk pancakes

Hot buttermilk pancakes with fresh strawberries and maple syrup

The breakfast was delicious and brought a smile back to our dejected faces, sending the humiliating defeat of the Socceroos to the back of our minds. Funny how food can solve most of my problems.

Everyone needs a nurturing, mothering best friend who loves to cook. I’ve got mine and I’m not sharing.


This post was also my contribution to Delicious Vietnam #3, a monthly project run by Anh of A Food Lover’s Journey and Hong & Kim from Ravenous Couple. This month is hosted by Buddha Bellies and you can find out more details about the event through this link.

Delicious Vietnam

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{ 23 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Dave Bolton July 2, 2010 at 12:51 pm

Wow, looks phenomenal. About to head out to a team lunch which I think will be very disappointing after reading this…

2 OohLookBel July 2, 2010 at 2:24 pm

Your Thai and Vietnamese feasts both put my local takeaway places to shame. The soft-shell crab looks particularly good, and the coconut juice in the fondue is something I’m keen to try.
OohLookBel recently posted..Sydney Good Food and Wine Show 2010 GiveawayMy Profile

3 Maria July 2, 2010 at 2:24 pm

That’s definitely a feast alright! Looks fantastic!

4 Mark @ Cafe Campana July 2, 2010 at 10:38 pm

Wow what a feast. I love the DIY soft shell crabs and the rice paper rolls look delicious.
Mark @ Cafe Campana recently posted..Afternoon Tea – Cinnamon Tea CakeMy Profile

5 Adrian @ Food Rehab July 2, 2010 at 11:03 pm

Perfect meal to have with friends in winter and ending it with pancakes…nice.
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6 Arwen from Hoglet K July 3, 2010 at 2:07 am

Soup and hotpot both sound perfect for the cold weather, and there’s nothing like pancakes to cheer you up!

7 ravenouscouple July 3, 2010 at 7:23 am

this looks wonderful! thank you for the contribution!
ravenouscouple recently posted..Vietnamese Stuffed Squid Muc Nhoi ThitMy Profile

8 Janice July 3, 2010 at 8:28 am

What a lovely tribute to an enduring freindship!

9 Sara (Belly Rumbles) July 3, 2010 at 9:18 pm

Ahhhh so that is what I am doing wrong with my rice paper rolls, softening it in the water, thanks for that tip.

10 Katherine July 4, 2010 at 11:16 am

Looks absolutely delicious. I havent actually tried a Vietnamese style hot pot or fondue. The addition of yung coconut milk is interesting. I have to gather some friends together and try it.
Katherine recently posted..Kulinarya – Filipino BarbequeMy Profile

11 penny aka jeroxie July 4, 2010 at 11:24 am

Awesome awesome! I love steamboat in winter and what a feast you have there.
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12 john@heneedsfood July 4, 2010 at 1:11 pm

Such a delicious feast! You’ve just reminded me I still have a few soft shell crabs in my freezer! Love the sound of putting curry in the cornflour
john@heneedsfood recently posted..Buppa’s Bakehouse- NewtownMy Profile

13 Lorraine @ Not Quite Nigella July 4, 2010 at 1:28 pm

What a great friend she is! And I love how at the end there’s pancakes! Just cos! 😛
Lorraine @ Not Quite Nigella recently posted..Cream of Garlic SoupMy Profile

14 Trissa July 4, 2010 at 5:48 pm

Your recent posts on asian cuisine, your honest and witty writing makes me think L-Bean is the lucky one! Well, you both are for having such a strong friendship… Next time you decide to cook up something like this, give me a tweet! :)
Trissa recently posted..Quite Possibly the Easiest and Tastiest Peanut Butter and Chocolate SemifreddoMy Profile

15 Leona @ July 5, 2010 at 10:43 am

ahhh your so lucky your so tiny!!! If i ate all that I would end up looking like a massive hot pot LOL. I love vietnamese food.. if only the vietnamese boyfriend could cook anything viet other than bacon and eggs :(
Leona @ recently posted..Olio Restaurant BarMy Profile

16 Anh July 5, 2010 at 11:46 am

wonderful! This dish is very much what we enjoyed every week when I grew up. Love it to bit!
Anh recently posted..WHB 240 Recipe- grapefruit syrup cakeMy Profile

17 L-bean July 5, 2010 at 3:36 pm

@Trissa – You’re right, I am the lucky one! :-)
@Anh – I know what you mean. This dish always makes me think of a random array of table cloths and sheets of newpapers lined up along the length of the double length garage floor at home. The whole family, young and old would be lined up on either side with platters of beef, veges, pickles, bowls of nuoc cham and crackling, steaming gas burners taking up all the available space on the table cloths. During the entirety of the meal, the ladies would be dashing in and out to replenish “apparently” emptying platters so that no one had any concept of how much they had actually eaten.
Almost every week, the family would get together to visit grandma and enjoy such a feast. This is truly one of my happiest childhood memories. That and swapping lunches with Miss Gourmet Forager.

18 Helen (grabyourfork) July 5, 2010 at 11:02 pm

I love sago, and I reckon I’m totally borrowing this idea for my next dessert craving. And I agree, nurturing best friends are hard to find and should always be cherished!
Helen (grabyourfork) recently posted..Wolgan Valley Resort -amp Spa- Blue Mountains – Emirates HotelMy Profile

19 angie July 6, 2010 at 8:54 pm

Ohhh what a mighty feast indeed! Love how food brings people together though =)
The beef “fondue” is one of my favourite dishes at home, only ever eat it at home though – mum usually replaces the vinegar with some pineapple juice which enhances the beef really well.
angie recently posted..An easy lunch with new Edgell 3 Beans -amp Corn snacking range – Plus a chance to win an Edgell hamper too-My Profile

20 Tasha July 7, 2010 at 1:37 pm

Hello L-Bean!!
Although I am unable to cook as well as you two, but I can show you around in Taiwan and bring you to taste delicious local foods! Have you decided where to visit for you holiday?

21 Tangled Noodle July 8, 2010 at 1:53 pm

Hooray for such a treasure of a friend! This is a marvelous array of food but I am particularly grateful for the recipe and instructions for Vietnamese beef fondue. I recall having had it once and loving it; now, I’d love to try it again. As for dessert, sago, coconut milk and lychees are irresistible!
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22 Forager July 11, 2010 at 7:15 pm

Hey Dave – Have to say, can’t beat feasting with friends. Speaking of which, it’s been a while since we’ve seen the Boltons!

Hey Belle – I was intrigued about the young coconut juice too – definitely adds a hint of nutty, fruity sweetness.

Hey Maria – Yep, everytime I see L-bean, we end up over eating. Perhaps it’s a good thing we don’t catch up every weekend! I’d need a new wardrobe!

Hey Mark – Absolutely – DIY soft shell crabs are so cheap and easy. I can’t stand paying high prices for them in restaurants.

Hey Adrian – Definitely great with friends and the more the merrier. The pancakes were the sweetness we needed to soften the bitter blow of defeat in the world cup.

Hey HogletK – It’s the perfect winter meal I associate with friends, special occasions and cold nights. So easy to set up too!

Hey ravenouscouple – Thank you for starting Delicious Vietnam! Very pleased to be a part of it!

Hey Janice – Thanks! She’s pretty special and deserves it.

Hey Sara – I’m always tempted to soften them for too long too, but a quick dip is all that’s needed.

Hey Katherine – Oh you haven’t tried it? Missing out – definitely something to gather a big group of friends around and make a night of it. It’s so tasty & fun!

Hey Penny – Same here. Steamboat and winter go hand in hand. A perfect cold temperature meal – all we need now is snow.

Hey John – The curry powder just gives the crab a little extra hint of spice and flavour on top of the simple salt and pepper seasoning. You could also add ground szechuan peppercorns, Chinese five spice and chilli but I thought that flavour would detract from the Thai theme.

Hey Lorraine – Yup. Pancakes are left field but that’s how we roll. :) Well, in all honesty it was the nice pickup we needed and showcases L-bean’s excellent hostess qualities. Always feeding and mothering.

Hey Trissa – You’re right, we’re both lucky ones. Here’s to food and great friends!

Hey Leona – It’s only a matter of time before the metabolism slows right down or goes negative.. And your bf should learn to cook Vietnamese – what if you’re sick? He should be the one making you chicken dumpling soups!

Hey Anh – The Vietnamese are so lucky. Such wonderful dishes and flavours to be growing up with. Even rice tasted better than in my Chinese meals.

Hey L-bean – *hugs* 😉

Hey Helen – YOU want MY dessert idea? I’m chuffed that you want any ideas off my blog :)

Hey Angie – pineapple juice sounds like a great idea. I love vinegar so I’d use it in lieu of the young coconut juice. I’m sure the pineapple juice would go towards tenderizing the meat too.

Hey Tasha – Just waiting for cheap airfares to Taiwan to set the plan in motion :) It’d be so nice to be shown around by a local

Hey TangledNoodle – I second it – hooray for good friends. And I really like the lighter Vietnamese steamboat flavours as a change from the heavier, super spicy Szechuan hotpots that are all the rage in Sydney right now. At least I still have tastebuds and can taste things after the Vietnamese hotpot!

23 Bonnibella July 16, 2010 at 6:05 am

Wow! How elaborate, I love the beef fondue part of 7 course beef but it seem so easy to do the fondue part at home. I’m hosting delicious vietnam #4 for Aug, hope to see you there!
Bonnibella recently posted..Pull Apart Monkey Bread with Vietnamese Coffee GlazeMy Profile

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