For those of the Asian persuasion this kind of steamed egg dish is probably a familiar, homey, comfort-foody sort of sight. Cha Trung Hap is a pleasant peasant dish from Vietnam that uses everyday ingredients to excellent effect — eggs, ground pork, glass noodles, and dried mushrooms are mixed and cooked to create a hearty, filling, and utterly delicious dish that’s cheap and easy to make. The Chinese have versions of this dish, the Japanese have a steamed egg thing called chawan mushi, and the Koreans have gyeran jjim. But this dish is certainly related to Italian frittata and Spanish tortilla and French quiche and all manner of Western-style baked eggs. So if you’re not of the Asian ilk and this dish looks strange or foreign to you, keep in mind that nearly every culture worldwide has something similar. For me, Cha Trung Hap is most recognizable to Western palates as a sort of crustless quiche, with the springy, tender, cooked eggs suspending a bounty of savory ingredients. With the mushrooms and the pork and the eggs, it’s also comparable to a meatloaf of sorts, although it’s nowhere near as dense or meaty as the American classic.
And for me this dish reminds me of my childhood; I recall my mother making it with some regularity, probably on days when she wanted something quick and easy (and cheap and filling) to make. I absolutely loved this as a kid and I love it now. It’s Vietnamese comfort food at it’s best — earthy and robust, flavorful and savory, filling and yet almost light. It might be served with steamed rice and a little stir-fried veggies. A small chunk might be on the same plate as crispy fried pork chops and rice. Personally I like it as an afternoon snack — just a thin slice with a drop or two of soy sauce makes a pretty healthy mini-meal.
The last time my mother was in town (to herald the arrival of baby Vivian) I asked her to demonstrate for me this classic dish. This recipe is hers, although I added a teaspoon of fish sauce when I replicated it, which I don’t recall her adding but I thought was necessary.
My mom recommends trying this with shrimp in place of or in addition to the pork. I haven’t yet tried this, but I’m sure it’s totally fantastic. You might also try it fully vegetarian, with water chestnuts and some greens.
You will need:
- one 4-ounce package mien (glass noodles)
- 1/2 cup woodear mushrooms, finely chopped
- 1/2 cup shiitakes, stemmed & chopped
- 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
- 1/2 pound of ground pork
- 2/3 cup of diced white onion
- 5 cloves garlic, minced
- 12 eggs, divided
- 1 teaspoons kosher salt
- 1 teaspoon sugar
- 1 teaspoon Vietnamese fish sauce (nuoc mam)
- 1/2 teaspoon finely ground black pepper
- 1/2 teaspoon ground white pepper
- 1/2 teaspoon MSG* (optional)
- cooking spray
- A stainless steel bowl with a capacity of 8 cups or more.
- A steamer set-up that can accommodate the bowl.
- Aluminum foil.
Now do this:
First, prep the glass noodles by soaking them, fully immersed, in very hot water for about twenty minutes. Drain them and cut them into two-inch long pieces. Don’t be two concerned about length, though. This ain’t rocket science.
Regarding the mushrooms, you can use fresh or dried woodear and shiitakes. If you can’t find woodear mushrooms you can use just shiitakes, although woodears are very authentically Vietnamese. If you use dried mushrooms, rehydrate them much the same way you would soften the noodles — pour boiling water over them and let them soak until soft. Dried woodears will be soft within ten minutes, but dried shiitakes might take twenty minutes or more. Drain them well and then chop them when dry.
In a sauté pan heat the veggie oil over medium-high and add the pork. Season with a little salt and pepper and cook the pork, breaking it up into bits and stirring occasionally, until it is cooked through but not well-browned. In fact, the pork can be a bit pink in some areas; remember, you’ll be steaming the whole thing so you can keep the meat a trifle undercooked, which will actually help keep it moist. Add the onions and stir into the meat. Turn off the heat and allow the meat and onions to cool down five or ten minutes in the pan, off the stove.
In the meantime line a stainless steel mixing bowl with aluminum foil and coat the foil with a generous amount of cooking oil spray. Now you can set up your steamer, putting a couple inches of water in the pot. Put the lid on the steamer and bring the water to a boil. When it begins steaming reduce the heat to low and finish putting together the dish.
Now, into a big bowl put the mushrooms, cut noodles, pork & onions, and garlic. Crack six whole eggs and add it to the bowl. Crack remaining eggs but separate the whites and the yolks. Reserve the yolks for later and add the whites the bowl. Add salt, sugar, fish sauce, peppers, and MSG (if using). Mix everything very well with a wooden spoon or your hands. Pour mixture into the foil-lined bowl and set it gently into your steamer. Cover the steamer again with the lid.
Turn the heat up to high again until the water boils rapidly. When it returns to a vigorous boil reduce heat to medium high and steam eggs for 30 minutes. Open the steamer and pour the reserved egg yolks evenly all over the top surface of your Cha Trung Hap. Cover and steam another ten minutes.
Remove the lid and check the steamed eggs for doneness by inserting a paring knife into it and removing. If it comes out clean, it’s finished. If not, steam another ten minutes on medium. Remove the bowl from the steamer and allow it to come to room temperature for five or ten minutes. Invert bowl egg-yolk side down and remove bowl. Carefully peel off the foil and voila! You got your Cha Trung Hap, ready to serve. Cut it into wedges or blocks and enjoy!
Check out these other posts featuring (mostly) authentic Vietnamese grub:
Crab Fried Rice: https://spencerhgray.wordpress.com/2011/09/19/crab-fried-rice/
Garlicky Crab Noodles: https://spencerhgray.wordpress.com/2011/08/04/garlicky-crab-noodles/