Keith Famie, one of Detroits premier chefs, biked the length of Vietnam earlier this year. He brought home an image of the nation that puts war in the background.
The bike trip included three Vietnam veterans and was filmed for "Famies Adventures in Cooking" which airs on WDIV-Channel 4. A preview will be shown at the Fox on Aug. 28.
Famie feels compelled to share his enthusiasm for Vietnam. "You have to try this," he says, pouring from a jug that looked like a mosaic vase in earth tones. "I bought it in the marketplace."
Close up, the mosaic becomes seven snakes, including a cobra, coiled neatly in a glass jug and pickled in alcohol.
The Vietnamese claim snake wine cures arthritis and boosts sexual potency. It is purchased by the glass in the marketplace and downed like medicine. (One big swallow is definitely the way to go; this delicacy will leave your tongue tingling.)
For the preview, the lobby of the Fox will be transformed into a Vietnamese marketplace by two local nurseries, Nature Nook and AguaFina. Vietnamese dancers will perform and native foods will be served.
Famie says Vietnamese cuisine is influenced by the French who occupied the country until 1954, as well as Thai and Chinese.
A favorite breakfast is pho (hot soup), made with noodles, bean sprouts, chilies, cilantro, scallions, and chicken or meat.
Famie recalls that the sidewalks in the market were filled with shrimp, spread out to dry on the hot cement. "I wanted to say, What are you doing to that wonderful shrimp?" Famie recalls. But he realized that the climate and lack of refrigeration dictated cooking techniques.
Dragon fruit was a favorite find. It looks like a huge brown egg, pale yellow on the inside and dotted with tiny black seeds. "Imagine a cross between a kiwi and a cantaloupe with the crispness of a Granny Smith apple," he says.
The Vietnamese also cook parts of plants that we discard, for example, pumpkin branches. The thick vines are blanched in boiling water, peeled and sautéed in olive oil.
Famie is an adventurous eater. The film shows him cracking open a thousand-year egg. Raw eggs are soaked in soy sauce and buried (but not long enough to forget where they are). The egg white congeals and turns an odd greenish-black, and the yolk oozes out in the same shade.
Here his enthusiasm falters. "Thats something I dont need to try again," he admits.
More than 7,000 Vietnamese families live in northeast Detroit, mostly of the Muong ethnic minority. At the Fox, Muong children from Fleming Elementary School, in native dress, will sing. The event features performances by vocalist Stewart Francke and the Detroit Concert Choir.
Tickets are $25 at the Fox or through Ticketmaster. The event benefits four local charities: Vietnam Veterans, the Rainbow Connection, the Stewart Francke Leukemia Foundation and the Childrens Alliance Network. The marketplace begins at 6:30, and the program begins at 8. Call 248-683-1257 for information.
Duet (3663 Woodward, Detroit) is preparing a Titanic meal for Thursday, Sept. 9. Itll feature four courses based on the famed ships menu, and tickets include seats to see Titanic on stage at the Fisher Theater. Call 313-831-3838 for reservations. Mushroom lovers can indulge in a weekend of mushroom-hunting up north, with Fall Mushroom Mania at the Springbrook Hills Resort in Walloon Lake. $149 per person includes lodging and lots of wild mushroom hunting, cooking and eating. Call 616-535-2227 for reservations.