All-natural nem by Rau Om – Rediscovering the Vietnamese meat curing art

My most vivid memory nem happened one summer afternoon at a fishing park in the suburbs of Saigon. Nem is one of those more favored snacks to accompany conversations among friends, and while the adults were toasting away the sunlit hours grilling their freshly caught fish, the ten-year-old Mai made friends with this tiny black-haired guy with her share of nem. He enjoyed the nem so very much that he kept reaching out to her and holding her finger. Oh it was such joy watching him nimbly bite into the succulent pink pieces of meat, smiling innocuously. It’s been fifteen years. I wonder how that little pet monkey is doing now. His hair is probably all white, if he’s alive. I didn’t have much nem to give him, maybe two or three pieces, each the size of half a thumb. Little Mom had no idea that I was giving them to the monkey, she probably would have given me more if she did, because she’s very hesitant to let me eat nem. First, it’s uncooked meat. Second, ambiguous chemicals are involved in the curing process to make nem. So aside from that happy memory of nem […]

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SF SF Fest

Here’s the tongue twister of the day: SFSSFSFFFS, or “Saturday Food Snippets at San Fran Street Food Fest on Folsom Street“. I can’t swim, but I dived into this sea of people in the name of friendship: to meet fellow food bloggers Oanh and Dang of Rau Om for the first time. There was much struggle. Lots of aggressive walking, cutting through undeterminably long lines, being repeatedly separated from comrades, and flavoring my dress with beef juice. But there were joyous moments too. One was when I found Bob and Rob at the Commonwealth booth, sipping a watermelon gazpacho. Another was when some lady gave me her extra watermelon gazpacho. Lunch time started. Or so we thought. Thirty minutes in the sea of people and no food except for the gazpacho, I told Yookyung that the bloody long queues were our destiny and it would be fatal trying to look for a stall with no line. Seconds after, Yookyung found Delicioso Creperie, which had no line. Defeated, I hopped into the short line of its adjacent neighbor, Il Cane Rosso, and succumbed […]

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Cafe Eccell – Dessert menu, please?

Are there sit-down restaurants that you would go out of your way to just for the dessert? When I’m in Berkeley, I would stroll down Shattuck for Herbivore’s coconut ice cream and rhubarb pie. When I’m in Houston, I would drive 2 hours to College Station for Eccell‘s bread pudding. Crazy, you say? Well, 😀 I blame Beverly for recommending Eccell, I blame my parents for spoiling me, and most of all, I blame myself for sometimes being unreasonably particular about food. Tucked away at the west end of University, Cafe Eccell is a posh little resto: black wooden table, old brick walls, just enough sunlight through the simplistic rectangular windows to connect the quiet world it contains with the happening streets it sees. Its staff is cordial. Its setting would suit the more respectable guests for a casual lunch. However, I had no memories of its lunch entrees and I don’t intend to create new memories of them. However, I do vaguely recall having a good slice of key lime pie, so when Beverly suggested the strawberry tart, I felt complied to give it a try. I must admit […]

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The Koreans make good pho

Every time I ride the bus on Telegraph, Kang Nam Pho stands out to me like a supernova. (There are these “sorta” cosmologically important exploded stars that have been on my mind for quite some time now, which is an excuse for the sparse blogging of late.) I’ve seen Chinese-owned pho places, but they never have a Chinese name. Pin Toh on Shattuck, which used to be Phở Hòa, has pho cooked by Chinese chefs, but it’s a Thai diner (talk about incognito). In my American pho encounters, Kang Nam Pho is the first instance of a Korean-owned Vietnamese diner with a Korean name. They even put the whole “Phở” with accents on their white-on-red sign, next to “강남 윌남국수” (Kang Nam Wilnam guksu, i.e., Kang Nam Vietnamese Noodle). I like this place already. Their menu is also all in Vietnamese, again, with complete accents albeit some misspellings; there is English description under each name and very little Korean. I vaguely remember bibimbap and bulgogi at some bottom corner of a page, but Kang Nam has things that even a common pho joint wouldn’t always have, such […]

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Red Boat fish sauce – Good enough to sprout crazy ideas

“It’s sweet, and it shines like honey,” my mom recalls. She was in fifth grade, her teacher, whose family also owns a fish sauce plant, gave each student in the class a sample of the condiment in a mini plastic pouch. When my mom took it home, it took her mom no time to see that this was the Ninth Symphony of fish sauce. It didn’t take the Vietnamese grandmothers in the Bay Area very long either, Rob Bergstrom said, and I quote, to “limp out of the store carrying a full case” of Red Boat’s. I met Rob because of a half-a-month-late comment that I left on Ravenous Couple’s glowing review. Rob is a man who goes around grocery stores and the world to taste fish sauce straight out of the bottle by the spoonfuls (I don’t recommend doing it at home if you’re under 18). And Rob was moved by my mom’s fifth grade experience, which, he said, is similar to a few sparse stories among the older Vietnamese about an excellent-quality fish sauce that some have once tasted in their lifetime and never again. Especially not in […]

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Andiamo buonissimo and Jen’s new start

Jen‘s been pushing me to push this post out of the drafts, just as I’ve been pushing her to publish her very first post on Where’s the Seitan?, her blooming, Chicago-based vegan food blog. Her lively, conversational writing draws you in, just as Jen herself. 🙂 When she reaches a million views per month, I hope she’ll still like to share a meal and talks about movies with the humble me. During lunch break on Tuesday, after a fantastic plate of fresh fruits and cucumbers at the cafeteria (if I eat at St. John cafeteria long enough I’d turn into a fruitarian), we could hardly wait until dinner to eat something real, so we dived into Yelp and Google Maps in search of a “good but inexpensive” place (Jen’s request) closed enough to the bus stop. Coins were tossed, rock-paper-scissor was played, phone calls were made, decisions were revised, and a reservation was confirmed: 7:15 pm at Andiamo. Our group has diversity: one strict vegan, one vegetarian who loves goat cheese, one omnivore who is allergic to all dairy except butter, one omnivore who doesn’t like […]

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