Noodle soup: Banh canh Que Anh & Que Em

qae-banh-canh-tra-vinh

Quite possibly the cheesiest name of a store I’ve ever seen: Bánh Canh Quê Anh & Quê Em – “bánh canh [from] your hometown and my hometown” (it doesn’t sound cheesy translated into English, but trust me, it’s like Twilight’s Edward Cullen in noodle soup form). Which is actually fitting, since banh canh is commoner’s grub, not a bourgeois lunch. You won’t find a classy madame dressing up just to go out for banh canh. The poor thing will never be elevated to the level of pho. I love it. I grew up eating it before I was born (literally). Backstory can be told in person, but despite eating so many bowls, I never knew that there was so many types of banh canh. Que Anh & Que Em offered 30 types (see menu at the bottom), 14 of which are no more traditional than the Spider Roll, but the other 16 are attached to geographical regions in Vietnam, and thus, in this case, more meritable. Banh canh is a thick, chewy, slippery rice noodle (with tapioca starch). It’s similar enough to udon in appearance and texture (as the shop aptly translates it [...]

Continue reading Noodle soup: Banh canh Que Anh & Que Em

Danh’s Garden – Vietnamese pub foods

dg-dipping-sauces

Pub foods for Vietnamese are pretty diverse (**). The menu at Danh’s Garden in San Jose is basically a book, plus some handwritten ones on the wall. I single-handedly narrowed down our choices by a page when I refused anything goat or lamb (I often wonder why my friends can be so kind and still go to eat with this oddball). We picked 5 dishes at first, thinking it should be enough for a party of 5 – Vietnamese pub foods are no tapas or izakaya, things are not served in dainty palm-sized saucers, they’re entree-portion. With them come a plethora of dipping sauces and salt-and-pepper mix for who knows what. Honestly I don’t think we even used all of those sauces. The food were plenty seasoned already. Mực dồn chạo tôm – squid stuffed with shrimp paste. Light on the seasoning. Rating: 8/10. (It’s tasty and I can’t think of any flaw, but will I crave it? Probably not.) [...]

Continue reading Danh’s Garden – Vietnamese pub foods

one shot: homemade hu tiu

hu-tiu-bot-loc

From Mom: hủ tíu bột lọc. Hu tiu is a common type of rice noodle in Southern Vietnam, often served in noodle-soup form, the noodle soup dish is of course also called “hu tiu“. The usual hu tiu noodle is characterized by its thin shape and chewy texture. Vietnamese love chewy noodles just as much if not more than any other country, so people began using various methods to make hu tiu (*) chewier (the soaking time before grinding, the grinding, washing the rice flour, the mixing ratio with water and other types of starch, the thickness to spread the mixture into a film, the temperature and time to steam it). Bánh bột lọc(**), a type of savory snack, is made with tapioca starch (cassava flour), so I guess hủ tíu bột lọc also contains tapioca starch. I spent an hour googling but expectedly found little and contradicting information about hu tiu bot loc – nobody in the business would reveal their secret. What I found online is hu tiu bot loc originated from Cần Thơ, and what I found in my bowl are fat (and flat) strings, whose color [...]

Continue reading one shot: homemade hu tiu

Mai’s Restaurant – 35 years and counting

banh-hoi-on-rice-paper

My junior year of high school was my first year ever in America, and I was still learning the rope of living here, high school dance among other things. A friend invited me to Homecoming. For the pre-dance dinner, he talked about going to a Vietnamese restaurant named Mai in Houston. I didn’t know exactly where it was or what it was (this was 2002, Google Maps and Yelp didn’t exist), but I thought that was considerate of him. In the end, we went to a steakhouse instead, I thought it was because Mai was a bit too far away, and I was left wondering what Mai was like. A few years later, my host parents mentioned Mai again in passing conversation, and suggested we went together sometime. The place, dated back to 1978, is known as the very first Vietnamese restaurant in Houston, and pretty much every Houstonian knows at least its name. My parents and I were interested, but again, days passed and we forgot. One day in early 2010, news came that the restaurant had been destroyed by a fire. We sighed, somewhat regretful. Luckily, it reopened. I forget how and when we [...]

Continue reading Mai’s Restaurant – 35 years and counting

one shot: Bun Rieu at Ba Le Sandwich

ba-le-sandwich-bun-rieu

Good ol’ tomato and crab noodle soup from Southern Vietnam: bún riêu (pronounced |boon rhee-oo|). The broth looks alarmingly spicy but this soup is actually never spicy. The orange red color comes from tomato and annatto seeds, and if you’re lucky, crab roe (if fresh crabs are used for the soup). The sweetness of the broth comes from freshwater paddy crabs, where the whole crab (meat and shell) is ground to a paste and strained for the juice. It’s a delicate, distinctive sweetness that can’t be reproduced with dashi no moto, meat bones or mushroom. To deepen the flavor, the cook adds some mắm ruốc, fermented krill paste, to the broth. Traditionally, bun rieu has crab meat and tofu for the protein part, but bun rieu at Ba Le Sandwich is ladened with cha lua, pork and shrimp. [...]

Continue reading one shot: Bun Rieu at Ba Le Sandwich

Tinh Luat restaurant – thoughtful vegan food

tinh-luat-sugarcane-juice

In this unassuming restaurant, I found the best sugarcane juice I’ve ever had. When the waiter asked if we would like three glasses of fresh-squeezed(*) sugarcane juice for the table, only my dad was persuaded. The waiter was quite earnest too, he insisted that it was good and that it would induce no extra cost (the meal is buffet-style for a modest $8.99/person, roughly the cost of a bowl of pho in Berkeley). However, the sugarcane juices I’d had before, although good, were soon too sweet, and for a hot summer day I find sugar particularly less appetizing than plain water, so I declined. Immediately after I took a sip from my dad’s glass, I changed my mind. I asked the same waiter for a glass, he laughed at me of course, “Told you it was good!”. It was not sugary, but sweet in a vegetal way, somewhat like an intensified goji berry tea. My dad ordered a second glass for himself. [...]

Continue reading Tinh Luat restaurant – thoughtful vegan food

One shot: Avocado smoothie

avocado-smoothie

This post is for the Vietnamese expats in particular and anyone who thinks of the avocado as a fruit (to be eaten as a fruit, not a vegetable). In America, people tend to think of avocado in guacamole terms or as a meat substitute in sandwiches. If you think avocado for dessert is weird, shall we talk about your pumpkin pie? Ever since the day I saw the option of “avocado smoothie” at UCafe, I’ve had 3-5 avocado smoothies every week. Drinking each smoothie with boba was like looking through old photographs and reliving the beautiful days. The avocado is healthy, but that’s not why I like it. It’s the best option when I’m too tired to chew, want something mildly sweet and cold, and when the weather is too hot for meat and carbs. It replenishes my soul and keeps me alive through the summer humidity that accumulates in my tin-roof office building. I regret that I had not eaten more avocados in Vietnam, where the fruit is as big as my whole hand from wrist to middle finger tip and as luscious as molten chocolate cake. Continue reading One shot: Avocado smoothie

One bite: patechaud at UCafe

patechaud-ucafe-berkeley

In 2008, nobody knew what I talked about when I said “pate chaud“ (pronounced |pah-teh-sho|), unless that person was Vietnamese. Not even Wikipedia. But it’s French, how can wikipedia not know about a french pastry, I felt desperate. Now Wikipedia has a page for it, first created on Nov 3, 2011. So it came from an obsolete French word for hot (chaud) meat pie (pâté), but the pastry itself is far from obsolete. Until now, the only place where I can get patechaud has been Vietnamese sandwich shops, which Berkeley doesn’t have. Then UCafe opened, and one day, I saw the patechauds at the counter. UCafe also has banh mi. Although I’ve been to the new Sheng Kee Bakery on Telegraph that everybody raves about, although Sheng Kee does have an artificial-tasting but really satisfying taro bubble tea, and although UCafe doesn’t have taro bubble tea (yet), I’ll be loyal to UCafe. The nitty gritty: UCafe labels it “puff chicken” on the receipt. I don’t know what they call it per se because they’re not Vietnamese and I do the classic point-and-get thing. The [...]

Continue reading One bite: patechaud at UCafe

Dungeness crab by the bay

Thanh-Long-SF-roasted-crab

Dungeness crab season is on. It was delayed twice in the Pacific Northwest because the crabs there weren’t big enough, but not here in the Bay Area. What my companions and I got a few weeks ago were 2-pound crabs, roughly one-fourth of which were meat, tossed in garlic and butter to perfection. More on that in a second. First, what defines good crab? It has to be fresh. Its flesh should be tender and sweet, which are also defining characteristics of Dungeness crab. You also want the flesh to be firm, somewhat springy, and easily pulled off from the shell. If the meat sticks to the shell and if the shell is too hard, the crab is old. Dungeness crab is best enjoyed steamed then tossed in garlic, butter, salt and pepper, as to maximally preserve the sweetness of its meat. It’s not hard to turn a good fresh crab into a good cooked crab, but it can be messy to cook, eat and clean up after. So if you dislike cleaning as much as I do, the place to satisfy your Dungeness craving is Thanh Long in San Francisco. The restaurant [...]

Continue reading Dungeness crab by the bay

Tet of a Buddhist Vietnamese expat

tet-2013

Mother said “you shall not eat meat on the first day of Tet“. And I said “yes, Mom.” It has been our family tradition that the first day of the lunar year is a vegan day. It’s not unique to our family of course, most Vietnamese Buddhists eat vegan on certain days of the lunar calendar, the number of days depend on the amount of devotion to practice the precept of not killing. To refrain from all of the festive food is also a step to train the mind against the worldly temptations. Normally, that would be difficult if I were at home, given the excess of pork sausage loaves, braised pork and eggs, banh chung banh tet, roast chicken, fried spring rolls, dumplings, et cetera. But I’m here by myself, it’s like expatriation on top of expatriation. To refrain from meat has never been so easy. My quick and simple vegan lunch: steamed rice with muối mè (a mix of sesame, salt and sugar, similar to furikake but Vietnamese ), steamed bok choy, shisozuke umeboshi (salted plum with pickled shiso leaf) and pickled [...]

Continue reading Tet of a Buddhist Vietnamese expat

Connect with us


Instagram

Archives