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 [...]

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Bánh bèo tips from Mrs. Tự

A couple of millimeters thin, chewy, savory, bánh bèo, the waterfern-shaped appetizer, is as familiar to the Vietnamese dining tables as crab cakes to Americans. But not everyone makes it at home because it takes more time than its worth: make the rice flour batter, steam the banh, make the toppings, mix the fish sauce. In fact, I’ve had homemade bánh bèo only once, and it was at my friend’s family restaurant. That said, there are skilled and dedicated grandmas who insist on making everything from scratch for the best bánh bèo. One of them is Mrs. Tự, and Little Mom happened to see one episode of her cooking show on TV last week. So below are some tips on bánh bèo from Mrs Tự, collected from the show Nghệ Thuật Nấu Ăn Bà Tự (The Cooking Arts of Mrs Tự) on Global TV Houston. 1. Texture: The thinner bánh bèo is the better bánh bèo. Of course, resilience is a must, it should not be as chewy as a mochi, but it should have enough strength to hold itself together as the eater picks it up with chopsticks. How to make a thin but resilient [...]

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Central Vietnamese rice cracker roll (bánh đa cuốn thịt)

It’s the 29th of the 12th month in the lunar calendar. The last day of the Year of the Cat. The last day before Tet officially starts. But the preparation for Tet is also Tet. Having a good time is also Tet. Being home is also Tet. One of the best parts of being home is not just getting to eat a lot. It’s getting to eat a lot of food that I would never have known otherwise. This time, Little Mom introduced me to the Central Vietnamese fun of a rice cracker roll. When I first heard the name, I thought I heard it wrong: how can you make a roll out of a stiff, crunchy, airy rice cracker (which we call a bánh tráng nướng in the South, or bánh đa in the North)? Simple. You dip it into water. Just like you would with the normal dry rice papers to make gỏi cuốn or chả giò. Except in this case, you get an extra thick roll with some crunch and air in the bite, and the nuttiness of thousands of sesame seeds ingrained in every bánh đa. The filling is [...]

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Black tea rice

Vietnamese Something occurred to me within the last month: I probably should learn to pair drinks with food, but I hardly drink anything beside water and soymilk. Now I would *love* to learn about the different kinds of water, but living in the city makes it a bit difficult, and soymilk can’t be paired with everything like wine (yet). Coffee, alcoholic beverage, juice? Didn’t quite catch on. So what does that leave me? Tea. A quest takes form: Mai is going to learn tea. And Mai will cook with tea, too. Because boiling water to drink tea takes some work, I might as well make it worth a meal. How much influence the ochazuke at Mifune had on me, I’m not sure, but during the two minutes of wringling my brain out for some easy way to use tea in food, the first thing that came to mind was cooking rice with tea. Now that’s the difference between my tea rice and the ochazuke: my tea rice is rice cooked with tea, and the ochazuke is rice eaten with tea, like a soup. As with everything, there’s the easy way and the [...]

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Hương Giang – Savour Huế in Houston

I lost my memory card. If you’re a food blogger too you’d know how devastated I felt: the first advice to a food blogger these days is “good pictures”. Well, the pictures I took at Hương Giang are amazing, they just no longer exist. But, pictures or not, as my professor Lawrence Hall would say in his British tongue, “you can’t stop me,” or in this case, I can’t stop myself from blogging about the restaurant. Is their food that good? Hương Giang takes a shy, small square in the parking lot at the corner of Bellaire and Boone. If you drive westward on Bellaire Blvd, you’ll see its sign on the left before you reach Hong Kong Market. It’s really a tucked-away place for scoffers, the outlook unimpressive, the sign blue and white like a tired worker shirt. The inside is similar to any average pho joints you’ve seen, wiped clean and plastic cheap. I knew my mom wouldn’t come here if not for blogging’s sake, but in this city it’d be hard to get a menu more Huế than this one. There are pictures in the menu and printouts taped [...]

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Banh cuon, bun, and beyond – Tay Ho #9

bun_moc

I have discovered another great soup. My fingers trembled with anticipation over the sweet aroma, the shining aurulent broth, those fragile fatty bubbles that form a thin film on the surface, the promising dapple of fried shallot,… and the pictures got all blurry. So just squint your eyes and pretend for the moment that you’re hunching over a bowl of piping hot succulence and the steam makes your eyes hazy. Can you smell that sweet aroma? No? Grab a chair at Bánh Cuốn Tây Hồ #9 in North Oakland, ask for a bowl of bún mộc, and find out for yourself. Before diving thy chopsticks into the noodle soup, let us start with the name. It can be spelled either bún mọc or bún mộc, the hat on the “o” changes the word’s meaning and thus the name’s origin, but nobody is certain which one is correct. “Mộc” means “simple”, the broth is simply boiling water savorized by salt, pepper, nuoc mam, pork, shiitake, and wood ear mushroom. “Mộc” also means pork paste (twice-ground or pounded pork, seasoned, known as “giò sống” in Vietnamese), which is the central ingredient in the original soup but not in the [...]

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Sleeky banh soup

Almost every Sunday we make a trip to Bellaire to get the usual supply of patechaud, cha lua, banh gio, and the like. Almost every Sunday the question’s asked: where will we eat today? Well, there are two choices: the all-too-familiar Kim Son, and the more adventurous find which can be anything Little Mother saw in the local Vietnamese newspaper ads. We’ve had our handfuls of adventurous finds, all are good, but as usual smaller places don’t have a big selection, the menus are either common banh mi and pho, or grandiose names we don’t particularly care for. Mother is also easily shy away by the appearance of a restaurant: if the setting doesn’t look good, the food won’t taste good. So back we headed to Kim Son today… We opted for the popular choice of a lunch buffet. We got there early enough, meaning at 11, when it’s just opened and there was banh canh. 15 minutes later and it was all gone. Out of banh canh noodle they said. The soup is not left unattended like the rest of the food trays known and visited by many. No, [...]

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Hot soups for the cold winter at Bún bò Huế Cố Đô

It was a warm, cloudy day. Few cars were on the road and every store was closed. So were restaurants, but not Vietnamese restaurants. We drove all the way down FM 1960 to Veteran Memorial, and pulled in the parking lot of Phở Danh (with the helpful hand signal of a Vietnamese gentleman, who just happened to stand there for no reason and apparently noticed my clumsy parking skill). But we went next door for Bún Bò Huế Cố Đô, since my mom spotted it out and we were in adventurous mood. There were as few people inside as cars on the road today. Everyone in the neighborhood seems to go to Phở Danh, cuz it’s bigger and more noticeable. We weren’t deterred. So how is Cố Đô? My dad got the house specialty: bún bò Huế (Hue beef noodle). Rice noodle, beef, beef broth, (sounds like phở so far, isn’t it?), congealed blood, cha lua, a thick side cut of pig leg (not foot), and some good spicy hot pepper. I suppose it wasn’t spicy enough for my dad, so he put in some [...]

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