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

one shot: Profiteroles at Cafe Rabelais

cr-profiteroles-001

Even if you don’t like anything at Cafe Rabelais (I didn’t), this mini-mountain of profiteroles loaded with ice cream is still as resistible as a pool in the summer, and worth every second you spend with it too. To top, it’s HUGE. THREE orange-size puffs, for only $6.50! We thought it was going to be just one cream puff, you know, like how desserts are usually portioned… but no, the pastry chef has a heart of gold. Next time I’m at Rive Village, I’ll swing by for a profiterole recharge. Sidney and the cream puffs. See how big this dessert is? […]

Continue reading one shot: Profiteroles at Cafe Rabelais

one shot: Roasted duck pad thai at Nara Thai

narathai-padthai

Juicy, tender duck packed with sweet-savory marinade, you know, the typical red roasted duck that you see hanging by the neck at cleanliness-questionable Chinese eateries in Chinatown. But in this case, we don’t see the hanging ducks, the restaurant is Thai, and at least from where we’re sitting, everything looks clean(*). The noodle, too, is flavorful. The same sweet-savory vibe. Chewy and not soaking wet. I was doing well until the last maybe 3-4 bites and I could feel the part under my diaphragm harden, like a water balloon. I can’t ask for a box for 3-4 bites, so I stuffed it in. To the very last noodle. […]

Continue reading one shot: Roasted duck pad thai at Nara Thai

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

The macaron that keeps you wanting for more

DSC_0557

What defines a good macaron? I googled, but found only “10 signs of a bad macaron“. My pâtissière friend Hanna Lim told me a few criteria: a good macaron should look smooth on the surface, crunchy (but not crumbly) on the outside and a little chewy(*) inside, it should not fall apart when you take a bite, it should be a clean bite – no crumbs, no cream spewing out on the side. Looking through the Facebook page of The Pastry of Dreams, I see gliding smooth macarons and beautiful cookie-to-cream ratio. Visually, they are perfect. But what impresses me most is their taste. These almond cookies reflect what real fruits and nuts taste like in a cookie. Instead of being masked by sugar, the flavors that each cookie is supposed to contain shine through. “There are no shortcuts in our pastries,” says Liz Laval, the chemist-turn-pastry-chef who started The Pastry of Dreams. For something as simple as vanilla, she uses special vanilla beans imported from Madagascar to France and shipped to her by family living in France. “The one from here and the one that people […]

Continue reading The macaron that keeps you wanting for more

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

Went home to eat

homemade-food

Been one measly week since I got back to the West Coast, and my stomach is already shifting in discomfort with the regular irregular dining pattern of a student, or perhaps of just someone living alone. At home, on weekdays, we have dinner at 5 while watching TV. For lunch there are banh bao that Mom made, each as big as a small fist with a pork ball and a half an egg inside, refrigerated. I just need to microwave it for 1 minute. On Saturday or Sunday, I’m in charge of choosing a restaurant for lunch, preferably somewhere near Bellaire, where Mom buys a couple of banh gio, which I can also have for lunch during the week, and a pound of cha lua. For dinner, usually something small, since we are already too full from lunch. This time home, my favorite dinner has been toasted french bread with pâté and cha lua. (Mom tucked 2 cans of pâté into my backpack before the flight. Airport security didn’t like the look of them on screen so they had to do a bag check. […]

Continue reading Went home to eat

Kaneyama and mixed feelings

Curry rice with tonkatsu - $10.95 - a bit more peppery than the curry rice at Musashi in Berkeley, but still mild enough to my taste, pretty good.

Curry rice with tonkatsu – $10.95 – a bit more peppery than the curry rice at Musashi in Berkeley, but still mild enough to my taste, pretty good. On the western edge of Yosemite National Park is a little town called Sonora. In Sonora there is Koto, the only Japanese restaurant in a 38-mile radius. In Koto, I had saba shio for the first time. It’s a grilled mackerel seasoned with salt, squeeze on some lemon juice if you like. I love homey things like that, especially when it’s so good I wanted it again the next day, but Koto was closed on Sundays. We left on Monday, with a hole in my heart. Now before I go to any Japanese restaurant, I check if it has saba shio. […]

Continue reading Kaneyama and mixed feelings

Sandwich Shop Goodies 21 – Bánh dầy đậu (Vietnamese mung bean mochi)

Legend said the first ever bánh dầy (pronounced |beng yay|) was a flat thick bun of cooked-and-pounded sticky rice, white and chewy and not recommended for dentures. The prince, taught by a Bodhisattva in his dream, made it to represent the sky, and bánh chưng to represent the earth. I don’t think the sky is chewy, but I really like it when it’s white. I also like banh day with silk sausage a lot. But somewhere along the history of Vietnam, somebody gave banh day a mung bean filling, softened the dough (which means more pounding for the sticky rice), rolled it into the size of a pingpong ball, and coated it with mung bean powder. I can NEVER get enough of this thing. $2 for 3. Found at: Alpha Bakery & Deli (inside Hong Kong City Mall) 11209 Bellaire Blvd # C-02 Houston, TX 77072-2548 (281) 988-5222 Unfortunately, I love them so much that the store-bought version just doesn’t do it for me. With Little Mom’s help, a batch has been made. A recipe is on the way. (UPDATE: the recipe is here.) […]

Continue reading Sandwich Shop Goodies 21 – Bánh dầy đậu (Vietnamese mung bean mochi)

Little Cafe Du Bois in Kingwood

Little Mom likes Houston because it’s big, I’ve grown to like Berkeley because it’s so tiny I can get around without a car. Little Mom likes our big garden where she can grow 20 trees and who knows how many rose bushes, I’m content with my little dried-plum-container-turned-flower-pot in which I grow my onion. Point is, Little Mom likes big things, and I, well, sometimes like and most of the time don’t mind small things. But as often as she likes big restaurants, Little Mom likes little Cafe Du Bois in Kingwood. It makes me feel better than if I had liked Cafe Du Bois myself. The joy when you pick out a place and your company likes it, the more important the company to you the bigger the joy, and to top that with a company of people with sensitive, rarely pleased tastebuds, it feels like winning the lottery. And here my mom suggested that we should go to Cafe Du Bois again. She likes it for the roasted red snapper on rice with a light cream and tomato basil sauce, for being a mere 10 minutes from our […]

Continue reading Little Cafe Du Bois in Kingwood

Connect with us


Instagram

Archives