Chat with Mr. James Luu and a peek inside Banh Cuon Tay Ho 18

Ever wonder why Banh Cuon Tay Ho has the best steamed roll of all places? Thin like a veil, never too chewy or oily, the flour never tastes sour, and the mixed fish sauce never has the bitter hint of lime. Their secrets are mysteries to me. By chance, the Lưu family who operates Tay Ho 18 in Houston stumbled on my blog post of 4 years ago and invited me to the opening week after the relocation early April, which would feature a new item: crawfish banh cuon. I couldn’t come then due to a minor distraction called school, but a month later the place is stilled packed to the rim like an Apple store the day of a new iPhone release. I managed to snatch Mr. James Lưu aside for a brief chat during lunch rush, wonder if his staff liked me or hated me for it. Leaving Vietnam in ’79, getting attacked by pirates, rescued ashore but later tricked and stranded by the natives in the Malaysian jungle, rescued by an American helicpopter after a month in the jungle, immigrated to the US as an orphan (Mr. Lưu was then 16 years old, […]

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Rolling business in Tay Ho Oakland

Not many Vietnamese diners roll out steamed rice leaves stuffed with pork and mushroom, and among those that do, not many actually do it right. A good roll of banh cuon must be slick but not oily, delicate but not crumbly, the flour leaf thin but springy, the stuffing visible, almost poking through, on one side and hidden on the other, served warm. A good nuoc cham must be more sweet than salty, with a little zest of lime, and spicy is not necessary. You then pour as much of that honey-colored dipping sauce as you want all over the plate, soaking the cucumber, the bean sprout, the cha lua, and especially the rolls. You then savour. When it comes to banh cuon, Tay Ho rules, from Vietnam to America. But among the Tay Ho’s of the Bay, Tay Ho #9 in Oakland makes it best. After taking over the business from her aunt, Duyên transforms Tay Ho Oakland into an all-American restaurant with fluent-English-speaking staff (herself on weekdays and with another girl on weekends), attentive service, credit card accepting, and a list of common herbs on the […]

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There can’t be more tender pork

The revamped Bánh Cuốn Tây Hồ #8 dishes out some seriously tender thịt kho (fatty pork slow cooked in nuoc mam and sugar). You know how they say this beef and that melt in your mouth? Well, I haven’t had any beef like that to testify if it’s just figurative talks, but last week I had this pork that really did melt in my mouth. There is no need for either knife or teeth. The porcelain soup spoon cuts through three layers of skin, fat and meat as it would with a flan. The skin, which is half an inch thick and might have been chewy once, is not even as tough as jello. There is perhaps too much fat in this pork: a runny white bunch flimsily holding onto the meat (which should have been trimmed off) and bubbles floating in the sauce. Continue reading There can’t be more tender pork

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


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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The most delicate is the most tempting

My roommate is eating dinner, I haven’t had anything since 9am, and I’ve vowed to stay on this chair until I get a plot to show my advisor, so I can’t grab anything to eat yet (except the cookies within reach). The best solution to satisfy the saddened tummy is to blog about food. Above is a bottle of nuoc mam pha, and a jar of chilly sauce if you’re in the mood for crying. We come here frequently when I’m in Houston. It’s Banh Cuon Tay Ho #18, belonging to the franchise Banh Cuon Tay Ho (but apparently not on the website, which is good, because the website, oddly enough, is quite Chinese influenced, when banh cuon is as Vietnamese as it can get). I’ve blogged about this chain before, in San Jose, but the restaurant in Houston is quite different. It’s a lot more spacious (you don’t have to worry about accidentally flicking your chopstick, or worse, nuoc mam, over to the other table). In all fairness, it’s Texas. You can’t blame California for being mostly inhabitable. It’s also a lot […]

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Bánh cuốn Tây Hồ

Vietnamese It’s always interesting to read reviews online. A good place always has some reviews that smash them down mercilessly as if all those reviewers were served was a piece of wood with splinters and a side of mud. One thing people should keep in mind when they go to Vietnamese restaurants: order the house specialties. It’s in their name. It’s something they started out with and have earned a living from. It’s what they know best. It’s the difference between an authentic Vietnamese restaurant and a mass-production Chinese buffet. Try something else on the menu only if the specialty satisfies you, and if you want to be adventurous, well, keep your complaints to yourself. Adventures rarely bring satisfaction. If you ate at Banh Cuon Tay Ho in Bellaire, Houston before, Banh Cuon Tay Ho in San Jose will satisfy your craving, but will not give you the oomph and aaahhhh. Small tables under a small roof, equipped with the usual tray of bottles of rooster chili sauce, soy sauce, some other kind of chili sauce I’m not sure if my tongue would allow me to try, and a […]

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