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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Lychee and mung bean che (Chè đậu xanh trái vải)

This dessert requires no skill in the making, but it ranks way up in the chè hierarchy, topping taro che and my own banana tapioca pudding. Beside the fact that Little Mom invented it, I always like things with lychee. Because everyone’s sweet tooth differs, it doesn’t make sense to have a fixed recipe for this simple dessert. One package of halved mung bean (with the green skin on), 1 can of whole lychee, 1 can of coconut milk, raisins, sugar and water are all there is to the pot. The mung bean need to be soaked in water overnight to soften and cook faster. The coconut milk and the syrup from the lychee can are mixed with water to cook the bean. More or less water depends on how thick you like your chè; the more liquidy chè served cold, which I prefer, is suitable as a palate cleanser after a big meal, and the thicker version is best as a midday snack. When the mixture boils and the bean becomes soft enough to dissolve in your mouth, add raisins and sugar to taste. Wait until [...]

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Red Pier on Milam Street

Among the countable Vietnamese restaurant owners that ever bother to make their menus available on the web, Kim Châu and her husband put together quite a decent site for their Red Pier: black background, colorful foods, dazzling images of the bar and the walls, names and prices of 166 dishes minus dessert. Red Pier is a go-to when you work in the ‘hood, have an hour for lunch, and just want some normal noodle soup or vermicelli at a reasonable price. Or when you crave something sweet and cold and nutty, like a chè ba màu (trichromatic bean and tapioca ice). Don’t drive too fast down the one-way Milam, you’d miss the restaurant for sure. It took us a few loops around until we pulled into the right parking lot, just across the street from the proprietors’ other business, Kim Châu Jewelers, on the left side. Also, don’t order Cơm Tôm Rim (rice with caramelized shrimp), unless you’re having salt-deficiency. If you must, Chè Ba Màu proves to be a comforting three-buck companion. Do order #1: Gỏi Sứa Tôm Thịt (jellyfish salad with shrimp and pork), [...]

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Chè chuối chưng (banana tapioca pudding)

Every once in a while when the planets align the right way with the constellations, I get into cooking mode. Then I ask my mom how to make certain things, usually easy stuff, spend at least an hour at the grocery, another half a day in front of either the sink or the stove, washing, churning, tasting, sprinkling, and tasting again. Saying that I like to cook would be like saying students hate holidays, but somehow the little accomplishment at the end of a cooking session always makes me glee, partly because I wouldn’t have to worry about dinner in the few days after. (Since the first day I had a kitchen(ette), I’ve only made savory dishes.) This time is special: I didn’t spend half a day in the kitchen, and the little accomplishment is a dessert. Now this might actually means I have che instead of rice for dinner in the next few days :-P, but all is well as my banana che is not in the least coyingly sweet like che from sandwich shops. Recipe adapted from Mom’s instruction: [...]

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Desserts at Vietnamese restaurants

Raise your hand if you’ve ordered dessert at a Vietnamese restaurant. What? Vietnamese restaurants have desserts? Yep, they do. But they’re always on the last page of the menu, which you never get to because you stop at number 1 – Pho dac biet (special noodle soup) or summ’n. Besides, nobody ever bothers to ask if you’d like to have dessert before they bring out your check. And besides, pho usually fills up the once empty cavity, so no more room for sugar loads. But next time it’s okay to leave some broth and some noodle behind, cuz they do have some delicious sweet deals outback. Not bubble teas. Black eyed pea che is one. Mushy, plump peas dissolve on your tongue with gooey sticky rice and coconut milk. I adore che dau trang at Kim Son and at Lee’s Sandwiches in Houston, but this beauty in a glass served at Le Regal does not disappoint either. Of course, do NOT eat the mint, as much as I’m for flavor mixings, this mint is purely a matter of decor. Also che, [...]

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More starchy sweets

Do you have those times when you keep craving something sweet, even after you wiped clean a cereal bowl worth of Double Fudge Brownie, exterminated many prunes, and skillfully chewed up four pirouette cookies like a mafia boss smoking cigars? I’ve started to see such danger of staying up late, but sweet stuff is always easier to eat than savory stuff in those wee hours. To avoid having my belly exceed my face, I started going through pictures of food (it helps more than studying and thinking about food), and found some munchtastic sweet treats I meant to but never got around to blog about. 1. Chè khoai môn (taro che) One of the few country treats without mung bean paste. Depending on each root and how long it’s cooked, the purplish pale taro cubes can be grainy, nutty, a little chewy, or al dente, like scallop potato minus the butter. However they are, they serve as a textural contrast to the gooey pudding-like sticky rice base. I’m particularly charmed by the vibrant green color in this Lee’s Sandwiches‘ rendition, hopefully from pandan leaf extract. You know it’s a skilled cook when the [...]

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Sweet New Year began with chè

We heard dapples of fireworks last night, other than that, everything was normal. TV had the usual shows, roads had the usual cars, the usual air, the feeling of a usual day. Isn’t that strange? New Year came quietly in this town, but with all the bombing and protesting around the world, I suppose a quiet peaceful New Year’s Eve is a nice New Year’s Eve. No champagne, no confetti, no wishes, no counting down. We slept. But how about some black eyed pea? Not only is it a traditional American New Year’s food, it always appears in a baby’s first (and most important) birthday in Vietnam (quite a connection, I know… but a good bean, isn’t it?). The word “đậu” for bean, or pea, has the same spelling with the word for passing (an examination), chè is a dessert, so chè đậu trắng is a sweet food of good luck for the beginning of something. Cooked until soft, washed with cold water, the hard “black eye” part of the testa taken off, then cooked again with sticky rice and preferably brown sugar, the beans melt in your mouth. In an average pot of che dau [...]

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