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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My first taste of Battambang

It happens on Broadway Street, Oakland. Dishes with names so hard to pronounce, ingredients and tastes so similar to Vietnamese food. I learn of the second largest city of Cambodia, smaller only than Phnom Penh. I share my first simple Cambodian dinner, complete with a salad, a meat, and a dessert. Here’s a little language snippet: to Vietnamese people, salad is called “gỏi” |ghoy| in the South and “nộm” |nom| in the North. To my surprise, “nhorm” is its romanized name in Cambodia. Listening to the other customers at Battambang, Mudpie comments that Khmer and Vietnamese sound similar, to which I first protest, but perhaps it holds a grain of truth after all. Here we have nhorm lahong. If there’s any salad that never goes wrong, it must be this green papaya salad of Southeast Asia. Delicate, raw, and soaking fruit shreds retain nothing but a tightening chew, the sweet lime dressing sends a quiet smell of fish extract. Battambang’s batch is a drop more watery than Dara’s som tum/tam mak hoong, on the plus side there’s plenty of sauce to make rice go quickly down the pipe. [...]

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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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Family meal from Thanh Đa Quán, Houston

Vietnamese *Guest post in Vietnamese by my Mom, translated by me* There are two places with the name Thanh Đa in Bellaire. One is Bún Măng Vịt Thanh Đa (Thanh Đa vermicelli soup with bamboo shoot and duck), and the other is Thanh Đa Quán. We happen to choose Thanh Đa Quán for lunch today, partly because they have the family dining option, which is rare in the States. The reason, I can only guess, is that most people who eat out like to pick their own items, or go to buffets if they don’t know what to pick. Family style lies between these two options, where the restaurant decides for the diners a fix menu (for example, Thanh Da Quan gives 4 dishes for 2 people, 5 dishes for 4 people, or 6 dishes for 6 people). The total bill for family dining usually comes out higher than a buffet ticket but lower than a combination of single plates. Today, it is boiled duck with ginger dipping sauce, lotus stem salad with pork and shrimp, sour catfish soup, and claypot catfish, all for $21.6 (after tax, with [...]

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Second time at Lemon Grass

We came back, and it was new. The menu is a laminated extensive list. The construction was finished. The booths are filled. The space was lushed with soothing 80′s music. The dishes were brought out one after another all too quickly. Appetizer 1: tôm chiên cốm (fried shrimp coated with crispy green rice, pictured above). Little seasoning is added, the flavor relies on the shrimps’ freshness and the cốm‘s natural confection. Pure novelty. The shrimps come in flock of five. Appetizer 2: mango salad. Here’s my guess: a squirt of lemon, a pinch of sugar, a half-ripe mango (to keep the crunchy but not so much the sour), a pinch of sesame seeds for colors, and again, five rosy boiled shrimps for protein. It’s refreshmunchtastic. [...]

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Pho Vi Hoa

Vietnamese It’s almost certain that outside the big Vietnamese communities any Vietnamese restaurant you see in America has the word pho in it. People must eventually have the impression that Vietnamese eat nothing but rice noodle soup. Of course, Japanese eat nothing but sushi and Americans have only hamburgers. Mudpie found this place earlier in Los Altos, about 10-15 minutes car ride from SLAC. We strayed from the usual pho and ordered a gargantuan set of appetizers and main courses. Starting off was the familiar goi cuon, a salad wrap with some lettuce or garden herbs, some halved shrimps (mainly for decoration), a razor blade thin slice of boiled pork, some fresh bean sprout, and a little bundle of rice vermicelli. I took a bite by itself, and the meat couldn’t quite buff the plain veggie up, so a dip into the peanut sauce nearby was essential. It was a very light appetizer, and no matter how slowly you go you’re gonna finish the roll in at most 3 minutes. I don’t know what kind of sauce they serve with in Vietnam, but the peanut sauce [...]

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