February 12, 2009
Southern California is home to the largest Vietnamese population outside of Vietnam. And that means we are very privileged to be able to eat at some of the best Vietnamese restaurants in the USA.
One of my favorite simple pleasures is a banh mi sandwich. What is a banh mi, you say?
First and foremost is the Vietnamese style baguette. Crispy on the outside and light on the inside. You can order a choice of meats, from roasted or BBQ pork, chicken, pate, sardines or even vegetarian.
The finishing and most crucial addition is the topping of pickled carrots and daikon, fresh cilantro and sliced jalapenos. Sometimes cucumbers slices are added. This gives the sandwich a balance of savory, sour, hot and sweet.
And the best part about a banh mi? The average price is about $2.50. With this economy you cannot beat that! My favorite banh mi shop is part of a chain called Lee’s Sandwiches, and is located in Alhambra. leesandwiches.com/2008/index.php
I have decided that in 2009 I am going to find and sample banh mi all over the area. The website Battle of the Banh Mi has a directory battleofthebanhmi.com/finding-banh-mi/banh-mi-directory/#more-13 of Vietnamese banh mi shops all over the United States, and a few international shops as well. I may have to take this quest on the road.
December 4, 2007
Vietnamese Cha Tom/Hue Shrimp Patties
Fri, November 30 2007
1 pound raw shrimp in shell (smaller shrimp preferred)
4 cloves garlic
1 teaspoon rock sugar (pounded to a powder) or 1 teaspoon granulated sugar
2 egg whites, beaten until frothy
1 tablespoon of rice powder
1/2 teaspoon of freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons lard or cooking oil
Shell and devein the shrimp and rinse.
Dry the shrimp thoroughly with paper towels, blotting many times until dry.
Put the garlic, shrimp, rock sugar powder, rice powder, ground black pepper, lard into a food processor and blend well. Transfer the shrimp paste into a bowl.
Beat the egg white with an electronic hand beater until frothy.
Combine the shrimp paste with beaten egg white and blend well with hand.
Divide the shrimp paste into 3 equal portions.
On a flat surface, roll out 24 inches of clear plastic wrap and fold it into half.
Put one portion of the shrimp paste at one end of the plastic wrap and roll them into a sausage as pictured above. Tie both ends with string.
Bring a pot of water to boil and then boil the three shrimp sausage rolls for 5 minutes. Dish up and let cool.
Remove the plastic wrap and cut the shrimp sausage into small pieces as pictured above.
Pan-seared both sides of the shrimp patties until they turn light brown.
Serve with toothpick and garnish with chopped scallion.
May 11, 2007
The Search for Seattle’s Best Cheap Vietnamese Sandwich
Seattle’s best lunch costs less than $3. The Vietnamese sandwich, that paper-wrapped, puppy-sized cylinder also known as banh mi, is a cheerful union of meat or tofu, pickled and fresh veggies, mayonnaise (sometimes), and a spectrum of delicious sauces (orange to brown, depending on the deli), all swaddled in a buttery, toasty French baguette. Pillowy bread snuggles with vinegary carrots; sweet meat and tart cilantro hold hands under the table; fresh cucumber gets fresh with fried tofu. It’s enough to make you blow a tiny kiss to colonialism.
Banh mi, as a rule, run the negligible gamut of $1.50 to $2.75. With $20 in your pocket, you could eat for a week. But you don’t have to be strapped for cash to swoon over a banh mi. This isn’t a sandwich to settle for, or eat out of desperation—a good banh mi is looked forward to, and, after the first bite, demands answers: “Why don’t you eat me every day? What is wrong with you, dude?” It’s an emotionally abusive kind of lunch.
Though a handful of more elegant eateries (the kind with “décor” and “bathrooms”) have lately been hopping on the Vietnamese-sandwich train—the commendable Baguette Box comes to mind—a banh mi over $3 simply can’t be justified, not with our own Little Saigon just down the street. But with so many choices—Seattle Deli, Saigon Deli, New Saigon Deli, Tan Dinh Deli, and Banh Mi 88 Deli all within a block of each other, all in homogeneous storefronts—what’s a hungry gal to do? Who is the true banh mi king?
As it turns out, a Vietnamese sandwich taste test is a near-perfect way to spend a Sunday afternoon. After collecting two specimens—one tofu and one barbecued pork—from each of the aforementioned delis, I assembled my esteemed panel of judges: three teachers, one unemployed omnivore, one web marketer, one astute vegetarian, one overworked NGO program director, and one guy-who-works-with-the-youth. Kneeling on blankets under the sun at Cal Anderson Park, we were hungry. Our palates were eager. We got down to business, mingling germs in the name of science.
225 12th Ave S, 328-0106Price: Pork $2.25, Tofu $1.75
Time elapsed between placing and reception of order: 5 minutes
Seattle Deli is bright and clean and, unlike its strip-mall competitors, inhabits a sort of freestanding, shiny cube. “It’s kind of like that Taco Time of the Future in Wallingford,” observed the vegetarian. Seattle Deli offers an impressive collection of extras: bubble tea, pastries, coconut-milk-based treats, and stratified jellies in cups. As for the banh mi: The Seattle Deli pork was declared “delicious, but a little dry” by one of the teachers and was the only sandwich we finished entirely. The meat was dark and sweet, with hefty wedges of cucumber and clinging jalapeño heat. The tofu sandwich didn’t fare as well, eliciting “boo,” “a little like fish sauce,” and “all I taste is mush and vinegar” from the overworked NGO program director.
Tan Dinh Deli
1212 S Main St, 726-9990Price: Pork $1.75, Tofu $1.50
Time elapsed between placing and reception of order: 10 minutes
A box of shiny Capri Sun pouches called to us from the refrigerator case at Tan Dinh, while a friendly twentysomething dude retrieved our sandwiches. Their pork version, rumored to be “the best!” could have used a few more veggies, but the bread was soft and crunchy and the mayo lent a harmonious tang. Despite the best efforts of a decoratively scraped cucumber, Tan Dinh’s tofu lacked sauce and flavor, and our vegetarian was leery of the amount of mayo. “Boring,” she said.
1200 S Jackson St, 328-2357Price: Pork $2, Tofu $1.50
Time elapsed between placing and reception of order: 3 minutes
The brusque but cordial ladies of Saigon Deli dispense banh mi with brutal efficiency. Customers can use the very brief wait to peruse crates of gummi pizza, confusing cans of Doritos, and the largest selection of refrigerated mysteries this side of actual Saigon. The sandwiches were uniformly delicious. The hot-pink pork raised suspicions (“I like it,” said guy-who-works-with-the-youth. “But I didn’t think I would ’cause it looked nasty.”), but admirably balanced the overabundant mayo and hefty portion of pickle. Saigon Deli’s tofu added a welcome jolt of black pepper, and positively dripped with a sticky red sauce. “Still the king!” announced guy-who-works-with-the-youth, punching the air in triumph.
New Saigon Deli
1034 S Jackson St, 322-5622Price: Pork $2, Tofu $1.75
Time elapsed between placing and reception of order: 7 minutes
This establishment was new to us. Jellies, coconuts, and a lonely fried fish rotated in a motorized display case. We picked up a bag of PAGODA young nuts (their slogan: “Younger nuts are better nuts!”), and opted against sampling the “vegetarian ham.” One of the teachers described the pork, aptly, as “grilled to perfection,” but, without mayonnaise, it was a bit dry. The forlorn tofu sandwich lacked both cucumber and flavor.
Banh Mi 88 Deli
1043 S Jackson St, 324-9019Price: Pork $2, Tofu $1.75
Time elapsed between placing and reception of order: 8 minutes
Banh Mi 88 was the only deli we visited that had no line. A vaguely icky odor wafted out onto the sidewalk, while inside an old lady worked a giant meat-slicing apparatus. She grinned in our direction. Very dark, sweet, and gristly, the pork was as unappetizing as we expected, and went largely uneaten. The tofu, however, was another story, stuffed to the brim with veggies, chunks of fried tofu, and a viscous white fluid that looked like the hideous progeny of mayonnaise and pineapple juice but tasted like the wonderful progeny of mayonnaise and pineapple juice, and which rendered Banh Mi 88’s tofu sandwich a flavorful standout amid its uniformly boring, if more traditional, competitors. Moral: Don’t judge a sandwich by its milky white goo.
After a final vote and a last-minute mutiny from the unemployed omnivore (“Whatever,” he scoffed. “It won’t change where I get my banh mi.”), we tallied our results. In the pork category, perennial favorites Seattle Deli and Tan Dinh tied with newcomer New Saigon; among the tofu, Saigon Deli shared the prize with ugly duckling Banh Mi 88. The ultimate winners—you and me, the cheap and hungry.
November 25, 2006
November 6, 2006
A Vietnamese expatriate living in Australia plans to start a $400,000 campaign to popularize pho, Vietnam’s traditional noodle soup, in his adopted country in 2008.
|Le Phu Cuong, a cultural program coordinator at the Casula Powerhouse Arts Center in Liverpool in New South Wales state, said the Pho Goes Global project would feature a 90-minute documentary and an exhibition on the subject and a book on pho written by famous Vietnamese chefs and writers.
His government-funded center was looking for finance for the project, he said.
In June Cuong organized an exhibition at the center titled I love Pho.
After many Australians mispronounced it as “I love fur”, deeming it too anti-animal, he taught them to do it right.
“They now understand that wherever there are Vietnamese, there is pho”, he said jokingly.
Through the humble dish Cuong also hopes to teach Vietnamese culture and history to the younger Vietnamese generations.
People interested in the project can contact him at email@example.com.
Reported by Quynh Nhu – Translated by Hoang Bao
October 12, 2006
October 11, 2006
Crab is king in San Francisco, where hungry residents wait impatiently for the start of Dungeness crab season every fall.
The sweet, clean flavor of just-caught local crab is a thing to be savored.
A favorite presentation found at the city’s Vietnamese restaurants is roasted crab served in the shell atop an aromatic pillow of garlicky noodles.
The dish serves as inspiration for this quicker, simpler dish.
Dungeness works great here, of course, but equally good results can be had with other crab varieties.
Buy what’s best and at the best price. Use the best quality crab you can find. If possible, buy the crab still frozen so you can defrost it on your schedule.
For a kickier dish, augment the garlic butter with 1/4 cup each of sliced green onions and slivered fresh basil leaves and 1 to 2 tablespoons of minced jalapeno.
A crisp, yet full-bodied chardonnay from Australia gives the crab some added plushness. Iced tea also works well here.
September 25, 2006
By Grant McCool HO CHI MINH CITY, Sept 25 (Reuters) – Would you like your crickets deep fried and crispy? Peppered and presented in a neat circle on a bed of green leaves? Breeders of crickets say the insects have become “finger food for beer drinkers” in an age of increasing prosperity in Vietnam compared with the recent past when they might have been food for the hungry or for wartime soldiers surviving in the jungle. Businessman Le Thanh Tung raises hundreds of thousands of the flying insects in barrels and sells them to restaurants in Ho Chi Minh City, the Southeast Asian country’s largest urban area, or to other breeders in neighbouring provinces. “The taste is very particular, very special and it smells good and tastes delicious but it is very difficult to compare cricket to other meat,” said Tung, 28, suggesting that crickets are an acquired taste. At his small farm and restaurant about 25 km (16 miles) west of the city centre, a plastic-covered menu with photographs of cricket dishes offers “young crickets deep fried”, “cricket salad”, “breaded cricket”, “cricket noodle” and “peppered cricket”. One customer rode 340 km on a motorbike from his home near the border with Cambodia to buy two boxes full of twitching, chirping crickets to breed and serve at his restaurant. “There is a demand because people like to eat better,” said the customer, Nguyen Chinh Anh. CRUNCHY CRICKETS Back in the hot kitchen of the farm’s brick-faced building covered by a tin roof, Tung’s sister-in-law, Huynh Thi Oanh Kieu, scoops up a colander of crickets from a plastic basin and gently releases them into boiling oil. They sizzle and smoke for five to 10 minutes and she pulls them out. Crunchy crickets are ready. Tung gives his guests six dishes of crickets of various sizes, shapes and colours nestled on long yellow noodles, or battered, or stood on their legs atop a dark-green salad. Vietnamese crickets usually grow to 2.5 cm (0.9 inch) long and the largest can grow up to 4 cm, according to Tung. “Tasty,” said driver Nguyen Trong Thanh, after gingerly picking up a deep fried cricket with his chopsticks, dipping it in spicy fish sauce and then into his mouth. “This is the first time I’ve eaten it and I’m surprised it’s that good.” Throughout the meal, crickets sing in the background. Tung says that after six years of catching and breeding the insects, he knows their character and moods. “When they are angry, the singing is high-pitched and when they are looking for a mate, it is like the sound of violins playing,” he said. Like many Vietnamese of his generation, Tung remembers a childhood fascination with crickets, which they caught to watch them fight for entertainment. The insect has a special place in Vietnamese literature through a book called “The adventure of a cricket” by To Hoai. A picture book and a cartoon film were based on the story. However, the cricket breeder said the real inspiration for his business came from watching a TV documentary about crickets as a culinary delicacy in Thailand and a European report that said eating insects reduced cholesterol. SCORPIONS AND CENTIPEDES Crickets are harmless but Tung also breeds scorpions and venomous giant centipedes. They are two other insects considered delicacies at some restaurants in the nearby city of about 8 million that many still call by its old name, Saigon. The story of Tung and his insects is also one of a young entrepreneur who said he had struggled to make a living breeding rabbits and other animals and growing vegetables. He also tried working on construction sites, a common occupation for men his age in Vietnam’s rapidly developing cities, but hours were long and wages relatively low. In this country of 83 million with per capita annual income of just $640, Tung’s cricket business changed his life as his earnings rose way above average. His business grosses an estimated 90 million dong ($5,625) a month, before paying salaries to 12 workers and other costs. Tung said buyers pay between 250,000 dong ($15) and 450,000 dong ($28) per kg of crickets and he can sell about 300 kg a month. By comparison, one kg of chicken costs 70,000 dong ($4). “There’s a niche in the market, demand is potentially big,” said Tung as he stood in his breeding shed surrounded by hundreds of blue, red and green plastic barrels. In the crowded, narrow streets of the Go Vap district of Ho Chi Minh City, a restaurant called “Cricket” serves the insects cooked in batter or in fish sauce. As beer- and rice wine-drinking customers walk in and out of the three-storey lime green building, manager Nguyen Hong Muong says that, while it caters mostly to locals, “tourists from Japan and Korea and even Russia have come here to eat crickets.” ($1=16,001 dong) (Additional reporting by Nguyen Nhat Lam and Nguyen Van Vinh)