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February 6, 3:40 PM
by Cheryl D Lee, LA Cooking Examiner

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.

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 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.

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.

The Search for Seattle’s Best Cheap Vietnamese Sandwich

Jack Hornady

Jack Hornady

Jack Hornady

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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.

Seattle Deli

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.

Saigon Deli

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.

The Winners

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.

A son rides Vietnamese wave

November 25, 2006

Contra Costa Times – CA,USA
Little Saigon’s timing is good — Vietnamese restaurants are in ascendance in the suburbs, replacing Thai and Indian as a novel yet affordable cuisine.

Le Phu Cuong  

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

Reported by Quynh Nhu – Translated by Hoang Bao

October 11, 2006





Related articles:

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.


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)

July 26, 2006, 7:04AM

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Bich Tran teaches her daughter, Mary Vuong, how to make Banh Xeo, a stuffed Vietnamese crêpe. Click through our photo gallery for a step-by-step guide.

Christian Vuong: For the Chronicle



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Copyright 2006 Houston ChronicleEditor’s Note: This is an installment in our occasional series about food, family, tradition and culture. The cooks we feature usually live in or near Houston, but this time our writer returned to her California hometown to learn the traditional Vietnamese dishes she was raised on.





–>She started without me.

I flew 1,400 miles so my mother could teach me how to make Vietnamese food, and discovered that she’d hit the kitchen she began 90 minutes before I woke up.

Instantly cranky, I marched back to the childhood bedroom I hadn’t slept in regularly for nine years. I was overreacting, sure, but it was only 7:28 a.m.

Was this a good idea? I wondered.

I traveled home to Redondo Beach, Calif., this summer determined to master family recipes and create delicious memories so that I could pass them onto on to the next generation. Eating has always been my favorite pastime, but I didn’t develop an interest in cooking until I began writing about food a few years ago.

A series of stories I wrote called Cooking With . . ., in which Houstonians happily reminisced about making significant dishes from their past, made me nostalgic for the Vietnamese dishes I was raised on.

I rarely eat such food in Houston. Nothing here compares to my mom’s cha gio, egg rolls that she stuffed, rolled and fried in party-size quantities, or her ca kho, a homey catfish stew bursting with the nuoc mam (fish sauce) ubiquitous in Vietnamese cuisine.

I was almost 5 years old when my mother, Bich (sounds like “bit”) Tran, became a stay-at-home mom with the birth of my brother, Christian. Our routine was the same each day: After my dad, Hoan Vuong, arrived home from work, we sat down to a home-cooked meal. I never gave it a second thought.

Now, two time zones away and too exhausted to cook from scratch after work, I’ve come to realize what a luxury those dinners that my mother labored over were.

One of my most vivid memories is of my mother standing at the stove during parties so that every guest would have a perfectly crisp banh xeo, a crêpe stuffed with pork, shrimp, bean sprouts, onions and mung beans. They ate them as quickly as she could swirl the batter.

So I asked her to teach me that and another dish. Goi sua tom thit is one of my all-time favorites, a lively, herbaceous salad with shaved vegetables, pork, shrimp and jellyfish. Though a it’s a common offering at Houston Vietnamese restaurants, I haven’t found a version to my liking; the celery is sliced too thick, or the typically pungent fish sauce is disappointingly bland.

I learned to cook in my mid-20s by closely following recipes until I felt comfortable enough to improvise. My mom, already preparing meals for her family at age 10 or 11, learned by observing her mother, analyzing restaurant meals and reading cookbooks and newspapers. I use my digital kitchen scale daily; she eyeballs nearly every ingredient.

We speak Vietnamese to each other, with liberal use of English words on my part. I call her me (pronounced MAY-eh), Vietnamese for mother.

Drastic measures

I tried learning to cook from her years ago, but it backfired. When I asked for measurements, she replied, “as needed” or “to taste.” I was an inexperienced cook with minimal kitchen skills, and such vague instructions were enough to make me quit.This time, however, I was prepared. To be able to write accurate recipes and re-create the dishes solo, I insisted on digging out her rarely used scale and measuring spoons and cups.

But my need to measure everything and to ask “why?” stalled the process. Over two days of cooking, this was a cycle we couldn’t break:

“Each person can do it their own way,” she’d say.

“But I want to know your way!” I’d cry, exasperated. “I need a solid starting point; I can’t improvise from nothing.”

A friend but always Mom

Cooking with Mom forced me to realize that the mother-daughter relationship may never blossom into an adult-adult relationship, no matter how old the child. She still has the I’ll-cook-and-you-play-or-do-your-homework mentality from my youth. She gives me the easier, less messy duties, such as peeling carrots and daikon, while she deveins shrimp and expertly slices slippery pork.She’s subtly critical of my work, taking over the shaving of the carrots because I’m not making them thin enough. For her, it’s easier to do all the work than have someone else try.

I’m the same way.

Our similarities start with our Vietnamese names. She is Bich-Ngoc and I am Ngoc-Bich.

Food is a key

We express love and affection through food. She tucks homegrown satsuma oranges and frozen banh bao (meat-stuffed buns) into my luggage as I’m heading back to Houston. I leave Los Angeles with fleur-de-sel caramels for friends here.We also share a rarely broached fear. My maternal grandmother has Alzheimer’s, and I can’t help but wonder what the future holds for my mother and, ultimately, me. It’s not just the unwritten recipes I want to preserve but the memories they evoke.

I was in my mother’s womb when she and my father fled Vietnam in December 1978 for a refugee camp on Pulau Bidong, a Malaysian island. I was born the next year on a hospital ship run by Doctors Without Borders, a humanitarian organization.

That’s the edited version of history. It wasn’t till last summer, during my first trip to Vietnam, that the more gut-wrenching stuff emerged.

A link in history

My dad and I were sitting in an air-conditioned hotel room, watching a CNN reporter wade through water during Hurricane Katrina. When I remarked on the awful conditions, my father said the tiny island they lived on with 40,000 other refugees was miserable, too.My father’s English students, the sons of fishermen, were experienced swimmers and helped him gather mussels in rocky areas. He and his brothers-in-law also would drag mosquito netting through the water to catch tiny fish along the shore.

But that wasn’t enough to survive on. He was forced to sell his wedding band so he could buy food to supplement the rations provided by the Red Crescent (Malaysian Red Cross), buying a chicken neck to make soup or a precious egg. (Eggs are my favorite food. Coincidence?) They splurged on the occasional 7-Up, under the odd but widely held belief that it would make their baby’s skin light. Someone stole my mom’s soda one night after she and my father dozed off on the beach.

I was just 1 1/2 months old when they arrived in California, where we first settled in the working-class city of Cudahy in Los Angeles County. Three homes later, they purchased their current house in Redondo Beach.

Which is where Mom and I spent these two days cooking.

Preparation, perspiration

The prep work was tedious. For the salad, my mom and I boiled pork and shrimp and shaved and sliced endless vegetables.”How much pork are you using?” I asked her. “We have to weigh it.”

“Oh, maybe this much,” she said. “If we have too much, we’ll subtract.”

“How about shrimp?” I pressed her, knowing her answer would be the same.

The crêpes turned out to be tricky. Mom’s first one was perfect, thanks to an experienced wrist, but it took several tries before I produced one that was unbroken and golden-brown.

Division of labor

As soon as my father returned from work, she tasked him with making the fish sauce we would drizzle over the salad and dip the crêpes in.”I can’t take it anymore!” she declared. “All day it’s been measure this, weigh that.” I burst out laughing. She did, too. So I had been driving her crazy the past eight hours, as well.

The tension melted away and we relaxed. My mom finished tossing the salad as I continued to pour the crêpes. My brother snapped photos, and my dad made a comical production of using measuring instruments to produce a dipping sauce that is very much “to taste.”

When we sat down for dinner, I learned to eat banh xeo the traditional way. With my fingers, I placed a piece of hot crêpe onto a cool lettuce leaf, then added shredded herbs. I rolled the pile into a tight bundle and lightly dunked the wrap in fish sauce. It was brighter-tasting than I remembered, thanks to the spicy, minty herbs I had rejected as a picky child.

The goi sua tom thit, despite the many ingredients, was light and clean. The tart lime juice and sweet-and-salty fish sauce pulled everything together, from the subtly sweetened shrimp and pork to those distinctive herbs.

Mung bean wars

Back in Houston, I tested the recipes in the comfort of my familiar kitchen, referring to my notes for cooking times and temperatures.10:02 a.m.: Beans with water on medium. Mostly covered. When starts to boil, reduce to simmer. Stir occasionally.

10:26 a.m.: When beans are somewhat cooked but still hard, drain any remaining water and return to stove to continue cooking at low heat (mostly covered). Stir occasionally.

10:37 a.m. Stop cooking when beans are tender and slightly mashed. Remove from the heat. Let sit 10-15 minutes.

Despite my meticulous notes, I overcooked the mung beans.

Some things I still need Mom for.


Chronicle kitchen-tested recipe from Bich Tran.

Use a 10-inch nonstick frying pan to make these stuffed crêpes, which should be served immediately, while crisp. To eat, tear a portion of a crêpe, place it in a lettuce leaf, top with shredded herbs, roll and dip in Fish Sauce. You can find the flour, labeled “banh xeo,” at Vietnamese and Chinese stores, as well as any other ingredients not in your local store. Plan ahead: You’ll need to soak and cook the beans before you start cooking.

  • 1/2 of a (12-ounce) bag dried, peeled and split mung bean, picked through
  • 1 (12-ounce) package banh xeo flour
  • 1 cup coconut milk
  • 3 stalks scallion, in 1-inch pieces
  • 2/3 pound small shrimp, peeled and deveined
  • 2/3 pound semifatty pork, sliced into thin, bite-size pieces
  • Sugar, to taste
  • Salt, to taste
  • 2/3 pound onions, thinly sliced (about 3 cups loosely packed)
  • 2/3 pound bean sprouts, washed and dried (about 5 cups loosely packed)
  • Vegetable oil, for frying
  • Leaf lettuce
  • Assorted herbs such as cilantro, mint, red perilla, Vietnamese coriander and crab-claw herb
  • Fish Sauce (recipe above)

Rinse beans and soak in lukewarm water for 2 hours.

Strain beans and put in a 2-quart nonstick pot. Add water to slightly more than cover. Cook, partially covered, on medium heat until water comes to a boil. Reduce to a simmer, stirring occasionally, until the beans are semicooked but still firm. Drain any remaining water and return to the stove to cook over low heat, covered. Stir occasionally. The beans are ready when they are tender. Remove from heat and allow to sit 10 to 15 minutes, covered, then fluff with a fork.

Prepare the batter by stirring together the flour, 3 1/2 cups water and coconut milk until free of lumps. Add the scallions.

Combine the shrimp and pork in a bowl, season with sugar and salt, and divide into 12 to 14 equal portions, depending on the size you’ll make the crêpes.

Combine the onions and bean sprouts, then divide into 12 to 14 equal portions.

Heat about 1/2 teaspoon oil in a 10-inch frying pan on medium heat. Add 1 portion of shrimp and pork, turning to cook both sides and evenly spacing the pieces.

When the shrimp and pork are light golden, pour in about 2/3 cup of the batter, starting at the center and swirling the pan until the batter is about 1 inch from the edge. Scatter 2 tablespoons mung beans over the batter, then add 1 portion of the onions and bean sprouts.

Cover the pan and cook for about 5 minutes or until the crêpe’s underside begins to develop golden brown spots and the edges are crisp. Carefully slide a spatula under half the crêpe and fold like an omelet.

Cook for another minute, then slide the crêpe onto a plate. Serve immediately with lettuce, herbs and Fish Sauce. Using fresh oil each time, repeat until you have used up all the ingredients.

Makes 12 to 14 crêpes.


Chronicle kitchen-tested recipe from Bich Tran.

There are many versions of this dish. My mom’s, which includes pork, shrimp and jellyfish, is light, refreshing and well-suited to summer. Plan ahead: The jellyfish, available in or near the freezer aisles of most Chinese and Vietnamese markets, must soak for several hours.

  • 4 ounces jellyfish, soaked and cooked (see note)
  • Marinade (recipe follows)
  • Fish Sauce (recipe follows)
  • 1/2 of a (12-ounce) can CoCo Rico Coconut Soda
  • 3/4 pound shell-on large shrimp, deveined
  • 2/3 pound lean, boneless pork
  • Salt, to taste
  • 1/2 pound carrots, peeled and thinly shaved lengthwise (about 3 cups loosely packed)
  • 2/3 pound daikon (Japanese radish), peeled and thinly shaved lengthwise (about 4 cups loosely packed)
  • 1/2 of a (15- or 16-ounce) jar young lotus root in water, drained, rinsed and cut crosswise into bite-size pieces (slice larger pieces in half lengthwise first)
  • 1/2 large red bell pepper, cored, seeded and thinly sliced
  • 1/4 large sweet red onion, thinly sliced
  • 1/2 pound cucumbers, seeded and thinly shaved lengthwise (about 2 1/2 cups loosely packed)
  • 1 or 2 stalks celery, sliced thinly on the diagonal
  • Cilantro and assorted herbs, such as mint, red perilla, Vietnamese coriander and crab-claw herb, to taste
  • Red chiles, seeded and thinly sliced, for garnish
  • 1/4 cup shelled peanuts, toasted and crushed, for garnish
  • Lime wedges
  • Shrimp chips

Allowing plenty of time, prepare the jellyfish and set aside. Prepare the Marinade and Fish Sauce; set aside.

Heat the CoCo Rico in a small pot until boiling, then add the shrimp. Cook until the shrimp are pink, about 2 minutes. Remove the shrimp and set aside to cool. Don’t throw away the broth.

Place the pork in the pot with the CoCo Rico, adding enough water to cover. Season the liquid with salt. Simmer, partially covered, until the pork center is lightly pink, about 10 to 15 minutes (if pork is in multiple pieces, reduce the cooking time). Remove the pork and allow to cool, reserving the broth for another use, if desired.

Cut each shrimp lengthwise to yield 2 pieces. Slice the pork into thin, bite-size pieces. Refrigerate.

In a large bowl, combine the carrots, daikon, lotus, bell pepper, onion, cucumber and celery. Add the Marinade and toss well. Refrigerate.

Before serving, drain the marinade from the salad. Shred the herbs and mix into the salad with shrimp and pork. Lightly dress the salad with Fish Sauce to taste and toss. Garnish with chiles and peanuts.

Serve with lime wedges and additional Fish Sauce — so diners can adjust the flavorings to their taste — as well as shrimp chips.

Note: To prepare the jellyfish, soak it in water for 3 hours to remove the salt, changing the water every 30 minutes. Boil water and blanch the jellyfish for 5 to 8 seconds. Then soak the jellyfish in fresh cold water for 20 minutes before thinly slicing.
Makes 4 to 6 servings as a side dish.


  • 1/2 tablespoon rice vinegar
  • Juice of 1/2 lime
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 1/8 teaspoon salt

Combine all ingredients and mix until the sugar and salt are dissolved.

This recipe makes enough for the banh xeo (recipe follows) as well.

  • 4 1/2 tablespoons sugar
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons rice vinegar
  • 3 tablespoons bottled fish sauce
  • 1 1/2 garlic cloves, minced
  • Chile garlic sauce, to taste

Combine all ingredients with 1 1/2 tablespoons water and mix until the sugar is dissolved. — | Section: Food
This article is:

Traditional Miscellany


by Huu Ngoc

I ate dinner more than once with Tran Dang Khoa, the poet in restaurants during the course of our travels. Before tasting the regional specialities, he always began by serving himself a small bowl of hot rice sprayed with a little nuoc mam (fish sauce).

Nuoc mam has such a strong smell that airlines forbid its transport on their aircraft. There were some young Vietnamese going to study abroad who had transgressed that prohibition. In the 1980s, a Vietnamese student who came from Ha Noi had caused a regrettable scandal at the East Berlin airport: he slipped on the waxed floor and had fallen flat on his back, breaking a bottle of nuocmam hidden in a nylon bag. Getting rid of the smell took hours.

Why does nuoc mam have such a strong power of gastronomic seduction? Nuoc means water or liquid. Mam means the brine of fish or crustaceans often conserved as a thick liquid, of which the people of Southeast Asia are very fond. Nuoc mam is a salted solution that comes from the fermentation of the flesh of small fish. It is a Vietnamese speciality. (There is also another type of fish sauce in Thailand.) To make it, one adds alternating layers of fish and salt in a huge wooden barrel. After a certain time, one removes the liquid accumulated at the bottom and pours it back on top. This is done repeatedly. The first extracted solution (nuoc cot, nuoc nhat) is very rich in protein, often drunk in winter by fishermen and divers to preserve body heat. The nuoc mam nhi (or ri) extracted directly from the bottom of the barrel is of the best quality. Nuoc mam contains sodium chloride, amino acids, histamines, organic phosphate and minerals.

I visited centres of production of the best nuoc mam in Viet Nam: the islands of Phu Quoc, Phan Thiet, and Cat Hai. I was very impressed by the importance of their production, particularly for Vietnamese living abroad. During the era of French colonisation, the Lien Thanh Company of Phan Thiet distributed nuoc mam in the country and abroad, having presented the sauce to the l’Exposition Internationale (International Exposition) in Marseilles in 1922. Phan Thiet became a famous commercial brand. Unilever, a major European food company, created a business on the island along with 18 local partners. The joint venture company Quoc Duong produced and bottled ultra-hygienic nuoc mam (20 million litres per year), a proportion of which was exported to overseas Vietnamese in France, Germany and in the United States. The company preserved the traditional way of production of nuoc mam. I have met the Phu Hiep family, who specialised in nuoc mam for three generations.

A handicap for the exportation of nuoc mam to Europe and America is its odour, although it is not stronger than Roquefort or Gibier faisande. Once the repugnance of the smell is conquered, the amber liquid finally pleases the palate. Cook Cam Van presented it to a culinary festival organised by the Culinary Institute of America in the United States, and French chef Didier Corlou of the Sofitel Metropole Hanoi organised a symposium about nuoc mam. To neutralise the odour, Ms Mai Pham counselled people to serve it diluted with a special sauce, and to never add it to a plate being prepared without a hot saucepan (“The Best of Vietnamese and Thai Cooking,” Prima Publishing, 1996).

Traditional Vietnamese meals are served with all dishes displayed on a round brass tray, with a bowl of nuoc mam in the middle. Diners soak pieces of food in nuoc mam. Nuoc mam is also served to raise the tastes of all dishes. It is a sauce served plain, or mixed with other ingredients: red chilli seasoning, ginger, oil, vinegar, sugar and lime. Nuoc mam served with hard-boiled duck eggs is a Ha Noi speciality. Nuoc mam condensed by heat is a dietary element and is considered good for sick people and mothers of newborns. Nuoc mam paste was served to conserve the fighters along the Ho Chi Minh Trail during the war. — VNS

By Kay Johnson, dpa
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Hanoi (dpa)- The term "fast-food restaurant" took a new twist Thursday when hundreds of eager customers and curiosity seekers jammed into the lunchtime opening of the first KFC restaurant in communist Vietnam's capital.

The line to the counter was so long Thursday that Phan Huyen Trang, 26, had to wait 25 minutes for her meal of 11-secret-spices chicken, cole slaw and mashed potatoes and gravy.

"You have to wait for a longer time to have a KFC meal than to have pho," Trang complained, referring to the Vietnamese national dish of beef soup with rice noodles.

"I just come to see what it's like," she admitted, adding. "It's not as good as I thought. The chicken is too dry. It's not as good as Vietnamese dishes."

The company formerly known as Kentucky Fried Chicken already has 20 outlets in southern Ho Chi Minh City, making it one of the few international fast-food brands to compete with the country's wide range of street vendors and small shops.

But Hanoi, the communist capital heavily bombed by US warplanes during the Vietnam War, has never had a major American chain restaurant until now.

Even ubiquitous Starbucks and McDonalds have failed to enter the market, which is dominated by local chains such as Trung Nguyen and Highlands coffee shops and a burger franchise called "McHanh's."

That may change soon, since Vietnam's long-awaited entry into the World Trade Organization, expected later this year or in early 2007, will pry open up Vietnam's domestic service markets to more foreign competition.

In the meantime, the opening of a well-known US restaurant – strategically located on busy Huynh Thuc Khang Street, close to a popular children's playground, a golf driving range and a large cinema complex – proved a novelty.

"You see, there are many people … we will have to expand," said Nguyen Chi Kien, deputy general director of KFC Vietnam. The company plans to open three more Hanoi outlets by year's end.

Whether American-style fast food will continue to appeal remains to be seen. A typical KFC meal, priced at around 3 dollars, is about triple the price of a bowl of pho or bun cha, another popular street food made of grilled pork, rice noodles and fresh greens.

"I think there are so many people here today because they come for curiosity," said customer Vu Khanh Trinh, 29. He said he had already tried KFC chicken in Bangkok and said he liked it.

"You cannot compare KFC with Vietnamese traditional dishes. Each has its own tastes," he said. "But honestly, I prefer Vietnamese food."

Other customers, though, were impressed.

"The food is very good. It tastes different and delicious," enthused 16-year-old Vu Viet Anh. " I think I can eat KFC every day."

Health advocates might not advise that, though. Last week, KFC was named in a US lawsuit by the Center for Science in the Public Interest, which said the hydrogenated cooking oil the company uses contributes to obesity and heart disease.

Vietnamese customers Thursday seemed unconcerned.

"I'm not afraid of getting fat, because I'm too thin now,"said construction worker Vu Cam Trang, 28. "I hope other foreign food chains like McDonald or Starbucks will enter Vietnam soon so that we will have chances to try many different kinds of food."