Archive for the 'Banh Hoi' Category

Vietnam Restaurant – San Gabriel

Vietnam Restaurant - San Gabriel

When I go out for Vietnamese food these days, it’s almost always at the suggestion of  another (usually The Astronomer). The Vietnamese restaurants in Los Angeles are generally very good, but I’m often daunted by their hundred-item menus and super-sized portions. Rather than risk disappointment, I’ve decided to save my appetite for visits to grandma’s house and return visits to the motherland. The opportunities to indulge in my favorite cuisine may be infrequent, but at least it’s just the way I fancy it when I do.

Even though I don’t seek out Vietnamese restaurants, I find myself sitting at one about once a quarter. My most recent outing was initiated by my friend Craig. He was itching to try seven courses of beef (bò 7 món) and I was game to show him the ropes. Our party of three arrived at Vietnam Restaurant sometime past 8 PM on a Friday night. The stand-alone shack was packed with diners, and after a twenty minute wait, we scored a table by the window.

Vietnam Restaurant - San Gabriel

I started dinner off with nuoc xi muoi, a salted plum drink served over ice. It was an impulsive choice that turned out to be an absolutely delightful punch of salty, sour, and sweet. I ordered another soon after I polished off the first glass.

Vietnam Restaurant - San Gabriel

Before the onslaught of red meat began, I chose two light bites to start. The first to arrive was bánh bèo. The steamed rice cakes were topped with mung bean paste, scallion oil, and fluorescent orange shrimp dust. Not to worry, the shrimp’s hue was the result of natural coloring.

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Summer Rolls – Rosemead

After sitting in bumper to bumper traffic for a solid half hour, it was clear that my dreams of kicking it with carnies and eating deep-fried White Castle burgers at the L.A. County Fair had to be reassessed. Of course I was looking forward to the smelly petting zoos and dizzying Tilt-a-Whirls, but wasting a beautiful summer afternoon idling on the freeway wasn’t in the cards, so I did what I had to do. “There will always be next year,” consoled The Astronomer.

With Plan A kicked to the curb, we moved on to Plan B—cruising for grub in the San Gabriel Valley. Twice in the past week, I’ve received recommendations for a Central Vietnamese restaurant in Rosemead named Nem Nướng Ninh Hòa. “It’s one of the best,” said Hong, one half of the Ravenous Couple. “It’s in my top three and I’ve been going here for years,” said Wesley, one half of the Two Hungry Pandas. After confirming the address with yet another Panda, we made our way to Nem Nướng Ninh Hòa in time for lunch.

The restaurant was operating at full capacity when we arrived. After placing our names on the waiting list and moseying around for fifteen minutes, we were seated at a table for four.

In between placing our orders and the food arriving, I felt a tap on my shoulder. “Are you The Gastronomer?” asked a friendly looking gentleman. “And you’re The Astronomer!” he said while pointing at Vernon. I can’t remember whether or not we actually confirmed our pseudonyms, but we did invite him and his friend to join us. Surely, it was the least we could do for the first readers to spot us out in public!

We started off with an order of banh beo ($5.49), a dish from the city of Hue. The twelve steamed rice cakes arrived in shallow porcelain dishes piled atop one another. Each cake was sprinkled with dried minced shrimp, smeared with scallion oil, and finished with a crisp “crouton” of rendered pork fat.

To eat, we spooned a bit of sweet fish sauce atop the warm banh beo and dug in with spoons. Once while visiting Hoi An, The Astronomer and I ate banh beo using flat wooden sticks! The steamed rice cakes were doughier and less pliable than the ones we enjoyed in Vietnam, which surprisingly bothered The Astronomer much more than me. I love how my boy’s become a Vietnamese food snob.

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Vietnam House – San Gabriel

When longtime reader and fellow Pasadena resident Danielle discovered that The Astronomer and I were moving into her backyard, she was quick with a dinner invite. We enthusiastically accepted, of course, because there ain’t nothing better than having a local show us the town.

Our dinner destination was Vietnam House, the epicenter of drama in the San Gabriel Valley. Danielle informed us that the brother-in-law who managed the restaurant was somehow pushed out of the family business. In retaliation, he and his wife left Vietnam House and opened up their own Vietnamese eatery a half mile down the street—Vietnam Restaurant. And get this, both restaurants’ menus are exactly the same. Scandalous, right? Even though Danielle favors Vietnam Restaurant over Vietnam House, she wanted to introduce us to the original shop.

We dined on a Saturday night and the place was packed. The majority of the guests were partaking in the house specialty—bo bay mon (seven courses of beef). Since we all agreed that bo la lot was the only reason to order seven courses of beef, we opted to go a la carte.

Danielle highly recommended an order of cha gio ($4.95) to start. The golden cha gio were served with heaps of greenery and individual bowls of nuoc mam. My first cha gio was excellent, tasty meaty filling and crisp wrapper, but the ones after it were bogged down by too much oil.

With thoughts of bo la lot dancing in his head, The Astronomer ordered the banh hoi bo la lot ($6.95)—sheets of thin rice noodles topped with seasoned ground beef wrapped in betel leaves, crushed peanuts and scallion oil, and served with nuoc mam on the side. This dish was decently portioned and full of bold flavors. Thanks to a la carte, putting up with six mostly mediocre meats can now be avoided.

I ordered broken rice with the works for my entree. The com tam (broken rice) included bi (sliced pork skin and pork), cha (pork loaf), thit nuong (grilled meat), truong opla (fried egg), peanuts, cucumber slices, and scallion oil ($6.50).

Unlike The Astronomer’s modestly portioned banh hoi, my broken rice plate could have fed a small village. My favorite components were the bi and cha. The thit nuong was disappointingly chewy and dry. However, it must be noted that everything tastes fantastic doused in lots of fish sauce.

Danielle ordered Hu Tieu My Tho ($4.95) for her main course. Hu Tieu My Tho comes from the Mekong Delta city of Mỹ Tho. The dish is comprised of a clear pork-based broth, translucent tapioca noodles, sliced barbecued and plain pork, and garnished with shrimps and chives.

Thank you, Danielle, for showing two new kids on the block a little drama and a lot of hospitality.

Vietnam House
710 W Las Tunas Drive
San Gabriel, CA 91776
Phone: 626-282-6327

Vietnam House on Urbanspoon

Vietnam House in Los Angeles

Tết Đoan Ngọ


Asians are a ritualistic bunch.

This past Sunday was the fifth day of the fifth month of the lunar calendar. The “double fifth” day represents the summer solstice in the Northern Hemisphere. The Chinese celebrate with dragon boat festivals, the Koreans have Dano and the Japanese recognize kodomo no hi.

In Vietnam, we celebrated Tết Đoan Ngọ:

Tết Đoan Ngọ (literally: Tết: festival, Đoan: the start / straight / middle / righteousness / just, Ngọ: the seventh animal of the Chinese zodiac- the horse), Tết Đoan Dương (Dương: yang), Tết Trùng Ngũ (Trùng: double, Ngũ: the fifth), Tết Đoan Ngũ, Tết Trùng Nhĩ or Tết Nửa Năm (Nửa Năm: a half of a year) is a festival celebrated at noon on the fifth day of the fifth lunar month. This day is the day when the Great Bear star’s tail direct exactly to the south. At this time, the universe brings the greatest amount of yang yi in the entire year. Therefore, creatures and people must become stronger in both their health and their souls to overcome this.

Ba Sau (my grandma’s sister) invited us over to her home to celebrate the holiday with a midday feast. We indulged in sticky rice, barbecued pork, banh hoi, chicken porridge, boiled chicken, bo bia, fried rice and goi.

The two traditional foods of the holiday are banh u and com ruou. Banh u are pyramidal sticky rice cakes wrapped in banana leaves. They are oftentimes stuffed with mung beans, but the ones we had at Ba Sau’s were plain, so we dipped them in sugar. The banana leaf essence is the dominant flavor.

Com ruou, which literally translates as “rice wine,” are little balls of fermented rice bathed in wine. My aunt told me that com ruou is eaten early in the day to fight the “worms” in one’s stomach. In addition to being ritualistic, the Vietnamese are also very superstitious! Com ruou is very strong and quite delicious. I think the worms in my stomach were properly extinguished after consuming three balls.

The Astronomer and I are thankful to have Ba Sau in Saigon to introduce us to these wonderful local foods, traditions and customs. She’s the best!


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