Archive for the 'Banh Khot' Category

Hà Tiên Quán – San Gabriel

Ha Tien Quan - San Gabriel

Dining at a single restaurant on five different occassions in the span of two months has got to be some sort of record for me. While this type of behavior is generally considered quite normal, it’s really very notable in my world because food blogging tends to discourage restaurant monogamy—there’s always something newer, more exciting, or tastier just around the corner.

Ha Tien Quan - San Gabriel

Hà Tiên Quán in San Gabriel has reeled in my promiscuous dining ways with its tremendous Vietnamese cooking. The restaurant’s lineup of regional noodle soups never fails to warm and satisfy, while the vegetarian fare packs a wallop of flavor.

With nearly every Vietnamese restaurant in town serving up the usual pho, vermicelli rice noodles, and and banh mi, it’s been a breath of fresh air diving head first into Hà Tiên’s anything-but-predictable menu. Best of all, I’m constantly tasting new dishes that I didn’t grow up with or encounter while living in Vietnam. This place is my edible playground.

Ha Tien Quan - San Gabriel

The family behind the restaurant is comprised of Larry Ta, his wife Thu Trang, and their daughter Carolyn. Thu heads up the kitchen, while Carolyn and Larry greet, seat, and tend to customers. Both Larry and Thu are from Ha Tien, a city on the western end of the Mekong Delta near the Cambodian border. Hà Tiên Quán opened its doors last October.

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San Diego Tết Festival

The Astronomer and I drove down to San Diego this weekend to celebrate Tết with my family. In Vietnam, the entire country shuts down for over a week in order for families to gather and celebrate. It was beyond grand last year taking off several weeks of work to eat, drink and be merry, but it looks like this Tết I’m going to have to settle for a measly weekend. Oh, cultural norms…

We woke up early this morning to go to the temple. Instead of having a traditional Buddhist ceremony, the temple organized a festive raffle. I won a book about Africa, while Cousin Jimmy won a jade dragon wall hanging. My grandparents didn’t win a prize, but I awarded them Best Dressed honors.

After the Tết raffle, firecrackers were lit!

Before heading to the San Diego Tết Festival, we ate com chay (vegetarian lunch) at the temple. Many Buddhists refrain from eating meat during the first month of the New Year.

As we entered the Tết Festival at Balboa Park, we were greeted by a bunch of veteran carnies. We thought we had made a wrong turn until we ran into Cho Ben Thanh. Whew!

The number of Vietnamese food vendors present at the festival was pretty limited considering how many Vietnamese restaurants there are in the city. Regardless, the smell of grilled pork permeated the festival air.

Cousin Jimmy was in the mood for a banh mi and procured one soon after we arrived. Even though the sandwich was pre-made and the bread was soft rather than crisp, Cousin Jimmy still thought that it was good eats. The Astronomer went for a tall cup of nuoc mia (sugar cane juice) to start. The nuoc mia was refreshing, but too sweet because the vendor failed to squeeze in a bit of citrus like they do in Vietnam.

To accompany his nuoc mia, The Astronomer purchased some banh khot, which were served with greens, herbs and nuoc cham on the side. The banh khot were soggy in the center and tasted like banh xeo. Texturally, banh khot should be crisper and more wafer-like.

While we ate, a faux wedding procession came through.  The costumes made me feel like I was at the Citadel in Hue.

A wedding isn’t a wedding without a roasted piglet.

The highlight of our afternoon at the festival was the lion dance. The footwork was cool, but the rhythm of the drums is the coolest.

Chúc mừng năm mới! Happy New Year!

Mũi Né

After months of hardcore training, The Astronomer and I packed up our bags and headed to Mũi Né for the Le Fruit Triathlon. Although I was tempted for maybe five minutes to participate, I knew that I couldn’t hack the swimming and cycling portions of the race so I settled comfortably into my role as cheerleader.

We left Saigon late Friday afternoon. Although the advertised trip duration was four hours, the ride lasted closer to six. The bus pulled over at a rest stop about 1.5 hours into the trip and I impulsively bought some Snyder’s of Hanover pretzels that really hit the snacky spot. The pretzels had a certain ‘New Jersey Turnpike secret flavor factory’ taste that I hadn’t experienced in months. Living abroad does strange things to me, I wouldn’t normally eat this stuff in America.

When we finally arrived in Mũi Né, I went for a late night run and we passed out soon after.

The next morning, I woke up bright and early and took advantage of our hotel’s (Sunshine Beach) complimentary breakfast. I ordered a mango pancake. I don’t know what it is about pancakes, but EVERY hotel in the whole country serves them. I’ve had decent pancakes in Phu Quoc and Nha Trang, but these ones were the best because they were fluffy and substantial. Minus points for fake maple syrup.

Afterwards, I read on the beach and went for a walk. Which reminds me, white people love reading by the water.

The view from our room’s balcony. Mũi Né really is gorgeous.

Hey, look who finally woke up!

After The Astronomer pulled himself out of bed, we headed to Jibes Beach Club a few meters down the beach to register for the triathlon, collect his race number, claim his bike, etc. I cheered on the sidelines while this was all happening.

All that cheering made me hungry so I had a panini with pesto, tomatoes and mozzarella at Jibes. Looks tasty, right? It was. The rest of the day was spent napping, reading and taking advantage of the hotel’s wireless Internet. Ah, this is what vacationing is all about! I eventually made myself go for a run and then we headed to Jibes again for dinner. Sometimes choice is overrated.

In preparation for his triathlon debut, The Astronomer carbo-loaded with a hefty plate of penne with pesto sauce.

In a pasta mood as well, I had the home made beef ravioli in a Bolognese sauce. Both pastas were very good, but they took forever to come out. The waitress tried to tell us that our food was taking a long time because of the penne. Riiiiight…

After dinner we watched The Pelican Brief on DVD because we had both recently read the book. Note to self: do not watch a movie adaptation soon after reading the book—you will be disappointed. Then we hit the hay.

Race day! Can you spot The Astronomer?

After the open water swim, The Astronomer was in the middle of the pack. Maybe he would’ve been in the front had he worn Speedos or a wrestling uniform.

Gastronomer! Take my goggles.

While The Astronomer was biking on the sand dunes and running on the beach, I got in my own workout (so no pictures of those segments). After showering up at the hotel, I headed toward the finish line.

I came five minutes too late and missed The Astronomer’s triumphant first-place finish. Dang! Congrats! You rule!

After his victory, The Astronomer was hounded by the media for interviews. He granted one to HTV, a Vietnamese station.

The BEST question was: “Did you know that you would be champion?”

After the media hoopla, we headed to our hotel for breakfast. The Astronomer had the mango pancake, while I had a strawberry one. Once again, a great pancake with lots of fruit in the batter.

For the third time in 24-hours, we headed to Jibes for post-race festivities i.e. awards ceremony, buffet lunch, etc.

The buffet lunch included banh khot.

Unlike the banh khot I had prior, these were more pillowy than crispy and were stuffed with scallions rather than topped with meat.

Even though the bus ride sucks, Mũi Né is a SUPERB beach destination. I hope to return next weekend for Hawk’s birthday. Eee!

Bánh Khọt

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March 27, 2008
Cuisine: Vietnamese

59B Cao Thang Street
District 3, Ho Chi Minh City

Phone: 8323312
Website: none

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Bánh khọt thập cẩm – miniature fried pancakes sampler platter (30,000 VND)

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Cơm gà rôti – rotisserie chicken with fried rice (35,000 VND)

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Gởi mục Thái Lan - Thailand-style squid salad (70,000 VND)

The Astronomer and I finally made our way to Co Ba Vung Tau the other week to try the bánh khọt Wandering Chopsticks raved about. Bánh khọt are a specialty of the southern coastal city of Vung Tau and taste quite a bit like banh xeo due to their similar batters and accouterments.

Co Ba Vung Tau offers four different varieties of bánh khọt—shrimp, pork, oyster and cha ca (fish loaf). Since this was our first time trying the dish, we hedged our bets and ordered a sampler platter that included a few of each kind. To round out our meal, I went for a squid salad, while The Astronomer went for some chicken with rice.

The bánh khọt were delivered along with a large basket of herbs and greens. After our waitress poured some nuoc mam from a giant pitcher (pictured above) into our individual bowls, we proceeded to eat the bánh khọt just as Graham of Noodlepie advised:

Take a leaf (lettuce or mustard) and sling in a couple of herbs and pickles along with the bánh khọt itself. Make a small parcel and dip into the plain nuoc mam. Depending on the size of your gob and/or how much of a fat bastard you are, each green parcel should take around three bites to fully consume. It’s green ‘n’ lean and airyfairy enough that one diner could stuff in all eight cakes with ease.

Bánh khọt are simultaneously “airyfairy” and crispy. The Astronomer and I each ate four and could have easily downed twice as many if we hadn’t ordered the other dishes. We both liked the oyster bánh khọt best because of its intense flavor. Unlike the shrimp, pork and fish cake bánh khọt, the oyster variety could hold up against the nuoc mam and shrubbery. The texture of bánh khọt is really something special.

Although we came for the bánh khọt, the dish that really stood out was the squid salad. The pieces of squid were plentiful, fresh as can be and unbelievably tender. Ever since we indulged in the finest squid in the world during our trip to Phu Quoc last November, we’ve become quite the squid snobs. The squid salad at Co Ba Vung Tau magically transported us back to the sunny shores of Phu Quoc.

The Astronomer’s rotisserie chicken with rice was also well-executed. The buttery fried rice contained bits of scallions and eggs and tasted indulgent compared to the plain jasmine The Astronomer has grown accustomed to. The chicken was moist, crispy skinned and dressed in a five-spice marinade.

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