Archive for the 'Banh Ram It' Category

Gia Hội 2 – Ho Chi Minh City

June 19, 26 and 27, 2008
Cuisine: Vietnamese

2 Nguyen Huy Tu Street
District 1, Ho Chi Minh City

Gia Hoi moved to a new location in Fall 2011:
26 Nguyen Huu Cau Street
District 1, Ho Chi Minh City

Phone: 8202385
Website: none

Imperial Cuisine – clockwise from top left – com hen, hen xao, banh uot thit nuong, bun bo Hue, banh it tran, banh beo, bun thit nuong, banh khoai, banh it ram (center)

Who loves Hue cuisine? We do!

The Astronomer and I ate at Gia Hội 2 for the first time three weeks ago and we’ve been back three times since then. You could say that we’re crushing hardcore on this place, and it’s not hard to see (and taste) why. The menu here is short, sweet and focused on the foods of the former imperial capital. Hen (baby clams) are heavily featured.

Last fall, The Astronomer and I visited Hue and tasted com hen for the very first time. Dare I say it was love at first bite. After my grandpa, I am convinced that com hen is the second best thing to come out of Hue. Prior to discovering Gia Hội 2, we only had mediocre versions of this dish in Saigon.

The com hen (12,000 VND) here is as close to the real deal as we’ve come across down south. All of the essential components of com hen are present and splendid—fresh herbs (Vietnamese coriander, basil), banana flower, crispy pork rinds, sesame seeds, peanuts, warm clam broth, fermented shrimp paste and of course, flavorful baby clams. Unlike your average Vietnamese, I’m not too good with chillies. Gia Hội 2 serves up a sweet and subtly spicy variety that I’m totally down with. Mmm, boy.

Another spectacular baby clam dish is hen xao (16,000 VND), which consists of clams stir-fried in lots of butter along with Vietnamese coriander and onions. The clam mixture is scooped up with toasted rice crackers. I like not bothering with utensils. The clams are packed with so much flavor that this simple preparation highlights all of its natural goodness. A squeeze of lime juice and a bit of shrimp paste add the finishing touches.

Another one of our favorites is the banh uot thit nuong (18,000 VND). Growing up, banh uot was served plain with nuoc mam, not stuffed with thit nuong (grilled meat). It’s hard to believe that the plain-ish dish I had as a kid is related to the one served here. Gia Hội 2′s banh uot thit nuong consists of a sheet of rice paper wrapped with pieces of barbecued pork and a single mint leaf. The banh uot is served with a special dipping sauce with little pieces of minced meat that’s thick and sweeter than you’d expect. The restaurant also serves a shrimp (banh uot tom) variety that we’ve yet to try.

The banh it ram (right – 17,000 VND) and banh it tran (15,000 VND) are two lovely appetizers or post-meal space fillers. The Astronomer isn’t a fan of dough-y chewy balls, but luckily our dining companions have been game to share them with me. The banh it ram are filled with a single caramelized shrimp (tom kho), while the banh it tran are filled with mung bean paste. Another difference between the two is the crispy rice cracker that the banh it ram sits upon. I like both equally.

Banh beo (20,000 VND), steamed rice cakes, is served two ways here—in individual dishes and stacked on plates. When Nina dined with us, she requested that we order the individual ones. Each banh beo was sprinkled with minced shrimp, scallion oil and crispy pork rinds. Banh beo‘s signature sweet nuoc mam was served on the side.

There are a lot of winners on Gia Hội 2′s menu and no all-out losers, but the bun bon Hue (15,000) VND and banh khoai (20,000 VND) didn’t quite move us.

If a trip to Hue isn’t in the cards, Gia Hội 2 is a great place to go for a taste of the emperor’s cuisine.

Click here for a New York Times article about Hue cuisine: “Vietnamese Cuisine: Echo’s of Empire.”

Bunches of Lunches: Cơm Trưa

One of the luxuries of Vietnam is being able to dine out for nearly every meal due to the low cost of food. On average, The Astronomer and I each spend approximately $1-$1.50 per meal depending on the eatery and what we order. Although a part of me misses cooking up a storm, it’s easier and far more delicious to frequent restaurants and street stalls rather than bargaining, buying, and preparing raw ingredients in Saigon.

For the most part, The Astronomer and I have avoided eating out for breakfast because we prefer chomping on cereal and PowerBars in our apartment to eating hot soups street-side. However, lunch is a completely different story.

Here are some snapshots from lunchtime outings during the past few weeks:

August 3, 2007—While exploring our ‘hood during a rainy Saturday morning, we stumbled upon a friendly man dishing up goi du du kho bo (green papaya salad with beef jerky, basil, and fish sauce vinaigrette – 5,000 VND) and goi coun (spring rolls with pork, vermicelli noodles, herbs, lettuce, and mam nem dipping sauce – 6,000 VND). The green papaya salad was spectacular, especially the spicy jerky. The spring rolls, on the other hand, contained a bitter herb that was overwhelming. We also weren’t fans of the potent anchovy and pineapple dipping sauce.

August 6, 2007—A mechanic pointed The Astronomer and I to the Banh Canh Cua eatery. We shared a bowl of the restaurant’s siganature dish, banh canh cua (13,000 VND), and a sampler plate of the restaurant’s offerings that included banh beo, banh nam, banh bot loc, and banh ram it (10,000 VND). The banh canh was very different from my family’s version due to the employment of fresh noodles, which contributed to a thicker and starchier broth. The sampler platter was terrific!

August 9, 2007—Around the corner from our office is an outdoor restaurant serving worker’s lunches. We’ve eaten here twice mainly due to proximity. The rice is often too dry and the flies buzzing around quickly kill an appetite. On our first visit, The Astronomer had the braised fish and a fish patty, while I had tofu stuffed with ground pork and an omelet. Our lunch plates include a small bowl of soup with mustard greens, which The Astronomer hates but I rather like. The food here isn’t stellar, but it’s definitely decent and inexpensive at 15,000 VND per person.

August 11, 2007—My grandma’s younger sister, Ba Sao, invited The Astronomer and me to her house for lunch the other weekend. She prepared her famous egg rolls, thit kho, braised fish with tomatoes and turnips, and bi coun (spring rolls with shredded pork and lettuce). Everything was delicious! The Astronomer probably ate twenty egg rolls and the braised fish rocked my world. I hope to learn a few recipes from her during my year in Vietnam.

August 12, 2007—There’s no such thing as a bad bowl of pho in this country! This random pho joint called Pho Bac Ha is located off the uber-busy CMT 8. The Astronomer ordered the pho ga (15,000 VND), while I had the pho bo (12,000 VND). Nothing super special here, just a solid bowl of pho.

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