Archive for the 'Bo Bia' Category

Bò Bía – Vietnamese Jicama, Carrot, Chinese Sausage, Egg, and Dried Shrimp Rolls

Bò Bía – Vietnamese Jicama and Chinese Sausage Rolls with Hoisin Dipping Sauce

The second part of The Astronomer’s anniversary present came nearly two weeks after the first. I had originally planned to deliver both rice paper wrapped-delights simultaneously, but it turned out to be too much food and effort for only two mouths. Also, we had a ridiculous amount of leftovers from our ten-course banquet bonanza, so it was just as well that I held off on making bò bía for a little while.

Whereas The Astronomer loves gỏi cuốn most, I’ve always been partial to these lesser-known rolls filled with jicama, carrots, thin egg ribbons, Chinese sausages, and dried shrimp. The dipping sauce is identical in both situations, but the flavor profiles are completely different. While gỏi cuốn is mostly subdued save for the bites with fresh mint and garlic chives, bò bía brings bold flavors and interesting textures from start to finish.

This recipe comes from my aunt Tina, my family’s designated bò bía specialist. I grew up eating her rolls at family gatherings and have been meaning to learn how to make them for years. It’s true that bò bía contains a lot of different ingredients, but the only time-consuming and tedious step is julienning the jicama and grating the carrots. A finely sharpened mandoline slicer is extremely helpful, as well as a diligent sous chef. Once I got over this initial hurdle, the rolls came together simply, easily, and damn tastily.

  • 1 large jicama (or 2 medium-sized), julienned
  • 2 large carrots (or 3 medium-sized), grated
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 6 eggs
  • Non-stick cooking spray
  • 5 Chinese sausage links
  • 4 ounces dried shrimp
  • 4 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 head red leaf lettuce, rinsed and de-ribbed
  • 1 package rice paper

Bò Bía – Vietnamese Jicama and Chinese Sausage Rolls with Hoisin Dipping Sauce

For the slaw, combine the carrots, jicama, and salt in a large pot. Cook over medium heat until the jicama and carrots have softened, but still retain a bit of crunchiness, approximately 15 minutes.  Set aside.

Bò Bía – Vietnamese Jicama and Chinese Sausage Rolls with Hoisin Dipping Sauce

For the egg ribbons, beat the eggs in a large bowl using a fork or whisk until they are mostly uniform in color.

Using a large, non-stick skillet over medium heat, pour in 1/3 of the egg mixture and give it a good swirl so that it spreads out thinly across the entire pan. Once the bottom side has set, run a spatula underneath the omelet and flip it to cook the other side. Repeat this step two more times for the remaining eggs. Set the finished omelets aside to cool. [Note: a thin coating of non-stick cooking spray is a good idea if your pan is weathered.]

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Viet Noodle Bar – Los Angeles (Atwater Village)

Viet Noodle Bar - Los Angeles

While I was living in Vietnam, one of the most popular restaurant trends was repackaging traditional street food with Western aesthetics in mind. Dubbed “air-con street food” by the expatriate crowd, these joints served Vietnamese fare in comfortable settings, complete with competent waiters and English language menus. While I didn’t care too much for these sterile eateries, places like  Pho 24 and Bun Bo Xu were extremely popular with middle-class locals, tourists, and expats.

I thought that I had left air-con street food behind me when I moved to Los Angeles, but the moment I stepped into Viet Noodle Bar in Atwater Village, I was instantly transported back in time. Something about the exposed brick walls, sleek furnishings, and the romantically dated Vespa on display was reminiscent of District 1, Saigon.

Viet Noodle Bar - Los Angeles

Viet Noodle Bar serves a hodgepodge of Vietnamese dishes to a hip and trendy crowd.  According to the Los Angeles Times article “Inspired by a World of Ingredients”, the restaurant’s owner, Viet Tran, traveled across North Vietnam for five years and studied noodle-making and soy milk-making in little villages. Viet Soy Cafe in Silverlake and Viet Noodle Bar were inspired by his experiences abroad.

Viet Noodle Bar - Los Angeles

My posse of noodle-goers [Laurie, Diana, and Anjali] and I started with an order of jicama spring rolls, also known as bo bia ($5). Rolled to order, each one was filled with tofu, a jicama and carrot slaw, fried shallots, and a basil leaf. A sweet hoisin dipping sauce was served on the side. Although I generally prefer the non-vegetarian version of this dish, the freshness of the ingredients, especially the powerful punch of the basil, made me forget about the missing Chinese sausages and scrambled eggs.

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I'm Just Not That Into You

When I first started gas•tron•o•my, I blogged each meal and recipe in chronological order. Although I’m not a scientist, I admittedly like things neat and orderly—just take a look at my CD rack. I kept up this ‘eat then write’ routine for quite a while, but it all came to an end when I began penning food reviews for a magazine and couldn’t publish on gas•tron•o•my until the piece was published in hard copy form. Now that posts are completely out of order, to decide what to write about each day, I scan my pictures and pick out something that strikes my fancy.

This post is dedicated to all the foods that I have neglected and passed over for months on end. The one quality that all of these foods share is that they’re not great. In a sea of amazing Saigon eats, it’s tough being only so-so.

First up, xoi chien—this late night bite dates back to February. Xoi chien, which goes for 1,000 VND a piece, is comprised of rounds of sticky rice (xoi) fried (chien) to a crisp and stuffed with a beef and mushroom mixture. If this sounds like your kinda thing, check out CMT8 after the sun has gone down.

I don’t remember what the exact name of this dessert is, but it had the words “che” and “dau hu” (tofu) in it. I am mad for sweet tofu with ginger, but this stuff tasted like chunky sweetened soy milk with way too much ice. The copious amount of ice really ruined a fabulous soy party. Binh Thanh District was the site of this soy mess.

This is another one of Binh Thanh’s meh offerings. The green layers of the cake are made of sticky pandan flavored tapioca that’s similar to banh da lon, while the yellow layers are plain cake. The entire creation is sprinkled with coconut flakes. There was nothing intrinsically terrible about this dessert, it just struck me as dry and not very flavorful. Yawn-city.

We purchased these Japanese Imagawa-yaki in District 3. Unlike the ones we tried in Thailand that were filled with custard and taro paste, these ones were filled mostly with shredded coconut. Once again, too many dry ingredients paired together, and not enough oomph!


I bought this little ice cream cone impulsively on a super-hot day in District 4 on Ton That Thuyet Street. It tasted sweet, funny and not much else. Although I like having funny friends, I cannot appreciate funny ice cream in the same way. For really super fantastic ice cream, visit Cong Truong for their kem trai dua.

After gorging on dozens of delicious egg tarts in Hong Kong, The Astronomer was curious if the ones in Vietnam were any good. While picking up a couple of pastries for himself at Pham Nguyen Bakery, he grabbed an egg tart for me to try. The verdict? Lame crust, lamer filling. B+ for effort.

This is xoi vi. Cubular portions of sweet xoi sold at bakeries and by street vendors who go through a middle man to procure it. Other than its somewhat interesting shape, there’s nothing really special about xoi vi. My chief beef with xoi vi is that it costs twice as much as regular xoi. Boooo. Gimme back my dong.

While I love bo bia (fresh spring rolls stuffed with a jicama and carrot slaw, sweet Chinese sausages and scrabled eggs that’s dipped in hoisin sauce), I ain’t got no love for bo bia ngot—a sweet spin on the original comprised of coconut shavings, sugar sticks and sesame seeds. Bo bia ngot is too dry and could really benefit from a sauce. A sweet and salty coconut milk sauce would spruce bo bia ngot up nicely.

Examined alone, bun ca (vermicelli rice noodles in a tamarind and fish broth) is pretty darn awesome. The broth is tangy, while the hunks of fish are hearty and moist. But pitted against rock star noodle/broth combinations like bo kho, bun bo and mi ga tiem, it just pales in comparison. That’s pretty much the story with all of the above dishes—they’re good, but not great. And who wants good when you can have GR8? Not me.

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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