A recent girls’ night out brought me and my gal pals to San Gabriel’s Phong Dinh Restaurant. I’m not sure what constitutes a roaring good time for you and yours, but for me and mine, it’s a killer baked catfish. I roll with the best posse ever.
Thien An in Rosemead has always been my go-to spot for baked catfish, but we decided to try Phong Dinh this evening at the recommendation of my friend Thien. She promised that the catfish here was even better than the one at Thien An.
According to the restaurant’s menu, Chef and Founder Minh Trang was the first to introduce baked catfish (ca dut lo hau giang) to the area in 1994.
Before the star of the show arrived, accoutrements were scattered about the table—a large platter of herbs and lettuce, pickled carrots and daikon, cucumber spears, vermicelli rice noodles, rice papers, and best of all, a tangy-sweet tamarind dipping sauce.
Our waitress revealed that the recipe for the sauce came from her aunt, who hails from Can Tho. Now that I’ve experienced this seriously awesome sauce, I can’t ever go back to eating plain ol’ nuoc cham or mam nem (fermented anchovy dipping sauce) with my catfish. Consider me a changed woman.
Continue reading ‘Phong Dinh Restaurant – San Gabriel’
Chef Connie Tran’s bi-monthly pop-up exploring Vietnamese food traditions brings together classic Vietnamese dishes with a smattering of twists that a Vietnamese grandma probably wouldn’t approve of, in a good way. Filing my second Scouting Report, “BEP Kitchen is for Vietnamese food lovers seeking to go beyond pho,” on the Los Angeles Times‘ Daily Dish. Bon appetit.
Continue reading ‘Jonathan Gold’s Scouting Report #2: Bếp Kitchen’
The Astronomer and I began our third day in Saigon across the river in District 4, a densely packed island we called home for the better part of a year. In the three years since we’ve been gone, the old neighborhood has undergone quite a makeover. While the river is still as murky as ever, dirt roads have been transformed into sturdy bridges and run-down shacks have given way to shiny highrises. The lay of the land was so unfamiliar that The Astronomer had trouble navigating the streets at several turns. Rapid development can be mighty disorienting.
Fortunately, the vibrant street food scene hasn’t changed one bit. After stopping to pick up some xoi gac from my my favorite sticky rice vendor on Ton That Thuyet Street (pictured above), we searched the district for more good eats.
The smell of grilled seasoned beef wrapped in betel leaves brought our motorbike to a rapid halt. Even though we had just eaten bo la lot a few meals ago, it was too tempting to pass up.
The Astronomer’s bowl of bun bo la lot was piled high with herbs and sprouts tucked underneath a tangle of cool vermicelli noodles, peanuts, pickled carrots and daikon, and a swipe of crushed fresh chilies. Everything was evenly dressed with fish sauce. The best bites included a pinky-sized bo la lot nugget.
Continue reading ‘District 4, Saigon: Our Home Away From Home’
The Astronomer and I could barely stay awake when nightfall hit due to a combination of jet lag and over-stimulation. However, crawling into bed without a proper supper was completely out of the question, so we toughened up, called our friend Hanh, and made plans for flaming roadside banh xeo.
This no-name restaurant in District 10 was the site of our final feast with friends three years ago, and we’ve been dreaming about it ever since.
The specialty here is Central-stye banh xeo, small yellow pancakes stuffed with shell-on shrimp, fatty bits of pork, and beansprouts. Whereas Southern-style bánh xèo are thin and lacy wok-sized beasts, their Central counterparts are smaller, crunchier, and heftier.
The bánh xèo are made in heavy-duty cast iron molds over open flames. A roadside kitchen means that the smoke and smells carry over onto the streets, beckoning passers by on motorbikes to come hither. I find the pomp and circumstance simply irresistible.
Continue reading ‘Saigon Classic: Flaming Roadside Bánh Xèo’