Archive for the 'Goi Cuon' 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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Gỏi Cuốn – Vietnamese Pork and Shrimp Rolls with Hoisin Dipping Sauce

Goi Cuon - Vietnamese Salad Rolls with Pork and Shrimp

It is tradition in American culture to bestow paper upon one’s beloved in recognition of the first wedding anniversary. While The Astronomer and I usually buck tradition, there was something awesomely antiquated and strangely appealing about this age-old gift giving ritual.

A special book, a letter written by hand, or a magazine subscription would have all made very nice gifts for The Astronomer; however, none of these things resonated with me personally. I wanted to give him something truly unique to honor the occasion.

After plotting and planning for a few weeks, I came up with a quirky idea. Rather than define “paper” literally, I decided to interpret it edibly. For our first wedding anniversary, I presented The Astronomer with rice paper in the form of gỏi cuốn and bò bía. My husband’s the kind of guy who really appreciates cleverness, ingenuity, and deliciousness, so this gift was absolutely perfect for him. 

Gỏi cuốn is a popular snack food in Vietnam and is usually ordered as an appetizer in Vietnamese restaurants stateside. It is comprised of tightly wrapped rice paper bundles filled with pork, shrimp, vermicelli noodles, herbs, and greens. A Hoisin-based sauce topped with crushed peanuts is often served on the side for dipping. The flavors and textures present in this dish are fresh, snappy, and satisfying, kind of like our first year of marriage.

For gỏi cuốn (pork and shrimp rolls)

  • 1 pound small shrimp, peeled and deveined
  • 1 pound pork leg (or any other lean cut)
  • 8 ounces thin rice vermicelli noodles, cooked according to directions on package
  • 1 head red leaf lettuce
  • 1 bunch fresh mint leaves
  • 1 cucumber
  • 16-20 garlic chives or Chinese chives
  • 1 package rice paper

For nước tương (hoisin dipping sauce)

  • Hoisin sauce
  • Broth from cooking pork and shrimp
  • Sugar
  • Peanuts, toasted and crushed

Prepare shrimp and pork

Goi Cuon - Vietnamese Salad Rolls with Pork and Shrimp

Bring a small saucepan filled with salted water to a boil over high heat. Add the shrimp and cook for 30 to 60 seconds or until just cooked through. Remove the shrimp with a slotted spoon and set aside to cool. While the water is still boiling, add the pork. Reduce the heat and poach the pork at a low simmer for 15 to 18 minutes or until cooked through. Remove the pork and set aside to cool. Reserve the stock for the Hoisin dipping sauce.

Once the shrimp have cooled, slice each one in half horizontally. Once the pork has cooled, cut across the grain to create thin slices of pork. Set the shrimp and pork aside.

Prepare herbs and greenery

Goi Cuon - Vietnamese Salad Rolls with Pork and Shrimp

Wash head of lettuce thoroughly and remove the ribs. Remove the seeds from the cucumber and slice thinly. Wash and trim the mint and garlic chives as necessary.
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Saigon Noodle House – Birmingham

Saigon Noodle House - Birmingham

Tucked between a mattress store and a Jenny Craig weight loss outlet is Saigon Noodle House, arguably the best Vietnamese restaurant in the Birmingham metropolitan area. At one point there were three Vietnamese restaurants in town, but Phở Hoàng threw in the towel sometime last year, so these days it’s just Saigon Noodle House and Phở Quê Hương meeting the needs of Birmingham’s Vietnamese food seekers.

I’ve always been a little curious about how Vietnamese food is translated down south, but with so many mouthwatering barbecue shacks to explore, not to mention Frank Stitt’s various haute little eateries, seeking out a cuisine readily available in California was low on my list of priorities.

Saigon Noodle House - Birmingham

During our most recent trip to Birmingham, The Astronomer made a lunch date with his high school friends at Saigon Noodle House. I tried to persuade my dear husband to reconsider, but everyone was in the noodling mood, so off to the Noodle House we went.

To start, our group ordered a variety of fresh and fried rolls. The fresh ones were served with hoisin sauce topped with crushed peanuts, while the fried ones were served with a goopy nước chấm.

Saigon Noodle House - Birmingham

I liked how both the nem nướng and gỏi cuốn tasted freshly made and contained fried shards of Chinese egg roll wrappers through the center, a la Brodard. My only wish was that the rolls had less iceberg filler and more fresh herbs.

According to The Astronomer, the fried chả giò (not pictured) were “a typical unspectacular American specimen.” Truth be told though, we’ve only had one really outstanding chả giò stateside, and that was at a Cambodian restaurant in Boston.

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Lunching in Binh Thanh District

When The Astronomer and I are noodled out, we cross the bridge to Binh Thanh District for lunch. Binh Thanh reminds us a lot of our home base in District 4, namely, helmets are totally optional and street food is abundant. Even though helmets are mandatory by law these days, as soon as motorbikes reach the halfway point on the bridge, everyone takes them off because there aren’t any traffic cops around. It always cracks us up how safety takes a backseat to fashion and comfort.

The banh xeo in Binh Thanh were larger and flimsier than the Da Nang-style ones that I prefer. But at 3,500 a go, we weren’t complaining. The Astronomer hates the large mustard leaves that are traditionally eaten with banh xeo and prefers romaine lettuce. I can go either way.

We also got an order or goi cuon. I firmly believe that hoisin sauce can either make or break this dish. This version was really watery, so it broke the dish (so to speak).

Our final course was banh bo nuong (5,000 VND)—a rice cake of sorts made on a waffle iron type device so that the sugar in the batter is caramelized and the texture is invitingly chewy. The Astronomer ate steamed banh bo stuffed inside a savory doughnut a few weeks back.

A lovely mini-food tour, but the lunch lady’s still where it’s at!

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