Archive for the 'Mi Xao / Hu Tieu Xao' Category

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Eating in Nha Trang I

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After suffering through his first Boston winter, we treated our friend Matt to a trip to Nha Trang during his week-long stay in Vietnam. The goal of the trip was to nosh, relax and “get brown.”

By the way, Nha Trang will be the site of this year’s Miss Universe Pageant and the picture above is a billboard counting down the number of days until The Donald comes to town.

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Unlike the Jersey Shore, the beaches in Nha Trang are peaceful and empty. The funny thing about Nha Trang is that the waves roll on to the shore sideways. The Astronomer and I took a dip as soon as we arrived, while Matt soaked up some rays because he’s not much of a dipper.

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After beach time, we walked toward Nha Trang’s major market. On the way, I bought 100 grams of xi muoi Thai. I usually avoid xi muoi because it is oftentimes too lip-puckeringly sour, but this version was just right—salty and sweet. I also bought 100 grams of me Thai because I am addicted to sugar coated tamarind candies.

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We arrived at the market in the middle of the afternoon, which wasn’t the smartest because it was pretty much deserted and the vendors were napping.

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Our first stop at the market was at an alfresco joint serving up bun sua—rice vermicelli noodles with jellyfish. It turns out that jellyfish isn’t all that exciting. I would say that it’s definitely more texturally interesting than it is flavorful. The broth was clear and mild and the cha and tomatoes came through where the jellyfish lacked.

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Since Matt had never tried nuoc mia (sugarcane juice) we ordered him a tall glass.

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The boy dug it!

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Next we moved on to a che vendor. So many choices, so little time…

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The Astronomer and Matt tried the che bap, which was warm and good, but a bit too sweet.

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I had the che troi nuoc because it’s one of my favorites. Everything was exactly on point, down to the sprinkling of toasted sesame seeds. The mung bean paste inside the tapioca balls was just the right among of salty to contrast with the overall sweetness. Mmm!

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As we enjoyed our che, Matt spotted a bunch of live roosters hung from a motorbike. They were surprisingly quiet as a result of all the blood rushing to their heads. Poor guys.

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Xoi! I seriously can’t pass a xoi vendor without buying some and dropped 3,000 VND on a small bag of xoi gac. The sticky rice was more oily than usual and a really vibrant orange.

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While I munched on my newly acquired xoi, The Astronomer and Matt downed two bowls of mediocre mi quang—too much broth and too little zing.

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The Astronomer and Matt have ridiculous metabolisms and are thus able to munch on cookies all day and still have killer abs. I, on the other hand, must participate in street aerobics and run daily to maintain my physique.

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After the market, we walked to see the Cham towers. This is a view of the bridges of Nha Trang from the towers.

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And here is an actual Cham tower. I don’t mean to be a traitor to my people, but Angkor Wat was heaps more impressive.

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For our first dinner in the city, we dropped in at a large seafood emporium. The food wasn’t great, but we left stuffed and satisfied enough. Our first course was a jellyfish salad served with rice crackers.

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Here’s a closeup of the goods. I think I ate enough jellyfish for a lifetime in Nha Trang.

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Our second course was sweet and sour squid. The seasonings were meh and the squid was not Phu Quoc-tender. On a postive note, the pineapple chunks were tasty!

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Our penultimate course was braised catfish in a claypot. This dish was the standout of the evening and different from the ca kho I’ve eaten in Saigon due to the generous employment of ginger.

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And lastly, stir-fried noodles with seafood. Ho hum seafood makes for a ho hum noodle dish. However, a dousing of caramelized sauce from the ca kho turned things around.

Mì & Hủ Tiếu Xào

January 13, 2008
Cuisine: Vietnamese

140 Vo Thi Sau Street
District 3, Ho Chi Minh City

Phone: none
Website: none

Mi Xao Don (15,000 VND)

Mi Xao Mem (15,000 VND)

Hu Tieu Xao (15,000 VND)

Located in the same alley as the pho cuon and bun cha joint I visited a month ago, this stall specializes in mi (noodles) and com (rice) dishes prepared in a wok.

Zach, The Astronomer and I ordered every mi dish off the menu with the exception of mi goi xao bo, which is packaged Ramen noodles stir-fried with beef. I don’t doubt that the dish is a fine creation, but it’s a little too “semi-homemade” for me.

The mi xao don was comprised of thin egg noodles dunked in hot oil and fried to a crisp. The nest of crunchy noodles was topped with a saucy mix of liver, beef, squid, bok choy-like greens and garnished with cilantro. The Astronomer thought there was too much liver and not enough of anything else. This preparation was probably my least favorite of the three because I like my noodles soft, but The Astronomer embraced the different textures.

The mi xao mem was your average plate pan fried noodles and dressed with the same saucy mix as the mi xao dong. The noodles were too soft and as a result, lacked the bite-factor that I want in my pan fried noodles. See: Ting Wong in Philadelphia.

My favorite of the three was the hu tieu xao. Wide rice noodles seared in garlic and topped with the ubiquitous saucy mix. Whereas the mi xao don was too crunchy and the mi xao mem was too soft, the hu tieu xao was baby bear.

These alleyway noodles were good, but not great. In a city full of greatness, I most likely won’t be back for more.

Cơm Niêu Sài Gòn – Ho Chi Minh City

January 9, 2008
Cuisine: Vietnamese

6C Tu Xuong Street
District 3, Ho Chi Minh City

Phone: 820-3188
Website: none

Sugar Apple smoothie, Pepsi (Tet edition)

Crab and Asparagus Soup (20,000 VND)

Squid Stuffed with Meat (55,000 VND)

Thit Kho Nuoc Dua (40,000 VND)

Rau Muong Xao Toi (30,000 VND)

Com Dap (20,000 VND)

Mi Xao Mem Hai San (50,000 VND)

Back in July when The Astronomer and I first arrived in Saigon, my aunt and uncle took us to Cơm Niêu Sài Gòn for dinner. Since we were guests, we left the ordering up to our hosts. Our meal was fairly unmemorable because their selections didn’t exactly suit our tastes.

Since our first visit, I read an interview with Anthony Bourdain in The Guardian where he proclaimed Cơm Niêu Sài Gòn as “the one place visitors shouldn’t miss” –

Com Nieu Sai Gon, a restaurant run by the impressive Madame Ngoc, is my favorite place in town. Everything is good – and travelers who’ve followed up on my recommendation to eat there never return unsatisfied. They specialize in clay-pot-baked rice which, after shattering the crockery, they spin, sizzling hot, through the air over the heads of the customers then dress with sauce and scallions. Always my best meal in Saigon. Just order “everything” and eat yourself silly.

I’m on the fence about Bourdain in general, but he convinced me to give Cơm Niêu Sài Gòn a second go. The Astronomer and I, along with our friends Thomas and Zach, returned last week to eat ourselves silly, or something like that.

For the past month, the restaurant has been operating in a refurbished space behind the original Cơm Niêu Sài Gòn. The new digs are seriously beautiful—dark wood, subtle decor, exposed brick walls and comfy chairs. Easily the most well-designed space I’ve seen in all of Saigon. With such a gorgeous interior, we had high expectations for the eats to come.

Zach and Tom started off with the crab and asparagus soup, which they both thought was done well. I find this style of soup a little too gelatinous and mild.

The squid stuffed with meat arrived next. We were expecting something like this, but instead we received chicken taquitos cut into small pieces. Whatta let down! The kitchen should have focused on the entree rather than the garnish. Who needs blossoming carrot and turnip flowers when the actual dish sucks? It’s as if they made these little doodads to distract diners. This was far and away the worst thing I have eaten in the country.

After a rough start, our remaining selections were all executed well. However, like our first experience, nothing was truly memorable. The thit kho was under-seasoned and lacking in the thit department. The morning glory sauteed in garlic was fine, but any fool can execute this dish. I must admit that the com dap was delicious with its combination of scallion oil, nuoc mam and sesame seeds over crispy rice. The seafood pan-fried noodles were good as well, with a fair ratio of protein to carbohydrates.

Cơm Niêu Sài Gòn is the perfect eatery for those squeamish about street food or in dire need of AC and pretty surroundings. I think Zach summed it best when he said, “I’d go here again, but only with my parents to pick up the bill.” Agreed.

Eating in Phú Quốc

The Astronomer and I just got back from the most kick-ass vacation ever! Phu Quoc Island off the coast of Vietnam and Cambodia is paradise on earth. Seriously. Clear turquoise waters, abundant sunshine, sandy beaches, and seafood a plenty. Heavenly.

We arrived last Friday morning and flew home Monday afternoon. In between, we sunned on the beach, snorkeled, read, relaxed, and ate extremely well.

After checking in at our hotel and dropping off our luggage, we walked into town in search of lunch. The Astronomer was starving and impulsively chose Thuy Duong at 25 Nguyen Trai Street. The place was infested with flies, which killed my appetite, but The Astronomer ordered a bowl of hu tieu dai muc anyway. When the bowl arrived, it looked SO good that I had to order myself one. The noodle dish was comprised of a pork-based broth, a transparent and chewy noodle (hu tieu dai), bean sprouts, fresh scallions, and lightly cooked squid (muc). Everything tasted so fresh and the squid blew our minds. I think the squid in Phu Quoc has forever ruined squid elsewhere for me.


After lunch, we headed to the market to look around and score some more eats. I bought lots of fruit, while The Astronomer procured cookies (banh kep) and a barbecued meatball sandwich (banh mi nem nuong. The sandwich was good, but his heart remains true to the banh mi thit nuong in District 4.

Dinnertime brought more delicious squid! We stayed close to home and ate at our resort—Kim Nam Phuong. We ordered squid sauteed with garlic and ginger (top row, right) and a plate of pan fried noodles with squid and shrimp. The dishes were stellar all around. I love how seafood is completely satisfying and not too filling.

For breakfast the next morning, I ate fruit and cereal, while The Astronomer ordered a pineapple crepe from the resort. We ate our selections beach side, ah… The Astronomer thought the crepe was a bit dough-y, but a great way to start the day nevertheless. After breakfast, we decided to upgrade our lodging and moved to the Tropicana Resort.

After we set up our new digs and lounged around in the sun, we headed to the Troicana’s sweet beach front dining deck for lunch.

The Astronomer ordered fish with chilies and lemongrass, while I ordered a squid salad. The fish was a bit spicy for The Astronomer, while I found my salad average. The Tropicana may have nicer bungalows, but the chefs at the Kim Nam Phuong are superior.

The following day, The Astronomer and I went on an all-day snorkeling excursion along the southern islands of Phu Quoc. The sites were postcard perfect and the food on board was expertly prepared. The best dish was the squid sauteed with pineapples and tomatoes. This was hands down the most wonderful squid I have ever tasted. Who would have thought squid could melt in one’s mouth? I really don’t think I could ever order calamari at an Italian restaurant ever again. Another great dish was the fried fish, which was covered with red chili flakes.

Now that I’m back in Saigon, I will be dreaming about the fruits of the sea in Phu Quoc until I return.

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