Archive for the 'Nuoc Mia' Category

Bánh Xèo Quán – Rosemead

Banh Xeo Quan | Mr. Rice - Rosemead

Banh Xeo Quan, also known as Mr. Rice, specializes in southern-style Vietnamese crepes*. Owner Phi Tran, who hails from Saigon, opened the restaurant in Rosemead some five years ago to bring this specialty to the San Gabriel Valley. This place came highly recommended to me by my lovely friend Thien. She and her family have been dining here for years, so I knew I was in for a treat.

Banh Xeo Quan | Mr. Rice - Rosemead

A refreshingly succinct menu, neatly laminated and fully photographed, greeted us upon arrival. In addition to its namesake banh xeo, the restaurant also prepared rice dishes, noodle soups, and hot vit lon, fetal duck eggs. Although a banh mi hot dog and soda combo was unbeatably priced at $2.75, no one bit the bullet.

Banh Xeo Quan | Mr. Rice - Rosemead

We passed on boba and beer and settled on freshly pressed nuoc mia (sugarcane juice) and minty green nuoc dau xanh la dua (mung bean milk with pandan). Both were excellent.

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Ngự Bình Restaurant – Westminster

Ngu Binh Restaurant - Westminster

The Astronomer and I dined at Ngự Bình Restaurant earlier this summer while in Little Saigon for a very special wedding. With three hours to fill in between the ceremony and reception, we decided to stuff ourselves silly with Vietnamese food.

Little Saigon is slightly too far for us to explore on the regular, so we had to seize this opportunity to dine on the best Vietnamese food this side of the Pacific.

Ngu Binh Restaurant - Westminster

In the midst of all the wedding chaos, the bride and groom were kind enough to point us to Ngự Bình for Central Vietnamese cuisine. Here, chef and owner Mai Tran prepares family recipes that she learned in her hometown of Thua Thien. The delicate steamed dumplings and complex noodle soups that hail from this region never fail to make me swoon.

Ngu Binh Restaurant - Westminster

The first dish to land on our table was the mit xuc banh trang ($6.25). The young jackfruit salad was served warm with a smattering of Vietnamese coriander (rau ram), slivers of pork, and crushed peanuts. We scooped up the salad using the crisp sesame crackers and delivered the goods swiftly to our mouths. A bit of fish sauce was all that was needed to set the flavors properly ablaze.

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San Diego Tết Festival

The Astronomer and I drove down to San Diego this weekend to celebrate Tết with my family. In Vietnam, the entire country shuts down for over a week in order for families to gather and celebrate. It was beyond grand last year taking off several weeks of work to eat, drink and be merry, but it looks like this Tết I’m going to have to settle for a measly weekend. Oh, cultural norms…

We woke up early this morning to go to the temple. Instead of having a traditional Buddhist ceremony, the temple organized a festive raffle. I won a book about Africa, while Cousin Jimmy won a jade dragon wall hanging. My grandparents didn’t win a prize, but I awarded them Best Dressed honors.

After the Tết raffle, firecrackers were lit!

Before heading to the San Diego Tết Festival, we ate com chay (vegetarian lunch) at the temple. Many Buddhists refrain from eating meat during the first month of the New Year.

As we entered the Tết Festival at Balboa Park, we were greeted by a bunch of veteran carnies. We thought we had made a wrong turn until we ran into Cho Ben Thanh. Whew!

The number of Vietnamese food vendors present at the festival was pretty limited considering how many Vietnamese restaurants there are in the city. Regardless, the smell of grilled pork permeated the festival air.

Cousin Jimmy was in the mood for a banh mi and procured one soon after we arrived. Even though the sandwich was pre-made and the bread was soft rather than crisp, Cousin Jimmy still thought that it was good eats. The Astronomer went for a tall cup of nuoc mia (sugar cane juice) to start. The nuoc mia was refreshing, but too sweet because the vendor failed to squeeze in a bit of citrus like they do in Vietnam.

To accompany his nuoc mia, The Astronomer purchased some banh khot, which were served with greens, herbs and nuoc cham on the side. The banh khot were soggy in the center and tasted like banh xeo. Texturally, banh khot should be crisper and more wafer-like.

While we ate, a faux wedding procession came through.  The costumes made me feel like I was at the Citadel in Hue.

A wedding isn’t a wedding without a roasted piglet.

The highlight of our afternoon at the festival was the lion dance. The footwork was cool, but the rhythm of the drums is the coolest.

Chúc mừng năm mới! Happy New Year!

Eating in Nha Trang I


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.


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.


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.


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.


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


The boy dug it!


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


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


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!


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.


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.


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.


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.


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


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.


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.


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


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!


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.


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.

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