Archive for the 'Thit Kho' Category

Final Feast @ Bà Sáu's

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The day before The Astronomer and I departed from Saigon for Hanoi, Ba Sau (my grandma’s younger sister) invited us over to her home in Phu Nhuan District for a final feast. Throughout our year in Vietnam, Ba Sau treated us to fabulous homemade eats, and this last lunch was no exception.

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Ba Sau and her daughters-in-law worked all morning to prepare this amazing spread. I had some of my best meals in Vietnam at Ba Sau’s lovely home. I fondly remember the time she made a special version of bo bia when my friend Liana came to visit and the time she prepared banh tet from scratch during Tet. Her generosity and mad kitchen skills are unparalleled.

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My Uncle Son’s (Son is his name) wife made xoi gac—sticky rice flavored subtly and colored intensely with gac fruit. The prune-looking garnish is actually a gac seed.

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Ba Sau made one of my all-time favorite dishes, thit kho—caramelized hunks of braised pork legs and hardboiled eggs. The layer of fat is pure lusciousness.

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Ba Sau’s ca ri ga—chicken curry—is the stuff dreams are made of. The rich, creamy and slightly spicy broth tastes amazing poured upon vermicelli noodles or dipped with a fresh baguette.

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The feast would not be complete without Ba Sau’s signature dish cha gio—Vietnamese egg rolls. Each cha gio is the length of one’s pinky finger and filled with a mixture of ground pork, spices (fish sauce, pepper, etc.) and taro root. The crisp and blistering golden skins are my favorite part. I asked my grandma back in the states why our family doesn’t make cha gio like Ba Sau’s and her reply was that it was just too labor-intensive.

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The mi xao gion—crisp noodles topped with a light gravy and chunks of vegetables (cauliflower, bok choy, carrots) and various meats (beef, squid, shrimp)—was also fabulous. My aunts kept on refilling my bowl everytime I finished a serving. I gladly gobbled up everything set before me.

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And last, but certainly not least, khổ qua nhoi thit—bitter melon stuffed with pork. True to its name, bitter melon is usually too bitter for my tastes, but Ba Sau’s rendition was surprisingly palatable. I didn’t quite get the exact details about how she extracted the bitter from the melon, but somehow, someway, the melon tasted slightly sweet and just a bit bitter. Ba Sau does wonders in the kitchen.

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Family—Cau Minh and Son (top), Di Phung and Mo (bottom, left), Cau Son and his wife. We left Saigon with full bellies and huge smiles upon our faces. I seriously cannot wait to get back to Saigon—Ba Sau’s hospitality is nothing short of five stars.

Cơm Tấm Mộc – Ho Chi Minh City

 

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April 9, 2008
Cuisine: Vietnamese

85 Ly Tu Trong Street
District 1, Ho Chi Minh City

Phone: 8248561
Website: none

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Com tam thit kho (30,000 VND)

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Com tam suon bi (25,000 VND)

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Com tam bi cha (22,000 VND)

Air-con street food is a popular trend sweeping through the Saigon dining scene. The formula for this genre of eateries is pretty straightforward—ditch the dirty, embrace the modern, halve the portions and double the price.

Plastic stools are replaced by solid furniture, wall calendars of Hong Kong movie stars are traded in for eye-catching color schemes, and inattentive waiters are given lessons in service and hospitality.

Pho 24 is the current leader of the air-con street food movement with hundreds of locations throughout the country. Although not nearly as prevalent, Cơm Tấm Mộc is one of the powerhouses in the realm of broken rice. The decor features light-colored wood furnishings and minimalist decor.

The Astronomer, Matt and I decided to try fancy broken rice after Plan A for lunch fell through. I ordered the com tam bi cha (broken rice with shredded pork and pork skin with a slice of pork loaf), which was high-quality, but wimpy in the size department. Whereas most Vietnamese establishments serve a lot of rice and a little meat, Cơm Tấm Mộc piles on the meat and skimps on the rice. This is perfect for those still on the Atkins Diet, but a growing girl demands more rice.

On a sunny note, the pork loaf was the best I’ve had in the city—the yolk-y topping was fresh and the pork actually tasted like pork. Fancy that. Sadly, I could not get my com tam with a fried egg on top.

The Astronomer was also quite pleased with his com tam suon bi (broken rice with shredded pork and pork skin with slab of barbecued pork), but had to order an extra portion of rice (com them – 4,000 VND) to round out his meal. The hunk of grilled meat was well-seasoned, but truly no better than broken rice sold street-side.

Matt’s com tam thit kho (braised pork bits) was damn good, but missing some hardboiled egg action. Thit kho without eggs is like Lucky Charms without marshmallows, you know what I mean?

If Cơm Tấm Mộc started offering more eggs (fried and hardboiled) and increased their rice portions, I’d be all over it like white on rice.

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.

Bunches of Lunches: Cơm Trưa

One of the luxuries of Vietnam is being able to dine out for nearly every meal due to the low cost of food. On average, The Astronomer and I each spend approximately $1-$1.50 per meal depending on the eatery and what we order. Although a part of me misses cooking up a storm, it’s easier and far more delicious to frequent restaurants and street stalls rather than bargaining, buying, and preparing raw ingredients in Saigon.

For the most part, The Astronomer and I have avoided eating out for breakfast because we prefer chomping on cereal and PowerBars in our apartment to eating hot soups street-side. However, lunch is a completely different story.

Here are some snapshots from lunchtime outings during the past few weeks:

August 3, 2007—While exploring our ‘hood during a rainy Saturday morning, we stumbled upon a friendly man dishing up goi du du kho bo (green papaya salad with beef jerky, basil, and fish sauce vinaigrette – 5,000 VND) and goi coun (spring rolls with pork, vermicelli noodles, herbs, lettuce, and mam nem dipping sauce – 6,000 VND). The green papaya salad was spectacular, especially the spicy jerky. The spring rolls, on the other hand, contained a bitter herb that was overwhelming. We also weren’t fans of the potent anchovy and pineapple dipping sauce.

August 6, 2007—A mechanic pointed The Astronomer and I to the Banh Canh Cua eatery. We shared a bowl of the restaurant’s siganature dish, banh canh cua (13,000 VND), and a sampler plate of the restaurant’s offerings that included banh beo, banh nam, banh bot loc, and banh ram it (10,000 VND). The banh canh was very different from my family’s version due to the employment of fresh noodles, which contributed to a thicker and starchier broth. The sampler platter was terrific!

August 9, 2007—Around the corner from our office is an outdoor restaurant serving worker’s lunches. We’ve eaten here twice mainly due to proximity. The rice is often too dry and the flies buzzing around quickly kill an appetite. On our first visit, The Astronomer had the braised fish and a fish patty, while I had tofu stuffed with ground pork and an omelet. Our lunch plates include a small bowl of soup with mustard greens, which The Astronomer hates but I rather like. The food here isn’t stellar, but it’s definitely decent and inexpensive at 15,000 VND per person.

August 11, 2007—My grandma’s younger sister, Ba Sao, invited The Astronomer and me to her house for lunch the other weekend. She prepared her famous egg rolls, thit kho, braised fish with tomatoes and turnips, and bi coun (spring rolls with shredded pork and lettuce). Everything was delicious! The Astronomer probably ate twenty egg rolls and the braised fish rocked my world. I hope to learn a few recipes from her during my year in Vietnam.

August 12, 2007—There’s no such thing as a bad bowl of pho in this country! This random pho joint called Pho Bac Ha is located off the uber-busy CMT 8. The Astronomer ordered the pho ga (15,000 VND), while I had the pho bo (12,000 VND). Nothing super special here, just a solid bowl of pho.

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