Tag Archives: Vietnam

Vietnamese Pandan Honeycomb Cake – Banh Bo Nuong

Photo by Julesfood

When we first happened upon a picture of this cake, we couldn’t believe it was real. Was it a fruit? Gelatin? Turns out that this striking, otherworldly concoction is Vietnamese Pandan Honeycomb cake. Pandan – a flavor not often seen in American baking –  is a tropical plant from Southeast Asia with edible leaves  that impart the flavor and green color to this unusual cake. You can find pandan extract in many larger SE Asian groceries or online. The main base ingredient of this cake is tapioca flour, which leaves a chewy texture in the middle, much like pão de queijo. Julesfood, Danang Cuisine, and Runaway Rice have similar recipes for Pandan honeycomb cake. The Spice of Life takes it one step further, and uses whole pandan leaves to supplement the flavor of the pandan extract, and while it seems a little difficult, the payoff is big!

 

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Pastry Post-Doc: Mooncakes for the Mid-Autumn Festival

chinaIt’s almost time for the Mid-Autumn Festival in China and Vietnam (September 15 this year), which means one thing – mooncakes (yue bing)! Mooncakes are round, molded pastry cakes with dense fillings, and have been eaten in conjunction with the Mid-Autumn Festival since the Ming Dynasty. Mooncakes, as befits their name, are said to represent the moon, and are traditionally imprinted with the Chinese characters for longevity or harmony. Mooncakes are made with pastry crust and are traditionally filled with red bean or lotus paste with whole egg yolks, but the fillings vary wildly, depending on location. You can buy pre-made mooncakes with countless crust and filling types at most Asian grocery stores or bakeries (and even more elaborate varieties if you are in Hong Kong), but you can also make them on your own! Andew Gooi has a lovely video of how mooncakes are made, which you can see below.

Mooncakes are traditionally shaped with wooden molds, but you can also find some plastic or silicone (round or square) online. Making mooncakes is a multi-step process and may require some special ingredients from a well-stocked Asian grocery, like golden syrup, which you can also make on your own. China Sichuan Food and House of Annie have recipes for a traditional Cantonese version with egg yolk and red bean filling. Serious Eats has a recipe without the egg yolk. If you are feeling lost, Omnivore’s Cookbook has an extremely comprehensive recipe and step-by-step guide for the mooncake newbie newbie. If you are in the mood for something avant-garde, Christine has a recipe for for the more modern green tea custard or pandan snow skin mooncakes.

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Pastry Post-Doc: Vietnamese Banh Tieu Donuts

vietnamWe’ve made it to Friday – time to celebrate with donuts! This week we are featuring Vietnamese hollow donuts – Bánh Tiêu. Banh Tieu are crunchy, hollow donuts covered in sesame seeds, with a light texture. The technique is a bit harder to master than an American donut, but if you have already attempted deep-frying you have a leg up. I am a Food Blog and Vicky Pham have good recipes for Banh Tieu to try at home. Banh Tieu are found throughout Vietnam as street food, and you can also find them at some Vietnamese markets or restaurants in the US and Canada, especially on the West Coast.

Bahn Tieu

Banh Tieu by Tran Khal

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Sticky Rice Cakes for Vietnamese Lunar New Year – Tet

vietnamFebruary 8 is the start of the Lunar New Year, celebrated throughout Asia with festivals, merriment and – of course – good food. In Vietnam, Lunar New Year is called Tết, and this celebration comes with its share of unique tasty treats. One of the most emblematic Tết foods is the Bánh chưng sticky rice cake. These glutinous rice cakes, filled with beans and/or pork are wrapped in Phrynium leaves (or banana leaves if you don’t have those), and steamed. Banh Chung are eaten year-round, but they are considered to be a particularly essential part of the family altar on Tet. We were particularly interested by Banh Chung because, unlike many New Year dishes, these are savory rather than sweet. So how do you make your own? Danang Cuisine has an easy-to-follow recipe, and Viet World Kitchen has a step by step guide on how to properly wrap the leaves using a mold.

BanhChung

Banh Chung by Ben Nguyen

As the Vietnamese saying goes, certain things are a necessity for a good Tết, including Banh Chung:

Vietnamese: Thịt mỡ, dưa hành, câu đối đỏ
Cây nêu, tràng pháo, bánh chưng xanh
Translation: Rich meats, Pickled onions, red couplets
Nêu tree, firecracker, green bánh chưng

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Superior Pho in Cleveland lives up to its name

vietnamThe first time we attempted to go to Superior Pho (3030 Superior Avenue, Cleveland, OH), we couldn’t find it! Superior Pho is located in a tiny mall with other Asian restaurants and businesses. However, we didn’t know that, so when we walked into the front entrance of what we thought was the right address, we promptly turned around when we arrived in the lobby of another restaurant. However, stay heartened, just park in the back when you turn off of east 30th street and Superior Pho will be the first restaurant you encounter from the back entrance.

SPho
Superior Pho is a simple place with a few tables and tvs in the corners. We arrived for dinner at about 6 pm, and the place was packed – it closes at 8, so keep that in mind. To start off, we ordered mango bubble tea and Vietnamese coffee, cà phê đá, which was served with an individual drip filter (cà phê phin) – the first time we had ever seen it served this way – though it is apparently the authentic way to do things. Thankfully, the menu at Superior Pho was not as enormous at other Vietnamese restaurants, which made it easier to actually settle on a dish. Along with pho and vermicelli dihes, there was a single banh mi sandwich and a well-curated selection of house specialties including Bò lúc lắc (beef salad) and Bò bía (rice paper rolls with Chinese sausage).SPho3

The main thing to order at Superior Pho is obviously pho, the iconic Vietnamese soup. There were 14 pho permutations you could order by number including: brisket, flank steak, meatball, chicken or even veggie (Large: $8.95 / Small: $7.95). We ordered a classic Beef Pho with flank steak. We always want to try a second dish at the restaurant, so I went for one of my favorite Bún noodle dishes Bún thịt nướng ($9.50) vermicelli with grilled pork. Our entrees were brought out in short order – and we were instantly impressed, everything was fresh and tasty. The pho broth was flavorful and heavily spiced with scallion, basil and cinnamon, and the beef was of very high quality. The large size was more than enough to share, and for only a dollar more than the small, why not? The vermicelli dish was of similar high quality, with the perfect mix of fresh veggies, spice and fish sauce.

SPho2

Much like Chicago (and anywhere else) there is a bit of a turf war between restaurants and fans on who has the best Pho in town. And while we haven’t sampled enough places to make a definitive decision about the best pho in Cleveland, we are definitely fans of Superior Pho. This was some of the best pho we ever had, and could certainly hold its own against any we had tried in Chicago. We look forward to enjoying more Superior Pho in the future, especially as a tonic for the impending cold weather.

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Classic Pho at Tank Noodle

Tank Noodle
4953 N Broadway
Chicago, IL 60640

vietnamPho Xe Tang, popularly known as Tank Noodle, is a staple of Chicago’s Vietnamese Argyle neighborhood and our go-to place for Vietnamese cuisine in Chicago. Though this area has no shortage of places that do pho very well – Pho 777 and Pho 888 spring immediately to mind – we always end up coming back to Tank Noodle (there is a fish tank in the corner, from which we suspect the restaurant gets its name). We have introduced many of our friends to Vietnamese food here, and everyone has come away happy. Be warned: the menu is, well, gargantuan. It is easy to feel overwhelmed by the seeming laundry-list of Vietnamese dishes, but we are still searching for something they don’t make well here, and there are options for every palette, from vegan to carnivorous and everything in between.  Of course, you will see most people ordering pho, though you can also get stone pot dishes, noodles, and bánh mì sandwiches.
Tank Noodle

Though it is easy to get bogged down in choices, we have a few go-to options to which we always return. Lindsay enjoys her lemongrass noodle bowl, a light cool dish that is especially good in summer months. Matt also enjoys #195, the the Hot and Spicy Sour Chicken Soup, which comes with an ingredient list that reads like a paragraph: “pineapple, lime leaves, hot pepper, tamarind, okra, Alocasia odora, culantro, sour bamboo, basils, rice paddy herb, dried onion, garlic pork oil.” The flavor combinations are exciting and seemingly unique to this dish. Spice it up with some chili sauce, peppers, and more lime juice, and it’s a great winter soup / full meal anytime. Get the “small” – at $12.95 it is enough food for two days. We don’t even want to know how big the large is ($18.95).

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In the winter, however, you have to go with the pho. The most popular choice always appears to be beef pho. You can decide what kind of meat you want in the pho, ranging from sliced steak to tendons. While you can select to get a small or large size, much like with Matt’s soup, unless you are sharing with 3 other people (and maybe you are) the “small” is plenty large enough for even the biggest appetite. Though the broth is heavenly, our favorite part of pho is really the platter of garnishes that comes with it. On the plate you get Thai basil, culantro ( a fascinating herb that tastes like cilantro but looks like a stalk of grass), sprouts, lime wedges (cut the right way by taking out the white pith in the center) and hot peppers. Of course, to go the extra mile to make your pho spicy you can add some house-made chili sauce and fresh jalapeño peppers.

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If you have a large group, it is absolutely essential to have reservations, since this place can get packed to the gills, especially after 7pm on Fridays and weekends. It’s also fun to sit at the large table with the lazy susans. When we were there with a group of eight people on a Friday night, a huge line loomed behind us. Thank goodness for that reservation.

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Our go-to spot for Vietnamese Banh Mi: Ba Le Bakery

Ba Le Bakery
5014 N Broadway St.
Chicago, IL 60640

vietnamBa Le is such an old favorite we can’t believe that we haven’t written about it before. Honestly though, the more often we go to a place, the more often we assume we have already written about the place (as is the case with our favorite restaurant in Madison, Greenbush Tavern). Oops! In any case, Ba Le is certainly someplace you should not overlook. Their specialty is the Vietnamese Banh Mi sandwich, and they are hugely popular. Ba Le does one of our favorite classic banh mi sandwiches, with crispy-yet-tender baguettes, pickled carrot and daikon slaw, cilantro, a little (never too much) mayo and jalapeno peppers. You can get a variety of meat fillings; our favorites are lemongrass chicken and roast pork (though you can also do vegetarian if you are so inclined). We also just realized there is even an incongruous prosciutto banh mi – anyone tried it?

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We appreciate the sandwiches at banh mi because the combination of all of the essential banh mi elements works so well together. The baguette is always fresh, and not soggy, and there is never too much mayo. Of course, part of the appeal of Ba Le is the price – most of the sandwiches are less than $5 – and if you buy 5 sandwiches, you get the 6th free. So definitely bring some friends, or stock up for work lunches (don’t worry we won’t tell). Other entrees include noodle salads and salad rolls, but we’re all about the banh mi.

BanhMi

Along with banh mi sandwiches, there are a large variety of take-out dishes and snacks in the front of the store. If you are thirsty, you can get the ubiquitous Cafe du Monde laden Thai iced coffee, bubble tea, or even some more original tea varieties, like chrysanthemum. There is also a selection of Vietnamese desserts up front, such as a variety of delectable che puddings and sugary cookies. Of course, we are also drawn to the selection of French macarons, with some delectable tropical flavors like mango and passion fruit. Though we have tried several spots around town for Vietnamese banh mi sandwiches, we always keep going back to Ba Le. It never disappoints!

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The Impending Srirachapocalypse 2K14

Everybody watch out, because we are about to hit a shortage of the famous Huy Fong Sriracha Thai/Vietnamese hot sauce – THE SRIRACHAPOCALYPSE! Due to legal entanglements in the Huy Fong factory in Irwindale, California, bottles are now being held 30 days before shipping, causing a major delay in restocking Sriracha on the shelves. Since the stoppage hit in mid-December, customers may really start to feel the effects of the ban soon. Serious Eats conducts a taste test of other sriracha brands so you can get your hot sauce fix in a pinch.

Sriracha in Memphis

Sriracha in Memphis by Memphis CVB

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Vietnam: Nhu Lan

Nhu Lan
2612 West Lawrence Avenue
Chicago, IL

It’s been a while since we wrote a review, so we figured we’d update you on one of our ongoing quests: the search for the best banh mi in Chicago. Much like pizza places and hotdog joints, everyone in Chicago has a favorite bahn mi place. “Banh mi” is the Vietnamese name for airy baguette-like bread, and is also synonymous with the iconic sandwich with meat and pickled veggies. Previously, our favorite stalwart was Ba Le – the combination of location, price and quality couldn’t be beat. However, Nhu Lan has been on our radar for a while and is frequently named as the top bahn mi spot in the city, so we had to try it.

High-tech digital menus at Nhu Lan!

There are now two locations of Nhu Lan, but we visited the original location on Lawrence. Though Nhu Lan is mainly a walk-up counter, there are also a nice array of baked goods, smoothies and takeout items (including takeout drinks with colorful characters, as seen below). Much like many of the other banh mi places in town, Nhu Lan presents all of its banh mi options on a large menu, and it also features a buy-5-get-1-free deal. The prices are all below $5 for a sandwich, a typical bahn mi steal. Though we took our sandwiches to go, there is a small sitting area inside.

Roast pork banh mi – with a generous helping of cilantro.

The selection of sandwiches contains all of what you would usually expect, but there are also a few more unique items like a vegan lemongrass tofu banh mi. We ordered the roast pork, the shredded pork and our go-to, the lemongrass chicken. The lemongrass chicken was well-seasoned but a little fatty. We were warned against the shredded pork by the server because she said “Americans don’t usually like it,” and we have to admit the little julienned strips of skin were not our favorite. The roast pork however, was excellent. We also appreciated the full cucumber spear, the light pickled daikon and carrot slaw and the generous helping of cilantro. Nhu Lan also bakes its own bread and you can buy the delightfully fresh baguettes right in store (check out the rack of bread in the photo above).

Thanks, we did!

So how did Nhu Lan stack up in the banh mi battle? The bread at Nhu Lan was a hands-down winner, but we slightly prefered the meat fillings at Ba Le. On the other hand we liked the cucumber spear at Nhu Lan and the fact that they didn’t use any mayonnaise. We also appreciated the cases of smoothies, salads and desserts, as well as the wide variety of baked goods and dessert items. While we can see why Nhu Lan is a favorite, we’ll probably stick to the more convenient Ba Le.

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French Indochina: Le Colonial

Le Colonial
N. Rush
Chicago, IL

180px-flag_of_colonial_vietnamsvgYes, we are aware that French Indochina does not exist. However, Le Colonial does its best to channel a romantic fin-de-siècle Vietnamese atmosphere with elegant decor and potted palms. We enjoyed a very continental 9 o’clock dinner, which was too dark for a good ambiance shot – so here’s a photo from the restaurant’s website. The menu itself is a fusion of Vietnamese dishes with some French flavors and techniques.interiorlc

To start off we ordered a few appetizers. M ordered Banh cuon (9.50), which was a chicken and mushroom stuffed rice noodle ravioli. It came with a delicious lime garlic sauce. L started with Tom cuon ram (10.50) which were shrimp beignets with an orange ginger sauce.

For entrees, L ordered the Tom xao sate ($24), which was a sauteed mixture of spicy shrimp and asparagus over a bed of rice. This is not a dumbed-down dish. It had more than a little heat to it and some great bite from the garlic and ginger. M ordered Ga xao xa ot (19) lemongrass-flavored chicken and portobello mushrooms, with a basil chili sauce. M felt the lemongrass was a bit overpowering, but L being a lemongrass lover was not bothered.

We don’t know how we had any room left after all of that food, but the Ciao Bella gelato looked enticing so we each had a scoop of mango (M requested his with chocolate sauce). And perhaps coolest of all, as we were sipping on our after-dessert espresso we had a Stephanie Izard sighting. Guess we were in the right place!

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A New Place for… Bánh mì

vietnamBon Bon
2333 W North Ave
Chicago, IL

Bon Bon, a new Chicago Vietnamese restaurant has been making the rounds in the blogosphere as a new place for Bánh mì. Bánh mì are Vietnamese hoagie sandwiches, with a variety of meat choices (typically pork, or pate) served on a French baguette with a spicy slaw. While there are bunch of places offer Bahn Mi, Bon Bon is also unique in that it offers these little Vietnamese treats outside of the Argyle corridor. According to the Menu at Menupages all of the sandwiches come in at a mere $3.95. We can’t wait to check it out!

Anyone been there?

Coverage:
[Time Out Chicago Interview with the owner]
[Bon Bon @ Yelp]
[Chicago Foodwhores review]

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