Vietnamese Food 101

These unbearably hot, sticky days make me want to:

a. stay in my air conditioned house forever
b. do absolutely nothing but. . .
c. eat Vietnamese food.

HH and I both LOVE Vietnamese food. We crave it. We dream about it. We'll drive hours for it. It is flavorful but light and fresh. We are filled physically and emotionally, without feeling weighed down. There are 2 terrific restaurants in Philly's Chinatown, right across 11th Street from each other. We prefer Vietnam Restaurant which is on the ground level, than Vietnam Cafe, which is on an upper floor, but you can't lose with either. We just wish they delivered!
Vietnam's weather varies along its long, narrow land, but the highs can be 90 while the lows are only around 55, with a monsoon season that can last 3 or 4 months. So, they might know a thing or two about what kind of food is most refreshing in these "saturation point" days. Vietnamese food has plenty of peanuts, red pepper, cilantro and lemon grass, so "pass" if those ingredients don't work for you. Recent studies indicate that lemon grass can be successfully used to treat drug resistant malaria and typhoid fever!
You'll want to start with some summer rolls. These are the healthier cousins to spring rolls, which are deep fried. We like the plain ones [pictured in the forground above] and the Jicama rolls [pictured in the background.] Jicama is a tuberous, starchy root native to Mexico, but popular in Vietnam. The jicama is crunchy and sweet, and balances well with the slivers of sweet Chinese sausage. Cut the rolls in half, put some sauce in the open half and . . . munch!
Next, the classic dish to try is Pho. I have this rule: if I go to a restaurant for the first time, I try to order whatever is a "classic" dish for that cuisine to assess their expertise. If I'm at a diner, I do eggs and home fries. If I'm at Thai, I do Pad Thai. Korean, then Bulgoki. Pho is rice noodles in a clear beef-based broth. You can order it with chicken, seafood or beef. It is served with fresh basil, bean sprouts, a lime wedge, jalapeno slices, "sriracha" hot sauce and brown hoisin sauce. You can choose to put any or all of these ingredients in [small photo below right.] I would definitely start with the bean sprouts and lime. Then taste the richness of the broth, which takes hours to make, simmered with cinnamon, ginger, cloves and cardomom.

I love mine with a bit of everything except the hoisin sauce, which I feel detracts from the complex flavors of the broth. I like to put the jalapenos in right away, allowing the hot oils to seep out in the steaming broth.
Mmmm. Have extra napkins. Not for spillage, but to wipe the "glow" off your brows.
[Other Food Course blogs to come!]


Jenn said...

I need to go eat with you! I never know what I should order and everything you just wrote sounds like a dream. I will have to let my hubby read it he works in philly so maybe he will stop in and eat something you have recommended! Yummy I love a hot spicy soup when the weather is hot I think it makes me feel cooler somehow. Yeah it must just hit the crazy button for me!

Sarah said...

Whoa...WAY to "Grown up" for me...
I am a nuggets & spaghetti type of girl.
I can totally appricate food like this, you know "Grown up"food and I know I am probably missing the boat but.... I'll stick to the kidd-o menu.

Jenn (Above)and I went to dinner Tuesday night I basically DID order from the kids menu. She had a wonderfully prepared seafood dish and I had cheese rav..with marinara.

Lucky you.. getting a double dose of us both in this post. We follow each other in life and in the blogosphere.. What can I say?