Vietnamese

Eating Houston 1.2: Some of the best Vietnamese and Chinese foods in America, the Bellaire edition

As promised, this week, I’m delving into foods my hometown of Houston is known for. Of course, being Asian-American and having grown up near an abundance of local Vietnamese and Chinese restaurants (also known as Bellaire Blvd.), I have to talk about the wide variety and quality of east Asian cuisine we’re lucky to call our own.

First, a short history of the Vietnamese diaspora: in the 1980s, the first Vietnamese to settle in this city made the area near Hobby airport in south Houston their home. That’s where you’ll still find the famous original Pho Binh Trailer (which, I’m happy to report, has just recently opened their latest outpost in my stomping grounds of the Heights–in fact, that’s there bowl of soup pictured above). The first Little Saigon sprouted in what we now call Midtown, and this is where my first memories of eating pho and banh mi thit with my parents were made. We did our ethnic grocery shopping in midtown, stocking up on 20-lb bags of jasmine rice, fresh Gulf shrimp, bottles of Squid brand fish sauce.
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Vietnamese crab sautéed in tamarind

One of my favorite foods to eat in Vietnam, cua rang me—crabs sautéed in tamarind—is a humble yet glorious dish prized for its freshness and balance of flavor. It’s best eaten with the hands and a chilled lager (or three), followed by a hearty serving of French bread, which is broken off the community loaf and use to mop the vibrant, sweet sauce.

A fond memory of childhood summers is weekend trips to the Gulf Coast, where in addition to playing in the murky brown water, I’d help my parents catch blue crabs with nothing more than string, chicken necks, and a hand net. Okay, I thought I was helping, but I was not much more useful than the rock to which my parents tied the end of a fishing string since I was terrified of the crabs. (Ironic, isn’t it, considering I had to cook a live one on national television years later?)
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40 years: A brief remembrance of the Fall of Saigon

April 30, 2015, marks the 40th anniversary of the Fall of Saigon. I was not alive then, but the figment of it swirled around my life nonetheless, mostly in the form of a movie and a book.
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Eating Saigon 3.0: Love the Lunch Lady & hanging with my pops

For now, this is the last in my Saigon series, covering my most recent trip to HCMC in January. (Read about my eats from early July 2014 and late July 2014.) This time, as usual, I ate more street food, but I also ventured to less traditional places and had lunch outings with my pops, who has since moved back to Vietnam after retirement.
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Eating Saigon 2.0: So much crab, I got hives + one of my favorite street foods in Vietnam

Following my early July 2014 trip to Vietnam where I attended the KOTO fundraising gala, I returned to Saigon just a few weeks later to do another guest appearance on MasterChef Vietnam season 2 and work with the show’s sponsor, Knorr Vietnam. You know I can’t go to Vietnam without eating Saigon, so here’s what I had this time around.
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Eating Saigon 1.0: 3 different regions, 1 city in Vietnam

Happy new year (again)! In continuing the closer look we’re taking at Vietnamese traditions, like those of lunar new year, today I’m actually taking you back to Vietnam.

I was born in California and didn’t visit the country of my heritage until I was 18. It would be another 16 years after that first pilgrimage before I’d returned to Vietnam again. Consequently, this second trip was after MasterChef, and I was going to Vietnam to appear in the inaugural season of “MasterChef” Vietnam as a celebrity guest judge. Since then, I’ve been back to Saigon/Ho Chi Minh City an additional three times, and on each trip, I eat to my stomach’s content.

Food in Vietnam, especially the “street food,”* is delicious and inexpensive—it’s my absolute favorite stuff to eat over there.

And so in the spirit of street food’s no frills, no nonsense attitude, I’ll get right down to business and deliver the goods.
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Happy year of the goat!

**Please excuse the many misspelled Vietnamese words in the following entry, as I don’t have the software to write proper Vietnamese, accents and all.

This Thursday marks the lunar new year, or Tê’t, as we call it in Vietnamese. Growing up, the red envelopes containing minted bills (or—like xì—were my most anticipated new year tradition. It meant I was that much closer to that Super Mario game or, when I was in high school, that Green Day CD.

Another fond memory of Tê’t was the banh chung my grandmother made not only for us but all the extended family members that visited over the week-long holiday. Bánh chung (or banh Tê’t as they’re known in the Vietnamese South) are glutinous rice cakes filled with pork and mung bean and wrapped in banana leaves prior to steaming. The leaves impart a hint of green and earthiness on to the rice, which is why it’s no surprise they are meant to symbolize the earth. My grandmother and aunt made dozens of them, and sometimes I would help tie the red decorative ribbons around the massive cakes before stacking them on to the dining table. There they rested like stacks of sandbags, waiting to be gifted to our relatives.
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I Am Vietnamese: A project anthology

My achievements as a Blind Cook often supersede my identity as a writer. That’s what I was before I went on “MasterChef,” and that’s what I still consider myself, in spite of my latest lackluster attempts at the memoir. (That’s a discussion for another day.)

In fact, I find writing much more challenging than cooking; results are less tangible, and gratification, if it comes at all, is way delayed.
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Leftover Thanksgiving turkey congee

Thanksgiving is done, but the leftovers are not. Because Thanksgiving is our favorite holiday (and with that comes the love of traditional Thanksgiving food), the hubs and I usually cook enough fowl to feed family, friends, and ourselves for days, even weeks.

This year was no exception: we sous vide a turkey and fried two turkeys. We vacuum sealed most of the leftover turkey to make it last as long as possible in the fridge. (You can freeze the turkey leftovers too.)
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Sous vide pork belly bao

Last week, I posted a video about my menu for the Ikea Supper Club: five courses of small offerings that reflected both my heritage and upbringing. A month has gone by since the Supper Club, and I still reflect upon the menu fondly.

The guests seemed to thoroughly enjoy the dishes (or at least that’s what they told me), and when asked which was their favorite, a majority said it was the sous vide pork belly bao.

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