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Traditional Vietnamese Crepes by James Nguyen
April 14, 2009, 11:25 pm
Filed under: Vietnamese Food | Tags: , , , , , , , ,

Vietnamese Crepes

Vietnamese Crepes

Vietnamese Crepes

When I ask friends whether have they tried Vietnamese food, 9 times out of 10 they will respond emphatically, “Yes! I love those noodles…what do you call them, Pho noodes!?”  With a smirk, I’m glad to hear that “Pho” has made the english vernacular.  While this is a minor triumph in of itself, this review is not about Pho which we will dissect for another time…instead this is about a not-so common dish and is one of my all time favorites, the Vietnamese Crepe or locally termed “Banh Xeo” (Banh-Si-el)

Ingredients:

Battered egg lightly cooked till lightly crisped

Choice of meat–cooked shrimp, or chicken

bean sprouts–lots of them

green onions

and Vietnamese fish sauce for dipping

How to serve:

Put all your ingredients into your crepe batter and cook and flip evenly.  If you brown it too heavily, the crepe will have a crunchy overcooked taste to it.  Cook it too lightly, and the crepe is too soft and mushy–what you don’t want and not a measure of how the locals eat it.  Cook and taste continually is the best method until you have reached the right medium whereby you can enjoy the cooked ingredients without a burnt flavor of the crepe.   Best served steaming hot, its a straightfoward dish that is never served alone but alongside a heaping dish of lettuce greens and most importantly, mint leaves.  In fact, if you ever get shortchanged on the amount of lettuce greens, you should take offense as the restaurant is betting on the fact that you DON’T know what you are supposed to do with these greens.   Best eaten as a finger food and not with utensils.  Tear of pieces of the lettuce, add mint leaves for “kick”, add a small biteable portion of your crepe onto the lettuce leave, and then roll into a suitable roll and dip into fish sauce and eat.

Verdict: (4.5 of 5 stars)

OK, so I’m biased here.  This dish makes an excellent lunch or dinner alternative to rice and noodles.  Usually several rounds of crepes are necessary to satisfy a family of 4, and a large helping of greens, shrimp, chicken, sprouts, and mint should be ready on hand.  Taste is light–which is the point and the mints do a good job of kicking in extra flavor and neutralizing the fish sauce at the same time.   

Where to get it:

This dish can be ordered at most Vietnamese restaurants. If its not on the menu, you can ask for it and pray that the cook is willing to cook it for you as an off-menu item.   Cost should be reasonable and anything over $12 for this item is too much.



Fried fish with meatball soup by James Nguyen
April 14, 2009, 5:58 am
Filed under: Vietnamese Food | Tags: , , , , , , , ,

cuttlefish

cuttlefish

Fish Meatball Soup

Fish Meatball Soup

Noodles, rice paper, and asian mixed greens

Noodles, rice paper, and asian mixed greens

Fried fish with meatball soup @Nguyen’s household

One of the more common dishes at the nguyen household is fish.  For tonite’s dinner, we have Fried cuttlefish with roasted onions and peanuts, fish ball soup with lettuce, rice, and vermicelli noodles.  This particular fish however is oven cooked and roasted with peanuts.

This particular cuttlefish is cooked and served hot.  The onions and peanuts are not merely garnish but instead, provide a balancing flavor to the otherwise fish taste and are cooked with the fish.  Since very little sauce is served, the fish skin will brown out and dry–when done, the fish meat turns white inside.

This particular meatball soup is cooked with fish meatballs (found at most asian groceries) and a specific asian lettuce.  The asian lettuce flavor will mix with the meatball soup juices and give it a unique combination of flavor. Very little salt and asian fish sauce is used, as the desire is to retain as much of the two ingredients as possible–fish meatball and the asian lettuce.   Lastly, noodles, rice paper, and asian mixed greens including lettuce and mint leaves are added as supplements to the meal.

To Eat like the locals:

There are number of ways to eat this combination.  The Vietnamese way, is to use the rice paper, soak in water, and wrap up the fish meat, vermicelli noodle, mixed greens and eat as a spring roll!  Mmmm! Always a winning combination, but requires patience and some skill in making sure that the roll is wetted correctly, and rolled sufficiently so that the ingredients do not fall out of the roll–eating with your hands is a requirement here.  Use vietnamese fish sauce to dip.

If rolling rice paper isn’t your thing,Another way is to eat it traditionally with jasmine rice.  Since your fish is mostly dry, you will generally want to use a little fish sauce to give it flavor.  Soy sauce is a no-no as its a taste killer.

Verdict: (4 out of 5 stars)

If you consider yourself a fish connoisseur, then this combination will give you a nice light tasting pallete, with very little aftertaste.  No strong, sharp, or pungent flavors with the exception of the asian lettuce juices in the fish meatball soup.  Remember,  the emphasis here is on balance of taste and another traditional salute to the vietnamese pallete.  If you are looking for exotic representation of Vietnamese fare, then I’d suggest elsewhere.  Otherwise, this is a great representation of casual vietnamese home cooking.