Tuesday, September 27, 2005
The question raised during the press conference organized by Sofitel Metropole Hanoi and the Delegation of European Commission at the end of 2002, turns around the origin of 'Pho'. Is this soup an original Vietnamese creation or an adoption of some foreign culinary blend, which has been adapted and integrated into the Vietnamese culture? The answer? No one, for certain knows.
Although, the first conference couldn't give out any definitive answer to the question; please feel free to express your own ideas and thoughts on the origins.
Many thanks to Didier Corlou and to Nguyen Dinh Rao, President of Unesco Club of Gastronomy.
Frederic Baron, AmbassadorChief of the Delegation of the European Commission to Vietnam
VietNamNet – A book from Vietnam was presented the Best Asian Cuisine Book in the World at the “10th Gourmand World Cookbook Awards” in Sweden, with 402 attendees from 30 countries.
The book, “Didier Corlou’s Vietnamese Cuisine”, is the work of French chef Didier Corlou of the Sofitel Metropole Hanoi Hotel.
With text and recipes by Chef Didier, photos by JF Mallet, translation by E. Andre, coordination by Nguyen Thanh Van and glossary and traditional cuisines by Nguyen Dinh Rao, the book is published in French and English.
A holder of the Vietnam Folklore Association's medal and certificate of merit, Didier Corlou has been living in Vietnam for 14 years, the first foreign chef in Hanoi in 1997.
He greatly contributed to the promotion of Vietnamese cuisine in gastronomy festivals in Singapore in July 2003, Philadelphia in April 2004, and Bangkok in June 2004.
He has also given lectures on Vietnamese gastronomy to foreigners in Vietnam, and published the books on "Pho" (noodle soup served with chicken or beef), "Cuisine in Vietnamese families", "Cooking with Chef Didier", "My Vietnamese dishes", and "Fish sauce".
The “Gourmand World Cookbook Awards” is called the Oscars of the food and wine world. They were created at the Frankfurt Book Fair 10 years ago to reward those who “cook and drink with words”, and promote the international food book business. The award now receive approximately 5000 books from 67 countries.
Monday, September 12, 2005
1122 Washington Ave
Philadelphia, PA 19147
Pho 75 is, for me, where it all began. To my knowledge, Pho 75 is one of only two pho chain restaurants (by that I mean more than just 2 or 3 locations). Pho 75 has 7 locations - they’re in Philly, Maryland and Virginia. The location in Arlington, VA is where I had my first bowl of pho, about 11 years ago. I haven’t been to the Arlington shop in many years, but I usually found it maddening to go there, because the quality of the pho was so inconsistent. I’ve had my best bowl of pho there, and many mediocre bowls as well. Now that I live in Philly, I’ve been to the South Philly location many times, and I’m happy to report that the quality of its pho is consistently high. Not the best ever, but definitely excellent.
Embedded in a Vietnamese shopping center, it has the perfect location. When I bring my family, after we eat we’ll wade through the crowd at the always jammed packed adjacent grocery store. Kai and I will ogle the lobsters and crabs crawling around in their tanks, and Maria will stock up on Asian cooking ingredients - the kind you won’t find at Acme. And I always find myself wandering through the trinket shops, awestruck by the airbrushed, glowing, back-lit wall hangings depicting rivers flowing through forests, with built-in sound effects of rushing water and chirping birds (and inside there’s some kind of rotating element that makes it look like the water is flowing). How, and more importantly, why, did somebody create this? Philly only has one of these shopping centers, and compared to the various sprawling “Little Saigon” centers in the San Francisco Bay Area, it’s tiny. Even though there’s no Ranch 99 market (with the priceless slogan “we try harder for 100!”), the character is the same, and that’s what’s important.
The inside of the South Philly Pho 75 is cleaner than your average pho shop, but it has the standard array of long tables, fast service, and absolutely no decor of any kind. The soup is excellent in every respect: good broth, properly cooked noodles, and quality cuts of meat. On my most recent trip I went with my Indian co-worker Anand - he said he felt like he was in a typical restaurant in India, so I guess that means it has an “international” feel ;-) . It’s always fun to indoctrinate a pho newbie - hot sauce or chili peppers? lemon or lime? how much basil, hoisin sauce, and sprouts to add? One of the great things about pho is how much you can tweak the flavor after it’s been served to you. After just one trip, Anand has become a phonatic, insisting that we must go back every other Friday. If that’s not a sign of a good bowl, I don’t know what is.
The best way to eat in Hanoi is at the street vendors who at different times of the day commandeer sections of the public sidewalk to set up shop. You sit on very low plastic chairs (about 5 inches off the ground, maximum) and scoot yourself close to the vendor lady who is also sitting on a low plastic chair preparing your food right out of her wide, flat wicker basket. You can use another low plastic chair as a table. Because the street vendors typically only sell one thing, you don’t even have to ‘order’ – you simply sit down and they’ll just fix up a bowl of whatever they’ve got. People pass by on the street and laugh at us (can’t yet figure out exactly why, but we must look really funny or something!) or they’ll say something to the vendor lady and she’ll just shrug.
For lunch, my co-workers most often take me and Pip to eat Bún Cha, which is fresh flame-grilled pork in a very delicious broth, to which you add basil, mint, watercress and other greens, as well as rice noodles. It is eaten with chopsticks and a spoon. The ladies at our favorite Bún Cha location also serve us a plate of fried egg rolls (Nem), which they nimbly cut into bite sizes for us with a pair of scissors.
The classic Vietnamese soup Pho originated here in northern Vietnam, however, it is the southern Vietnamese who have perfected the recipe. The southerners make a much more flavorful Pho and have more interesting things to add to it, like lime, basil, mint, bean sprouts, hot peppers, fish sauce and hoisin sauce. Northern Pho, while still good, is bland in comparison, and it is served with weirdly-shaped fried donut things, which you’re supposed to float in your soup and eat with the noodles. Carly says she won’t touch Pho if it’s made anywhere north of Hué.
To get to lunch, Pip and I will usually each ride on the back of a motorcycle with one of our co-workers. The past couple of days, however, only our friend Hanh, the office manager, has been available to take us to eat, so Pip and I have BOTH been riding on the back with her. I’m very afraid of burning my leg on the exhaust pipe, so I sit on the very back of the bike, with my right foot on the foot rest and my left foot sticking straight out, while Pip sits in the middle and does the opposite with her legs. All three of us wear those typical Vietnamese cotton fashion hats and face masks. We must be a sight as we’re zooming down the street toward the Bún Cha restaurant – three giggling, gangly masked bandits on a motorbike, with arms and legs akimbo!
I have a favorite xe om driver – I think his name is Sam? – who takes me to work each day, at least whenever I can find him. He’s a tall old man in his 60s with lots of missing teeth but a very nice smile, and he sits on his motorcycle near “Zip Café” at the corner of my street. I like his motorcycle, which is a dark green Honda, because it has very sturdy foot rests and a good rear seat handle to hang onto. The best part of all is that he’s not smarmy and gross like the pushy young, punk-type drivers who wait for their prey at the opposite corner, picking their teeth all day and insisting on overcharging you. I really try to avoid those guys when I can. The old man already knows exactly where I need to go and exactly how much I’ll pay – 6000 dong (US $.42) -- so I just hop on and away we go!
On Monday I will have my first formal Vietnamese lesson through a new business that was started by a couple of university students to teach Vietnamese to foreigners. Their original price was $15.00 for an hour and half, but I told them I wanted to pay $3.00/hour instead, so we said goodbye. The next day they called back to offer $4.00/hour, and I agreed. Hah! I’ll try to do two hours per week, if the first lesson works out well.
Last night Carly and I had an interesting experience at a Chinese ‘tea house’. We were out after dinner looking for a new coffee house to try, so we walked into this beautiful place that appeared to be a restaurant. It had Chinese lanterns and beautiful vines growing around the building. Once inside, we were asked to remove our shoes before being escorted to a dimly-lit back room with floor pillows, low tables and 80s Madonna songs played in musak style over the stereo. The only other customers were a young couple sitting in the rear of the room who appeared to be cuddling. Carly and I ordered hot chocolate and an avocado shake, respectively. We were also served complimentary hot tea. There was a single candle on the table, and the waitress told us to push a button on the wall if we needed anything. Otherwise, the staff left us alone. Hmm… I plan to ask Hanh about this place. The other day, she explained to me and Pip that, in order to be alone, young Vietnamese couples will either go to the lake or to cafés at night. This must be one of those kind of places.
Stay tuned for more adventures, coming soon...
posted by Crystal @ 10:09 AM 1 comments
At 5:56 PM, Anonymous said...
The people who laughed at you & Carly squatting & eating were probably trying to show their approval toward a couple of adventuresome tourists. VN love it when you can eat like one of them. Your xe om man's name is most likely Xuan, meaning Spring. We miss you, but glad to have this medium. Love, mom
From tragic beginnings, the Vietnamese diaspora now finds itself spread across five continents, at the center of the Information Age, true global villagers. PNS editor Andrew Lam is a short story writer and journalist.
The other day I typed the words "Pho Soup" into the AltaVista search engine and the number of hits that came back was staggering. There were all sorts of recipes -- chicken and beef, northern and southern styles -- along with avid discussions of this tasty dish, as well as reviews of restaurants that serve them all over the world.
Pho, traditionally, is the beef broth soup with noodle, brewed in star anise and burnt onion, with bones and tendons and tripe, sprinkled with green onion and basil on top -- a wondrous Vietnamese invention. When I was growing up in Saigon, I would wake up on the weekends to the delicious aroma of pho. Downstairs there would always be a bowl of pho with billowing smoke waiting for me.
Before the Vietnam war ended in 1975, pho was not well known outside of Vietnam. Now, thanks to more than 2 million Vietnamese living on five continents, it's become a global dish.
Indeed, whenever we have family gatherings a favorite topic is who ate the best pho at what most exotic locale. We compete for the best story. My cousin Bill, for instance, has eaten pho in Rio de Janeiro while Jeanne, my aunt, has eaten it in the Ivory Coast. Other relatives have eaten pho in Hong Kong, Tokyo, Jakarta, even Athens.
But, as it turns out, I have the best story.
Once, while backpacking through Europe, I was invited to a castle in a town north of Brussels. I remember reaching its moat and stopping cold in my tracks. The pungent aroma was unmistakable -- Vietnamese pho soup!
Inside, a charming Vietnamese woman in her mid 30s greeted me with a dimpled smile. As she fed me her pho soup, she told me her story. Once a high school teacher in Saigon, she'd lost her job after the war. One night she stole away on a crowded boat out to sea. A Belgian merchant vessel picked everyone up and brought them back to Belgium. Impoverished, she resorted to living in the basement of a church in a town outside Brussels. One day, a local baron saw her while praying in church and fell instantly in love. They married. Now, she's the mother two children of royal blood and lives in a European castle.
If the Vietnamese diaspora began a quarter of a century ago from tragic beginnings, it has turned into a post-modern fairy tale. Vietnamese abroad have, within a quarter of a century, made the transition from a people bound to the land, who tended our ancestral graves and believed in the integrity of borders, to a highly mobile, global tribe as bound to the computer chip as we are to preserving our culture. We have moved to the center of the Information Age to become true global villagers.
It is no accident that the highest number of Vietnamese are concentrated in California -- with 120,000 in Santa Clara, home of the microchip and Internet startups. Nor is it an accident that when I was a student at UC-Berkeley in the mid-80s, the majority of Vietnamese students in our association were EECS (electrical engineering and computer science) majors. I suppose these old classmates of mine are now asserting their cultural identity through the Internet.
For years I kept pinned on my wall a little item about the most exotic restaurant in the world -- in a scientists' colony in Antarctica. Who owns it? A Vietnamese woman, of course, selling pho soup. Sometimes, in a whimsical mood, I imagine flying over a sea of ice to this Vietnamese restaurant near the South Pole. I would order a bowl of pho and wait to hear her story. Thousands of miles from our tropical homeland, with the cold Arctic wind howling outside. I would have the most exotic bowl of pho soup I ever tasted.
* * *
I recently needed a Far East fix, so I fled my home in Dana Point for some Asian action in north county. My first stop was Mitsuwa Marketplace (665 Paularino Ave.) in Costa Mesa, a notch in the Japan-based chain of superstores. I ran through the parking lot to avoid the pounding rain, and as soon as the automatic doors slid open, I felt relief. I was in Tokyo. If I ignored the English aisle markers, I could convince myself that I was really at Jusco mall in Narita. Or if it wasn't for the cacophony of Japanese conversations, it could have easily been Seoul. The clean, bright, modern complex includes a grocery store whose aisles are stocked with imported goodies from seaweed to poki; a confectioners, with perfectly sculpted treats so beautiful I would be afraid to eat them; a bookstore decorated with alluring anime action heroes; and a novelty shop reminiscent of Japan's 100 yen stores, a popular version of our own 99-cent stores. The mini-mall is also home to pottery, cell phone and video shops. Like a typical Japanese department store, the grocery counters lead to an awesome food court where every eatery has plasticized entrees displayed in the windows. A panel of six TVs blasts news from Japan while Japanese pop music competes in the background. Four Japanese restaurants serve everything from Katsu curry to sushi and rice bowls. A Chinese restaurant serves chow mein and dim sum while Italian Tomato offers pasta dishes, because of course Italian is popular everywhere from Holland to China. My personal favorite is the eel egg bowl at Miyabi-Tei. The dish comes in a huge clay pot and is accompanied by miso soup and radishes. Looking for more variety, I ventured up to Bolsa Avenue in Little Saigon, the center of Westminster's Vietnamese enclave. The street is lined with Vietnamese shops serving pho, a traditional noodle soup; banh mi, French influenced sandwiches on baguettes with pate, mint and spices; and Bo 7 Mon, a specialty that includes seven beef dishes.
A must-try, Tay Ho (9629 Bolsa Ave.) specializes in bahn cuon, sticky steamed rolls made of rice flour. But perhaps the area's most well-known restaurant is Lee's Sandwiches (9261 Bolsa Ave.) where patrons of all ethnicities regularly devour their renowned banh mi.
Across the street, an imposing pagoda-like entrance and larger-than-life Buddha welcome visitors to Asian Garden Mall (9200 Bolsa Ave.), a 150,000-square-foot complex with more than 250 shops. Carts, stores and stalls sell jewelry, "designer" purses, clothes, shoes, CDs, gifts, food, and more. Bargaining is expected, but transactions are strictly cash only. A small network of stalls on the second floor hints at the giant indoor mazes of Asian metropolises like the Pearl Market in Beijing where real bargains can be made.
A food court sells fresh rice paper spring rolls, fish balls, honey chips, fried bananas, steamed sweet rice concoctions, cups of fresh mango, boba, and smoothies in exotic flavors like durian, mango and taro topped with lychee and kumquats. Upstairs, smoke wafts from an altar where worshippers donate coins, light incense and pray to the towering red statue of Guang Gong, a protective warrior who fends off evil spirits. Wooden shelves hold fortunes written in Vietnamese.
I ventured into an apothecary shop and marveled at the hundreds of glass, steel and plastic jars full of dried roots and herbs. An herbalist in a white coat sat at the back of the store next to an altar filling orders with an abacus at his side. He patiently rolled a pile of black paste, which purportedly cures liver ailments, into smooth balls the size of chocolate truffles. Although I'm not generally into herbs, I bought a $12 bag of ginseng hoping for enough stamina to fight traffic on my way home. I was instructed to suck on the bite sized flakes and await the flow of energy. Nothing happened. A few hours later, just when I'd forgotten about the energy-boosting root, I couldn't slow down. I cleaned house with the mania of a stock broker on the trading floor and carried six bags of trash to the dumpster in the pouring rain. I'm surprised they don't market it as a tonic to ease roommate relations.
Asian Garden Mall; Memphis at the Santora; Watson's Drugs and Soda Fountain
It's not the OC, it's me. I love idyllic Dana Point, but after living in some of the world's biggest cities, I occasionally long for a little urban angst. It may be a while before Orange County gets a hopping city center with towering skyscrapers, honking cabs and underground trains, but fortunately, we already have a few well-hidden urban hotspots.
When night falls, nothing beats Westside Costa Mesa, home to some of the county's hippest chill-out lounges, even if they are secreted away in non-descript strip malls. Small, cool and unpretentious, Detroit (843 W. 19th St.) and Kitsch Bar (849 Baker St.) could easily be part of London's fashionable Clerkenwell nightlife circuit, especially now that London is following our lead with a smoking ban. When I can't bear another beach bar, I head to Kitsch. With a black ceiling and floor, navy blue walls and a glowing red DJ booth, the intimately scaled lounge offers one of the most laid back vibes in town. A mostly-young crowd is otherwise eclectic, with plenty of fit and fat, hip and geeky 20-and 30-somethings kicking it on Ikea-style rolling chairs with fanciful cocktails close at hand. One glass encased wall defines kitsch as "art in pretentious bad taste" and displays rotating collections from local artists. On my most recent visit, an assortment of beauty-school mannequin heads added to an eery ambience as 80s movies played without sound on a flat-screen TV behind the bar. The DJ spun tunes in very "bad taste" like "Take Me With You" by Prince and "Losing Myself" by Queensryche.
For a daytime urban outpost in Costa Mesa, I'll often try The LAB (2930 Bristol St.), a warehouse inspired "anti-mall" with outdoor gathering areas and hip shopping: You can shop for streetwear at Urban Outfitters, Buffalo Exchange and Black & Blue; underground electronic music at Dr. Freeclouds; or get a trendy haricot at Crew Salon.
Urban doesn't have to mean edgy, as swanky Sutra Lounge (1870 Harbor Blvd.) will attest. To be honest, I wanted to hate Sutra. If any place should be considered over-played, it's this "ultra-lounge." Even when I'm looking for a Sex and the City-style night on the town, long lines and clipboard Nazis just seem absurd in Costa Mesa. But at least some of the hype is warranted; as a club, it is the place to be seen, where a glamorous crowd dresses up and drops serious cash; as a restaurant, Sutra is at its best with a gourmet aphrodisiac-inspired menu by French chef Stephane Beaucamp.
Although these gems challenge Orange County's sedated image, sometimes strip-malls can get downright sickening, and downtown Santa Ana is the perfect antidote. Heading towards the Artist's Village, the ride down First Street looks like a Chicago neighborhood with prairie style houses and arts and crafts brick buildings. It brings you into the redeveloping downtown, perhaps the one place somebody walks in OC. It isn't beautiful, nor is it down-and-out gritty, but downtown Santa Ana does have a city flair. Even if they're only three or four floors up, the hodgepodge of contemporary artists' lofts with their corrugated tin walls, and the surrounding Romanesque, Art Deco, Victorian, and Edwardian buildings conjure a knee-high New York. Or with ranchero music blaring from storefronts, perhaps it's more like San Francisco's mission district.
A growing number of art galleries are sprouting up throughout the artist's village, starting at Second and Broadway, but the Santora Arts Complex (207 N. Broadway) is the center of activity and houses more than 30 studios and galleries. Plaza of the Artists, adjacent to the complex, is closed to traffic and is an excellent place to relax on a bench and people watch. Flanking the street are Memphis at the Santora (201 N. Broadway; also at 2920 Bristol St. in Costa Mesa) and the Gypsy Den Grand Central Cafe (125 N. Broadway; also at the LAB in Costa Mesa), two contrasting urban hangouts. Along with a fabulous if ironic comfort food menu, Memphis offers an L.A.-style mod-retro decor with polka dot tables, globe lights and smooth plastic furniture. Quite unlike its neighbor, the bohemian Gypsy Den is straight out of the Haight with mismatched furniture, beaded curtains, tasseled lampshades, lace tablecloths, and bookshelves full of tattered paperbacks. Its menu is equally granola.
Around the corner on Fourth Street, you'll find the Latin Business District. Amongst the art deco buildings between Broadway and French streets, you'll be inundated with mariachi and ranchero music, vending carts with fruit, candy, chips, and tamales. With every step, you'll pass a never-ending stream of bridal shops with flouncy wedding and quinceanera dresses. Nearby, the Plaza Fiesta at Fourth and Bush is closed to traffic and is a great place to wander. For a south of the border jaunt, without the border, take a spin on the plaza's small carousel, taste authentic dishes at Mexican restaurants like Mariscos Tampico, or head across the street where the historic Fiesta Teatro plays first-run movies in Espanol.
Old Town Orange Plaza; The Filling Station
My airline years weren't always fun. From lost luggage to missed connections, emergency landings, and irritating body malfunctions like "Delhi belly," things have gone wrong. But somehow, I only remember the good stuff. Life isn't much different. It's amazing how a little nostalgia can make us yearn for a place or time where things were easier, slower or happier - whether or not they really were. I'll admit that I wasn't around for the 50s, that my biggest connection with these happy days is repeatedly watching American Graffiti while my parents romanticized their youth. But even I can appreciate Old Town Orange, Orange County's headquarters for Americana.
Over the last five decades, so little has changed at the corner of Glassell and Chapman that the area is frequently used for movies set in the mid-twentieth century. Historic buildings and antique stores radiate from the park at the center of the intersection's roundabout. C.W. Moss (402 W. Chapman Ave.) sells reproduction parts for classic Fords and exhibits an impressive range of historic bikes and cars. Nearby, Watson's Drugs and Soda Fountain (116 E. Chapman Ave.), founded in 1899 and featured in That Thing You Do, is a haven from modern day OC; its spinning red-vinyl bar stools are a cozy place to indulge in a root beer float or banana split. Such sinful treats were much more accepted when work often meant physical labor, and housework easily burnt off the week's small home-made meals. As oldies like "Chantilly Lace" by Big Bopper and, well, anything by Elvis play, waitresses in short black dresses with pointy white collars and cuffs store pencils behind their ears and parade around like Flo from Mel's Diner. Formica tables capped off with chrome are squeezed into every square inch of a dining room that shares space with the working pharmacy. Unfortunately, despite what a large sign advertises, you can't get a hot dog and Coca Cola for 15 cents.
A few blocks away, The Filling Station (201 N. Glassell St.), an old gas station turned restaurant, offers a similar red vinyl decor on the inside but also has a great garden patio lit by a string of white Christmas lights. Modern heaters loom side-by-side with historical gas pumps and make for cozy al fresco dining even in the winter. A walk around old town might take you to Mr. C's Records where you can buy your favorite tunes on vinyl, Felix Continental Cafe, where you can eat traditional Cuban and Spanish food at a bargain, and the tiny Two's Company Cafe and Catering, a great place to enjoy a sandwich or pastry and listen to bebop.
Not all of the county's retro treasures are in Orange, or even in historic neighborhoods. Hidden in flashy Newport Beach, the Galley Cafe (829 Harbor Island Dr.) offers a subtle but authentic old school experience. Four generations of Flach family members have owned and operated this diner since 1945. The old fashioned soda fountain and cash register may be adorable relics, but the overall ambience is far from gimmicky; servers wear T-shirts and 21st century pop plays on the radio. The result feels less like a theme park and more like the real thing. Stop in for their specialty, the chili size, and enjoy incredible harbor views from a cushy beige booth or a stool at the formica lunch counter. If it's a Saturday morning, head up to the corner of Adams and Magnolia in Huntington Beach and check out Donut Derelicts, a 1950s style cruise-in that starts at 7 a.m. And to turn up in proper greaser style, have a custom zoot suit made at El Pachuco (801 S. Harbor Blvd.) in Fullerton.
When you need to get away from the fast-paced dog-eat-dog world of Southern California, there is nowhere better, or at least slower, than the South.
Although it's nowhere near as authentic as its little bitty Long Beach outpost, Johnny Rebs' (2940 Chapman Ave.) in Orange serves up some of the most finger licking ribs in Cali. A drainage pipe-turned smoke stack juts out from the rusty corrugated tin roof, and the weathered wood siding is painted with their catchy slogan - "Put Some South in Yer Mouth." Inside, a cavernous barn-like room welcomes guests with peanut-covered plywood floors and walls decorated with wrought iron farm equipment and rolling pins. You can sit in a carved pine booth and order a mason jar of RC Cola or a bottle of Dixie beer, some hush puppies and sweet potato fries to start. Authentic entrees include catfish po'boys and pulled pork sandwiches, but I'd stick with the baby backs if I were you, and maybe a side of Texas caviar, Cajun rice or collard greens. Hopefully they'll be playing something like Johnny Cash, but in case they try to ruin the experience with Britney Spears or even 60s classics, ask for a table in the claptrap patio room; with its dingy screen windows and lamps made from punched tin buckets, it's the perfect place to chow down on greasy barbecue.
For a more intimate experience, look for Burrell's Barbecue (305 N. Hesperian), a down home restaurant smack in the middle of a residential street. The red shack is hard to miss with an oversized grill out back and a sign reading "wanted, good woman." The one room barbecue joint has no indoor seating; just a counter and an overhead menu fit on the other side of the swinging screen door. Look past the chain link fence and you'll find a secluded backyard that's perfect for outdoor dining, where plastic tables and picnic benches sit right on the lawn.
If you'd rather keep things upscale, The Ramos House Cafe in San Juan Capistrano's Los Rios Historical District, is your place. The Ramos House, built in 1881, now serves traditional Deep South fare with a cosmopolitan flare. Stop by on the weekend for a killer brunch; try the New Orleans-style cinnamon apple beignets, the sweet corn hushpuppies with pepper jam or the sweet potato duck hash with mushroom scrambled eggs and collard green gravy.
Although it offers half the ambience and a watered down menu, Po' Folks (7701 Beach Blvd.) in Buena Park is another local option for delicious but fattening, fried comfort food. And Chick-fil-A may be a simple fast food joint, but it is a bonafide Southern institution and has just broken in to the OC market with shop in the Irvine Market Place.
Further down the coast, The Rib Joint (34294 Pacific Coast Hwy.) in Dana Point offers something none of the other restaurants mentioned can. Bad food, bad service and an honestly run-down drafty room. But it's fabulous, and it actually inspired this article. I was less than enthused when served defrosted corn on the cob complete with telltale wrinkles and watery flavor. In fact, my meal took so long to come out of the kitchen, I think they were trying to give the illusion of actually cooking it. But when I need an escape from all things OC, I know I'll find it here. A few hours in a dingy booth listening to a cowboy sing "stand by your man," and watching midwestern travelers from the adjacent Holiday Inn Express chow down while exclaiming "this feels just like home, California's not so different" and you'll feel like you left home for days. Not to mention, no matter how exciting your vacation may be, oftentimes the best part of traveling really is coming home. Especially when you live here.
Deborah Booker • The Honolulu Advertiser
By Matthew Gray
Advertiser Restaurant Critic
• Phô Nam
725 Kapi'olani Blvd. (entrance on Cooke Street)
10 a.m.-10 p.m. weekdays
11 a.m.-10 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays
A food-writer friend of mine once said, "If cooking were painting, Vietnam would have one of the world's most colorful palettes." I agree.
The Vietnamese have few culinary inhibitions, always willing to try something adventurous and new. They use spices that are like songs in your mouth, aromas that trigger emotional connections, and finished dishes that astonish by their cleverness and sensuousness. Sitting in a Vietnamese restaurant like Phô Nam, you are about to sample a long, rich history and culture.
Of course, you must try the phô here ($5.95-$7.95 depending on your choice of meat topping). It's Vietnam's comfort food. This is beef noodle soup as an art form. To many people, phô is no longer soup; it's an addiction. A bowl of phô begins its life a day before you eat it. A slow simmer of beef shinbones, oxtails and various scraps of meat in a deep pot create rich, clear consommé. This process takes about 24 hours before the cooks add their own special blends of herbs, spices and family secrets. Chief among them — and you'll always know the fragrance of phô by them — are star anise, ginger and cinnamon. A side plate of crunchy bean sprouts and fresh basil accompany each bowl of phô.
The rice noodle dishes, or bun (pronounced boon), are made from rice vermicelli and served at room temperature, topped with grilled meats or fried spring rolls. The BBQ-chicken choice is $6.25; with spring rolls, it's just $6.50. Lemongrass beef or chicken ($6.50) is a favorite of mine, as is the combo of grilled pork and shrimp ($6.95). In your bowl you'll find shredded cucumber, fresh mint, lettuce, bean sprouts and roasted peanuts. A serving of something similar to a fish-sauce vinaigrette is to be poured over the entirety. I also add chile paste and hoisin sauce (it's on every table) to customize the yin and yang in my bowl of sweet, salty, sour, hot and cold.
What impresses me most about Pho Nam is the impressive variety of offerings, in addition to the Vietnamese dishes you usually see on menus. The grilled pork chop ($10.50) is thinly sliced and cooked to perfection. Several chops are included — more than enough for two.
Under the hot-pot section, you can order catfish simmered in black pepper sauce ($9.95), a sprightly but not-too-spicy sauce. Shrimp also is served this way ($10.95), along with a house seafood hot pot ($11.95), cooked in a ceramic crock that will stay hot on your table while you pick through the fish, shrimp, scallops and squid.
Shrimp curry ($6.95) was mild and creamy, and different from Indian, Thai, Chinese or Japanese curries. I asked for thick udon noodles instead of rice, and it was well matched to sop up the curry sauce. Other curries to try are corn, tofu, beef or chicken for $5.95, and the seafood one for $6.95.
Rice lovers should try the Vietnamese fried rice ($6.50) with dried anchovy, corn, bacon, bell pepper and basil. Although the technique reflects Chinese influence, the flavorings are different. The Thai fried rice ($6.50) is a spicy blend with chicken, shrimp, bell pepper and basil.
Vegetarians have plenty to choose from here. The sautéed tofu and eggplant with rice is $6.50, green-papaya salad and vegetarian spring rolls are $5.95 each. One night, I asked for something green; choi sum happened to be in the kitchen, and the resulting stir-fry was delicious, and customized to my liking with a bit of garlic and a squeeze of lemon.
Dessert time here means extraordinary coffee with sweet cream ($2.25). It is served in a little aluminum filter pot on top of a tumbler, dripping into pale yellow, sweetened condensed milk at the bottom of your cup. The entire process takes several minutes. This is strong coffee, rich and sweet. Poured over ice, this is a concoction that's as close to a religious experience as you'll ever get from a cup of Joe.
Phô Nam is just 10 months old. I predict it will be a hit once people find it tucked away on the bottom floor of a condo/office building: Nice servers, artistic plate presentation and very good food.
Reach Matthew Gray at email@example.com.
CEO, Cherry Lane Digital
Jim Griffin is CEO of Cherry Lane Digital. Cherry Lane is dedicated to the future of music and entertainment delivery, and works as a consultant to absorb uncertainty about the digital delivery of art.
In addition to serving as an agent for constructive change in media and technology, he is an author, serving as a columnist for magazines, and is on the boards of companies and associations. Before starting Cherry Lane Digital, he started and ran for five years the technology department at Geffen Records. Prior to Geffen he was an International Representative for The Newspaper Guild in Washington, D.C.
While at Geffen, Jim led a team that in June of 1994 distributed the first full-length commercial song on-line, by Aerosmith. Geffen was the first entertainment company to install a web server, and Geffen World was one of the first corporate intranet sites. Geffen was named by Network World in 1996 as one of the world's top 25 technology companies, and one of only seven in the United States.
Jim is co-founder of the Pho group. Named after a bowl of Vietnamese soup, Pho is an organization that meets for discussion-oriented meals in cities around the world, electronically linked by the Pho mailing list. Pho's many thousands of readers enjoy dialogue on the digital delivery of art and the new economy in music, movies, books and all media.
Jim testified in July 2000 before the Senate Judiciary Committee at its oversight hearing on file sharing and music licensing. He regularly moderates video and television shows on digital entertainment. He is often a keynote speaker or moderator at conferences (Internet Summit, Giga Conference, Comdex, CES, Webnoize, and many others) and lectures annually at business schools (Harvard, USC, UCLA, Berkeley). He also serves as an expert witness in digital entertainment, and has presented many Continuing Legal Education courses.
In addition to work with music, his expertise includes wireless work in Europe, including at Nokia's Research Center in Helsinki, Finland, and with numerous companies in Finland and throughout Europe. He's moderated numerous panels on wireless and given speeches on wireless issues around the world, ranging from music conferences to parliament meetings in Europe. He is a regular speaker at entertainment industry events and corporate and association meetings.
8/14/2005 11:42 pm
Where: 188 Skyline Plaza, Daly City
This afternoon we headed over to Skyline Plaza for a bowl of steaming hot Pho (vietnamese beef noodle soup) before doing some grocery shopping at Ranch 99. We were surprised to see that the relatively decent-sized restaurant was almost completely filled with patrons. Fortunately we got a seat pretty quickly and our usual order of Number 11 (rare steak and beef tendon) arrived shortly after.
Here's why we love the place:
1. Efficient service (we waited just about five minutes in spite of the packed restaurant to get our bowls of noodle soup)
2. Only about $6 including tips for a bowl of good broth and fresh ingredients (the bean sprouts are my criteria for freshness and the ones they serve there are about as perfect as bean sprouts can get)
3. Great broth (that's what Pho is all about really; the broth)
4. Location (right next to Ranch 99 where we do most of our grocery shopping)
And while we're on the subject of grocery shopping, check out these fresh lychees and longans we bought today. The lychees weren't that great but the longans were really a steal at $2.99/lb. Especially since I've only seen frozen longans at Ranch and not fresh ones. So the heck with my 'heatiness' for now cos my tastebuds have been deprived for too long......
related tags: [Restaurant Reviews] 4 comments
By: Janice@Hunnybunz @ 8/15/2005 11:22 am
MMmm...the longans do look delicious - juicy. We've got plenty over here. Have been having em almost everyweek.
Reply (Grace): wah every week! so shiok! I don't even know if Ranch will still have fresh longans the next time I go. *sniff* =)
By: Min @ 8/15/2005 10:00 am
hey we bought lychees this weekend too! delish :)
Reply (Grace): gd gd! my Think I might get more longans if I go Ranch this week. Assuming they still have fresh longans. =)
By: gracey @ 8/15/2005 03:15 am
i tink its pretty nice to spend a afternoon with someone u love...im envy of u...
Reply (Grace): yah I like grocery shopping with Wen. =) Buying food... and with my favorite guy. Two of my favorite things =)
By: MrsT @ 8/14/2005 11:00 am
To die for..!! pho & longan..!! envy .. envy..!!
Reply (Grace): come visit mrsT... I chiah (treat) you all of the above. hehe
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by David Chute
David Tran: The Emperor of Hot Sauce. Published in Los Angeles magazine, April 2001.
Stop off for a $3 bowl of pho at any one of the hundreds of small Vietnamese noodle shops salted across the San Gabriel Valley--whose ethnic Asian communities are strung out along the 10 Freeway east of Los Angeles--and you'll notice certain commonalities. There are noisy family groups plus a scattering of single men, who could be clerks from Chinese video stores, slurping through a lunch or dinner break. The name of the place is probably the equivalent of Mom's or Joe's. Distinctive design elements may include checkered tablecloths; basin-sized, flower-patterned noodle bowls; and breakaway wooden chopsticks.
And one more thing: There is likely to be a big fat squeeze bottle of Huy Fong Sriracha HOT Chili Sauce on every table. You may have contemplated this de facto centerpiece, embellished with snappy slogans in five languages, the white lettering seemingly printed right on the gleaming orange-red concoction under the clear plastic, all topped by a bright green dispenser cap. The overall effect is oddly Christmasy. The contents are loudly identified as tuong ot sriracha, but many adventuresome Westside gweilos can't get their mouths around that and simply call it "rooster sauce," after the proud bird on the label.
More than a mere utilitarian container, the bottle is a hot-sauce delivery system, and there's a tactile charge to squirting the contents onto your food, an action much more gratifying than the blup-blup-blup of throttling a glass bottle and forcing it to disgorge. Huy Fong has to be squeezed out because it's too thick and silky and stubbornly cohesive to pour easily; it has a slight gelatinous clinginess that ketchup lacks. You can decorate a serving of noodles as if you were frosting a cake, and the sauce won't separate and leak to the bottom of the bowl. It stays where you place it. In the words of Huy Fong fanatic John DeSimeo, a publicity consultant with a collection of more than 200 spicy condiments, "you can lay a bead on a sausage, like a welder. It welds the palate to the foodstuff." Huy Fong Sriracha is a simple product, but its plain ingredients--mostly peppers, garlic, and sugar--are just about perfectly balanced. The sauce makes a clear and basic appeal to the senses, but tasting it is a complex experience, an experience that unfolds in distinct waves: First comes the strong garlic flavor, then a gust of heat from underneath, and finally an insinuating sweetness, which is the element that lingers. The garlic, in fact, even more than the peppers, may have cemented the reputation of the sauce as a condiment that brings more than blunt-force hotness to the table. It makes sense instantly on the tongue and seems familiar even when we taste it for the first time.
Huy Fong sauce, made by a company in Rosemead, was a custom-fit success story in the ethnic Asian market almost from the moment it was introduced in 1983 as an inexpensive local variation on a Southeast Asian staple. It soon began to migrate outward, borne proudly home by food explorers who had "discovered" it in second-floor dim sum palaces and six-table noodle shops. The stuff seemed tailor-made for word-of-mouth proliferation. It was so cheap and plentiful that restaurants didn't even bother decanting it into side dishes in order to conserve supplies. Owners could afford to plop down the entire bottle, encouraging customers to slop on as much as they wanted. When diners pushed back from their pho-stained tables and went looking for Huy Fong at the nearest Asian mom-and-pop, the eye-catching container practically jumped off the shelf.
Its creator, David Tran, is an ethnic Chinese refugee who arrived in Los Angeles from Vietnam in 1980. He certainly never set out to invent something that would resonate across cultures. He has never explicitly marketed his wares to non-Asians, and he has never advertised. His goods are disseminated through both domestic distributors and import companies, the ones that also handle competing Sriracha brands shipped in from Asia, like Poo Khao Thong and Sriracha Panich. The Huy Fong brand is available only in Asian neighborhoods and in supermarkets with an extensive Asian-foods section.
Launched with an initial investment of $50,000 in family savings, Huy Fong has evolved into an international enterprise that sells 6,000 tons of chile products for around $12 million a year. The sauce has become a global hit, with verified sightings in London, Paris, and Australia. In Saint-Ouen, France, a music-management and booking agency took the name Sriracha Sauce after its founders tasted Huy Fong's version at a local Chinese restaurant. "It's really come to dominate the market," says The Hot Sauce Bible author Dave DeWitt. "You could say that Huy Fong has become the Tabasco of Sriracha sauces."
Some skeptics claim that heat and taste are antithetical qualities, that hotness obliterates and masks flavors rather than enhancing them. While it's true that every kind of chile has a distinctive flavor (the hellacious habanero, for instance, the hottest known variety, also exudes a seductive lotus-eater sweetness), any chilehead will tell you that the burn of a pepper-based recipe and its flavor are separate issues. The sensation of heat itself is not a flavor; it's more a texture than a taste, a direct abrasion of the nerve endings by capsaicin, the heat-generating alkaloid in peppers. "Peppers really let you know you're eating something," a friend said recently over an incendiary Indian meal. "They make you vividly aware of every square centimeter of the inside of your mouth." Pepper fever can become an addiction, and as such it can easily be manipulated. Ask the fabricators of those ingenious boutique hot sauces that show up for a few months on a shelf at Bristol Farms and then vanish forever into fad-food oblivion. These entrepreneurs make a good living concocting things very few people can bring themselves to eat.
Every one of the world's great hot sauces, including Huy Fong, is in some sense a folk product. A truly useful condiment has to be an organic outgrowth of a culture's daily meal; it draws its character from its surroundings and finds a niche in the cuisine. For collector John DeSimeo, the authenticity of David Tran's plainspoken version is unmistakable. "Huy Fong Sriracha sauce is an old-fashioned, simple product without any pretensions," he says. "It's like the pickup truck versus the SUV. They both get the job done, but one is yeomanly and working-class, while the other is overprocessed and overthought."
As the source of such an unassuming offering, the office and factory complex that is Huy Fong Central seems a little grandiose. Standing near a set of railroad tracks and next door to the Turbo-Jet plumbing-fixtures showroom, it is one of the few industrial structures in this weathered, mixed-use section of northeastern Rosemead that is actually pleasing to look at, its russet brick facade adorned with a giant yellow rendering of the rooster logo. Inside, however, the place is simple to the point of drabness.
Yet the plain premises are expressive in spite of themselves. The desks in the uncubicled office are standard-issue Formica, and the small reception area could be a waiting room at a Jiffy Lube--except that the knickknack rack in the corner displays pepper products rather than air fresheners and tire-patching kits. Eight members of the founding Tran family now work for Huy Fong Foods, in positions ranging from management to the line. But none has a fixed job title, and nobody wears a business suit or even a tie to the office. David Tran still joins his secretaries and factory workers for lunch every day promptly at 11 a.m. in a large, bright room that contains a couple of folding tables, a microwave oven, and a full case of Huy Fong Sriracha.
When first glimpsed, David is a hundred yards across the factory floor, a fit-looking middle-aged man in store-bought shirt sleeves, sweeping out a corner of his workspace with an ordinary kitchen broom. At 51, he is roughly my age, but I nevertheless feel more in tune with his son, William, a poised and articulate young executive with blond streaks in his spiky hair and a lemon yellow Hummer in the parking lot. William, 25, a graduate of Cal Poly Pomona, handles Huy Fong worker- and product-safety issues. Last year, when a batch of Sriracha shipped to Hawaii fermented in the bottles, splattering out like a dose of pepper spray when the caps were twisted, William organized the recall effort. ("He handled it just about perfectly," Dave DeWitt reports.) It's almost as if the maturities of the Tran family are accelerated a decade or two ahead of the American norm.
The traits could be partly cultural, too. In the late 19th century, David's grandfather moved the family to Vietnam from Teochiu, in the South China province of Canton, and they settled into the Chinese community in Saigon. The enclave must have been fairly insular, for even now, after two generations in Vietnam and 20 years in the United States, the Trans still speak Cantonese among themselves. Such solidarity was encouraged from without as well: Chinese ZmigrZs have been notably successful elsewhere in Asia and have become a target of social resentment as a result--most recently in Indonesia, where anti-Chinese riots erupted in 1998. The wandering Chinese have been called "the Jews of Asia," says Pan Guang, head of Shanghai's Center of Jewish Studies. "Both peoples live in many places, but the people never change."
David Tran suggests that the Chinese in Vietnam were resented "because they worked hard and collected some wealth." The Vietnamese Trans owned just enough land to do a little farming, and David tried raising peppers on it. But, he says, "too many other people were growing them, so the price was very low. I couldn't even cover the cost of labor. So I thought I would try to make the peppers into a sauce." This experiment, he admits, was only a moderate success: "There are many kinds of sauce in Vietnam, Indonesia, the Philippines, but they're not very popular. Fresh chile is much more popular there. Most of the prepared product is shipped to the United States."
David insists that he loved his adopted country and that "if Vietnam had not changed, I would still be there. It is a very beautiful place, very pleasant to live." After the war, however, the Vietnamese Chinese--like the large population of native Catholics--were viewed with suspicion by the new regime, seen as outsiders with potentially divided loyalties. No longer welcome, they fled, abandoning land, businesses, accumulated capital. In 1977, David converted most of his savings into gold wafers and sent his family out of the country in four groups in case one of the ships was seized. William, then three, left the country in his mother's arms. David endured the first leg of his own journey jammed in with 3,000 others in the cargo hold of a rust-bucket Taiwanese freighter.
The name of the vessel was Huy Fong. "'Huy' means something like 'flowing together,'" David says, "like streams that run into a river. And fong just means 'big.'" A star-spangled analogy comes to mind, but David shrugs. Perhaps the notion doesn't do justice to the journey's grim details, which are still fresh in his memory. The Trans joined the postwar wave of Vietnamese boat people who were herded into squalid transit camps in Hong Kong. In theory, the United States had opened its borders to these refugees, but the family was becalmed for six months in Kowloon as its case inched its way through the maze of INS bureaucracy. When David finally arrived in Los Angeles in the spring of 1980, he was fed up with forced inaction.
It didn't take him long to find a project. His epiphany occurred the first time he visited a grocery store in Chinatown and bought a bottle of imported chile sauce: "I thought, 'This stuff really isn't very good. We could make a better one.'" A study of the shelves suggested that the market was significantly different in Los Angeles than at home. "Prepared food is much more popular here, so I felt that our sauce would sell better," he says. "At first we tried to finance the business from a bank. We said that with $200,000, we could buy chiles and process them and make a million dollars. And they said no. So we started the business with our own savings. It was a terrifying risk. I really had no idea how big the market was." David found a 2,500-square-foot shop on Spring Street in Chinatown for $700 a month--a good rate even then. The first Huy Fong effort, which he made himself with a 50-gallon electric mixer, was the Thai-style Pepper Sa-TZ Sauce. He sold it door to door out of a Chevy van to local restaurants and markets. From the beginning David was amazed by the momentum. "I will never forget how happy I was in the first month when we made $2,300," he says. "After that, I didn't care. We have made a little more money every month, and whatever happened was okay with me." David introduced several other products before hitting upon his Sriracha blend, which hasn't changed since 1983. The Trans admit they were surprised at first when that sauce started to attract non-Asian followers. "We began with the Asian community in mind," William says, "and that's still our primary focus. We haven't made a big push with non-Asians because while they may like it, it still isn't as popular with them as Tabasco. A lot of Americans tell us our products are intimidating, with all the different languages on the label. We get e-mails asking us how to pronounce Sriracha. And since we are barely able to keep up with the demand as it is, we are not trying to expand. If the market continues to grow, we will be happy, but we don't go after it."
Others have already tried to corner it. Huy Fong's success with American consumers has attracted at least one serious competitor. Lee Kum Kee, a Hong Kong company whose food products are a fixture in Chinese households around the world, was founded in 1888 by the chef who invented oyster sauce and now has branches in Paris, Tokyo, and L.A. The firm's looming office buildings, gleaming factories, and dark-suited, stiff-backed executives displayed in Lee Kum Kee's promotional brochures suggest a Chinese industrial behemoth that could overtake David Tran with a single advertising campaign. But when the company fired up a factory in the City of Industry in 1981 for the sole purpose of manufacturing a Sriracha sauce for U.S. buyers, the result barely made a dent in Huy Fong's sales.
The Huy Fong operation does have a certain element of grandeur, even if it's not the kind the taipans of Lee Kum Kee would recognize. To take the tour, I don protective headgear and ride along with William Tran in a golf cart with roosters on its side panels. He drives to the nearby warehouse where the barrels of chile mash are stored: This is the raw gold from which all Huy Fong recipes are refined, and the blue plastic drums are stacked six high on wooden pallets as far as the eye can see, row after row of them receding into the distance. How many bowls of noodles would a person have to eat to use up that much chile sauce?
The stockpile was created out of necessity. In 1987, driven by a need for storage space as production increased to meet the burgeoning demand, David moved the operation from Chinatown to Rosemead. Five years ago, he acquired the old Wham-O factory on the same block. Those blue barrels of chile mash stand where the Frisbee and the Hula-Hoop were born. "Twenty years have passed," he later says, "and I don't want any pressure. Our business is still something we can control ourselves, that we can hold in our own hands."
There are so many stunt varieties of hot pepper sauce available now, one almost forgets that in this hemisphere there have traditionally been only two basic modes of liquid heat. There's the Mexican style, built on a tomato base, and the Louisiana style, typified by Tabasco, which is an aged brew of pepper juice and vinegar. Huy Fong epitomizes a third foundational hot-sauce recipe, the pan-Asian. "Garlic is what really sets the Asian sauces apart," says Dave DeWitt. "There are not many sauces from other parts of the world that use it."
Because the Vietnamese name is so prominent on the Huy Fong label, most Western fans assume it originated there. Actually, this particular style of lightly sweetened chile-garlic sauce is supposed to have been created in the seacoast town of Sriracha (sometimes anglicized as Si Racha), in southern Thailand. David insists, however, that he never thought of Sriracha sauce as a Thai product. It is ubiquitous in Vietnam and in Vietnamese communities the world over, he says, reinvented in each case from the ingredients at hand. "It's just like pizza," William suggests. "American pizza is not exactly like the pizza in Italy. They are basically the same idea, circles of dough with toppings, but the details are different."
The ingredients at hand in Southern California include peppers raised on contract farms in Oxnard and places farther north. Most of the chile mash is produced in just two months during the autumn harvest, when truckloads of peppers arrive at the plant almost daily. Within hours the fruit is dumped onto a conveyor belt and trundled into the processing train. The pulping chamber, which is the first stop, is thick with capsaicin-laden mist; take an incautious deep breath and you get a sudden, sharp impression of your entire sinus cavity, vivid as a multicolored thermograph. It's no wonder the production employees are decked out like Dr. No's henchmen in dust masks and white lab smocks, almost always spotless in spite of all the sticky red stuff in the room.
As high-tech and as chrome-shiny as the place looks, the Huy Fong plant has been tweaked mostly by hand. Throughout the factory, painstaking welds are clearly visible at the joints and junctions of every piece of equipment. The machines have to be modified and maintained in-house, David says, because Asian condiments tend to be much thicker than their American counterparts. "At the beginning," he says, "we wasted a lot of money on machines that were too small." David decided to modify the ready-made models himself. With no engineering experience, he taught himself to cut metal and weld joints, an impulse that harks back to an era of personal craftsmanship, to a village life of blacksmithing and handmade tools. One large room at the plant is still devoted to David's metal shop, where he carries out repairs and modifications with the help of a single handyman.
During the harvest season, these machines see a lot of action. After the stems of the peppers have been shaken out, the remaining pulp is washed, dried, and chopped; it is then mixed with salt, preservative, and distilled vinegar and squirreled away in the 50-gallon, vacuum-sealed blue drums. Throughout the year, William says, the production process for each recipe draws upon that stock of chile mash. In something close to its base form, it is the pasty relish Sambal Oelek; with garlic added it becomes (what else?) Chile Garlic Paste. The most complicated procedure, which requires a separate, glass-walled chamber, sees the mash pureed into a smooth, ketchupy fluid and mixed in vats with a little sugar, a small amount of a thickener called xanthan gum (an industrial emulsifier made from fermented corn sugar), and a whole lot of garlic powder. The result is then injected into plastic squeeze bottles by David's hand-modified machines and sold to enthusiasts as Tuong Ot Sriracha.
The revelation that the key ingredient in Huy Fong's version of Sriracha is ordinary garlic powder, purchased in bulk from a local wholesaler, will shock only people who expect picturesque ethnic foods to be fresh and unprocessed. Such attributes are strictly first-world luxuries, off-limits elsewhere because they boost production costs and raise consumer prices beyond the reach of John DeSimeo's yeoman. David says he keeps the cost of his products low by minimizing overhead, but obviously that isn't the only critical factor. All the constituents of this genre-defining sauce are surpassingly, one could even say refreshingly, mundane.
In fact, if you ever find yourself standing over the crates of recently delivered chiles on the Huy Fong loading dock, the fruit itself might look strangely familiar: David confirms that the peppers he uses are ordinary jalape–os. To the Tran palate, at least, the jalape–o, the serrano, and the Anaheim are all very similar. "We chose jalape–os because they are hot but not too hot, and because they are easy to harvest, not like serranos." Here he makes a finicky pinching gesture with the fingers of one hand, as if struggling to hold on to something small and slippery. "The peppers are not the most important thing," he says. "The recipe is much more important."
So it must have taken a long time, and a lot of trial and error, to get the recipe just right, to formulate the ideal balance of chiles and garlic and sugar that has won adherents around the world? David Tran shrugs impatiently. "Not at all," he says. "Maybe a couple of days. We knew what we wanted to do. We never researched the market. We didn't care how the other companies made it. We tested it on our own taste, just me and my family. We tried to do our flavor the way we liked it. And from then on we just kept the formula the same."
Pho Thien's hefty salad rolls
I worry about this place. Not about the quality of the food. I worry that it may disappear. Pho Thien is located in a revolving spot on NE Glisan (not far past the turn for the Gateway Transmit Mall) that was formerly an unsuccessful Thai restaurant. Every time I've gone, I've been the only customer. Granted, I rarely go during peak hours, but still, I worry.
The reason I worry is because the food is actually pretty good. The menu is shorter than places like Pho Dalat or Pho Van, focusing primarily on pho with a few bun, com, and hu tieu dishes thrown in. All the standard beef and offal choices for pho ($5 for a regular, $5.50 for a large bowl), along with chicken or just plain broth and noodles are available (this latter choice at a reduced price of $4 and $4.50). The broth isn't quite as fragrant here as some of the best spots, but they do include all the typical herbs and the sprouts have always been fresh. Beef is tender, but rarely still pink, and the tripe is pleasant.
Their goi cuon (salad rolls, 2 for $3) is one of the best versions in PDX. The ingredients are always very fresh and the portions are relatively large, with three tasty, medium-sized shrimp per roll. They're served with an earthy peanut sauce that benefits from a little Sriracha, but avoids the annoying sweetness of peanut-buttery sauces you find in many Thai restaurants.
The interior is quite warm and comfortable with wooden chairs and cloth-covered tables, Vietnamese pop playing softly over the stereo. The girls usually doing the serving all appear to be second generation or later Americans and speak perfect English. Pho Thien supplements its income with espresso and Italian sodas, among other drinks, which is a bit of an oddity that seems like it could only happen in the Northwest.
Pho Thien Vietnamese Cuisine
10041 NE Glisan St
Portland, OR 97220
Spicy, tangy, and sweet -- in that order -- the wonderful Dalat salad
Relatively new and along a stretch of Sandy that hasn't been kind to restaurants, Pho Dalat has one of the larger menus among Vietnamese restaurants in Portland. It's just east of I-205 making it the closest pho to the airport and the best pho within 10 minutes of my house.
They make every Vietnamese soup I know by name: pho, bun bo hue, bo kho, bo vien, hu tiu, etc. There are over 107 dishes on the menu split into six primary sections, plus you can order family dinners for four, six, or eight. The six sections are appetizers (cac mon khai vi), rice dishes (com dia), beef noodle soup (pho), rice noodles and egg noodles (hu tiu and mi), rice vermicelli noodles (bun), and entrees (cac mon com phan).
The pho section alone has 20 variations, and all the standard meats and offal bits are there: brisket (fatty or lean), top round, tendon, tripe, etc. The meats are always tender and the tripe is even pleasant with a tender, but not mushy, bite and no off flavor. The top round in an order of pho tai often comes still a little pink. The broth is aromatic, yet balanced. The freshness of the bean sprouts can vary, but you do get a selection of herbs that includes culantro, basil, and cilantro. Portions are typical at $4.95 for a small bowl and $5.50 for a large bowl.
Their bun bo hue ($6.75) has quite a latent kick to it. Don't order it when you have a chest cold, every breath of the dried chile laden broth will ignite your lungs. While it's not listed on the menu, they'll ask if you want items like liver included in the soup.
I have found one dish, however, that I cannot avoid getting each visit: the goi tai Dalat (special Dalat salad, $6.25). It's spicy, tangy, and sweet -- in that order. It looks like it might be weighted down with a gooey dressing, but it's really not. The base is a mixture of shredded cabbage, carrots, and onions, accented with cilantro and mint. As the name suggests, it's a beef salad. What I like most about it is that the beef is always ultra-rare, nearly raw, and so very tender. It's a great texture balance between the crispy vegetables and the tender beef. It's become one of my favorite dishes in town.
Pho Dalat isn't a total dive, but it can be cold in the converted fast food building, and the platic booths aren't exactly comfortable. But the people are nice, service is brisk (they actually keep my water glass full), and the TVs, usually tuned to a sports channel, aren't ever obtrusively loud.
10232 NE Sandy Blvd
Portland, OR 97220
Pho Van has three locations: one in the Beaverton burbs, one in the chic Pearl District, and, the original, on the Asian-dominated 82nd Ave. I haven't been to the Beaverton location, but I understand that it emphasizes pho and grilled dishes. The Pearl District only has one version of pho on their menu, but a plenitude of other items, including a selection of fancy Western desserts. The 82nd location just re-opened after a re-modeling, both of the decor and their menu. The menu still has a full selection of pho and grilled dishes, but also includes hot pots and the seven courses of beef, great for family or friends to share. They also added some of their popular Pearl dishes, such as the lotus and banana blossom salads.
I prefer the Pearl location, Pho Van Bistro. The execution and service surpasses the 82nd location. The menu at the Bistro is also a little more upscale and interesting. One of their signature dishes, available at both locations, is banh xeo, a large Vietnamese crepe filled with shrimp, scallops, bean sprouts, and mung beans ($10.50 for lunch, $12 for dinner). It's served with a side of lettuce and herbs and a salty/tangy sauce. The crepe itself is enormous and often hangs over the plate. The dish advertises itself, like sizzling fajitas in a Chili's.
Another signature dish is the goi bap chuoi (banana blossom salad), a combination of shredded banana blossoms, tender shredded chicken, jicama, grapefruit, rau ram (a Southeast Asian herb), and toasted sesame seeds ($6.50 for lunch, $7 for dinner). It's served in a large banana blossom "petal" and dressed with a salty-sweet-tangy sauce. It's a perfect balance of flavors and textures that captures the best features of Vietnamese food in one dish.
Before I started this series of explorations, I remembered Pho Van's beef noodle soup as somewhat bland, always squirting the hoisin and Sriracha into the bowl before chowing down. But it's not bland. It's subtle. And there is a difference. The necessary aromas are there -- ginger, anise, cinnamon -- but none dominates and none overpowers. Pho Van Bistro serves their pho ($8 lunch, $8.50 dinner) with hoisin and Sriracha on the side, the way purists demand, each filling half of a small round saucer so that the eater can dip their meats without ruining the subtley of the broth. Each cut of beef is high quality and tender. Slices of round are often still a little pink.
Pho Van is a midscale Vietnamese restaurant, like San Francisco's Slanted Door, that cares about more than just the superficialities of their food. Sure, the bistro will be filled with yuppies and the prices will nearly double some of the cheaper places in town, but the quality of the ingredients, consistency of the execution, attentiveness of the service, and pleasantness of the interior make up for that discrepancy. And don't forget to order dessert. The banana bread pudding with coconut milk and tapioca sauce is a personal favorite.
Pho Van Bistro
1012 NW Glisan
Portland, OR 97209
Pho Van: The Street Foods of Vietnam
1919 SE 82nd Ave
Portland, OR 97216
Pho Van Vietnamese Noodle Soups and Grill
11651 SW Beaverton Hillsdale Hwy
Beaverton, OR 97005
So recently I decided to start exploring Portland's Vietnamese restaurants, both to mature my palate and to see if there were any undiscovered gems among the many new pho houses. Over the next several weeks, I'll be publishing my results a few restaurants at a time as I finish my explorations. For this first installment, I visited Pho Van, Pho Dalat, and Pho Thien.
- VAN LOC VIETNAMESE SUBMARINES, 10648 98TH ST.
If Jared, the dieting darling for Subway, had only eaten at Van Loc Vietnamese Submarines every day he would've saved a helluva lot of money. For as little as $2.50 the franchise poster boy could've bought a footlong sub stuffed with carrot, cilantro, cucumber and a variety of Vietnamese deli meats. Afterwards, to soothe the sweet tooth, Van Loc might've suggested Jared pony up another $1.25 to munch on his balls -- the green bean sesame sprinkled gelatin ones of course. Or Van Loc's lovely helpers might have persuaded Jared to try the dessert drink crammed with jack fruit pieces, coconut jellies and pink sago for the same price. You got served Jared, ya Subway-sucking doh mah!
- PHO TAU BAY RESTAURANT, 10660 98TH ST.
My brother and I have a deal. Whoever gets rich first will pay off the poorer sibling with a pho allowance so they can gorge on this tasty Vietnamese dish every day. Fellow pho fiends will understand our addiction. When a steaming bowl of pho is served up, my bro and I sample a spoonful of the soup. When satisfied that the beef broth is to our liking we push the raw pieces of beef to the bottom of the bowl so they'll cook. I always get pho with flank, tendon and tripe, and I like to count how many pieces of each are in my bowl. (I hate restaurants that cheap out!) Then we throw the plate of mint leaves and bean sprouts into our bowls and proceed to ignore each other for the next 30 minutes as we zone into our food. Mmmm, pho.
Tropioca Tea & Coffee Bar, 2808 Milam St. Suite G. Midtown Houston in Little Saigon
Tropioca Tea & Coffee Bar, 2808 Milam St. Suite G. Midtown Houston in Little Saigon
Twist on tapioca
Midtown coffee and tea bar a beverage trend-setter
By DAPHNE ROZEN
THE latest beverage craze has rolled into Houston's Midtown at the Tropioca Tea & Coffee Bar, 2808 Milam St. Suite G. It is attracting visitors from near and far by quenching their thirst and satisfying their affinity for tapioca.
"It's not a fad," said Micki Immanivong, who co-owns the café with her husband, James Lam, and brother-in-law, David Lam. "It's definitely a trend."
Often referred to as "tapioca ball drink," "bubble tea," "boba" or "pearl milk tea," this popular beverage originated in the 1980s in Taiwan, where it is still in high demand.
The traditional tapioca drink combines black tea, milk, sugar and, of course, black tapiocaballs -- marble-sized chewy balls made from cassava starch and processed with dark brown sugar. The drinks are served cold or hot in a clear tumbler with a straw big enough to suck up the tapioca balls, which sink to the bottom.
Unlike many tea and tapioca bars dominating the Bellaire area and in an effort to appeal to the American market, Midtown's Tropioca puts a twist on the traditional by serving its tapioca beverages with coffee, green tea, real fruit smoothies and milk shakes.
"(Tropioca is) the first to introduce the tapioca concept this way," Immanivong said. "It's not only a new trend in coffee bars, but it's also a new trend in tapioca bars."
While it was her intention to set Tropioca apart from its competition, Immanivong also hopes customers will "make the drive" from near and far to get their tapioca fix.
Nearly a year since it first opened, it seems Tropioca is, as it is said, fitting the bill.
"I go out of my way to come here," said Carl Norris, a 35-year-old, self-ascribed tapioca addict from the Galleria area. "It's highly addictive in a good way."
And he is not alone. There are many other Tropioca regulars, like 18-year-old Giang Duong from the Galveston area, who travel even further to get their fill of these flavorless -- yet tasty -- tapioca balls.
"Tapioca is great," said Duong, who usually visits Tropioca an average of four times per week. "It's fun because the balls. They taste good."
So, what is it about tapioca that makes it so satisfying? Perhaps, as Immanivong said, it is "all about texture."
"It's all about a chewing addiction," she said. "It makes drinking more fun."
In addition to tapioca beverages, sandwiches and desserts, Tropioca -- which is open daily and nightly and until 2 a.m. on Fridays and Saturdays -- offers customers a smoke-free, alcohol-free atmosphere accompanied by complimentary board and card games, wireless Internet, and local art and music "without feeling there is a time limit."
"I wanted to give people other reasons to choose Tropioca other than drinks," Immanivong said.
Regulars appreciate her efforts.
"It's cozy and you can get online," said Thai tea addict Thu Phan, 21.
Norris' younger brother, Clark, agreed. He said he can sit at Tropioca for hours only drinking one coffee without any problems from management.
"They've always been very nice," he said.
Tropioca presents monthly and bimonthly live local music performances and a monthly open mic night every first Friday. It exhibits local artwork every two months.
In the future, Immanivong said she hopes to combine local music with poetry nights and karaoke with live, instead of recorded, music.
Not only does the café support local artists and musicians, it also provides them with creative inspiration.
In July, the Aurora Picture Show, 800 Aurora St., created a film entitled, "It's a Trend, Not a Fad," a compilation of media art shown at Dean's Credit Closing, 316 Main St.
The film included a short video piece about a character, played by Vinod Hopson, who associates his interest in media art with his addiction to "bubble tea."
For Eileen Maxson, the film's curator and fellow bubble tea enthusiast, tapioca is tops.
For more information about the Tropioca Tea & Coffee Bar, visit www.tropioca.com .
(New Article)Tropioca a twist from dull coffee-house scene
Are the average, everyday, big-chain coffee shops driving you to boredom? Is your view of the usual smoothie spot just a bit played out?
If you answered yes to either of these questions, you should definitely make a visit to Tropioca Tea and Coffee Bar.
Conveniently located at 2808 Milam St., Suite G in Mekong Center Downtown, or Midtown, Tropioca offers an extremely student-friendly environment. There is free wireless Internet access and plenty of cozy space for study groups to gather for cram sessions. The bar has even extended its regular hours to 2 a.m. on Fridays and Saturdays — around finals time, this is like heaven. The bar is open from 8 a.m. to 9 p.m. on Mondays and Thursdays while doors open at 9 a.m. and close at 8 p.m. on Sundays.
As if that isn't enough to make a college student jump for joy, what truly separates Tropioca from the average drink bar is the unique menu. Customers can choose from an extensively wide variety of refreshing tropical fruit smoothies, iced coffee and espresso beverages, 14 different flavors of loose-leaf teas, hot fruit blend drinks, flavored coffee and delectable desserts.
Along with the array of thirst-pleasing drinks, Tropioca is reasonably priced, with drinks ranging from $1.50 to $3.50.
Possibly the coolest feature of a cold Tropioca drink is the round, chewy tapioca balls that sit at the bottom of each drink.
With choices of passion fruit, papaya, banana, honeydew, strawberry, pineapple and even avocado, the fruit smoothie selection is nothing short of paradise.
Tropioca's loose-leaf teas and hot fruit blends are certainly fresh delights and rare to find. The iced coffee and espresso drinks come in roasted blends with chocolate or caramel and every drink can be customized to the consumer's liking. Yes, the flavored syrups and requisite espresso shots are also available.
A trip to Tropioca without taking in some dessert would be nice. But it would be even sweeter if you treat yourself to the divine tropical cheesecake or the blissfully light Captain Jacques mousse cake, made with Pandan leaf. Even a scoop of green tea ice cream would melt your sweet tooth.
With all this, Tropioca surpasses the average standards by straying from the usual menu of, say, Starbucks, by adding an inviting Asian flavor to the coffee house scene.
Houston Midtown/Little Saigon
There is the old chinatown on the eastside of downtown Houston. It is small, but it has several grocery stores, several places to eat, and a small mall.The trolley runs from downtown to chinatown during the lunch hour. Little Saigon is located in Midtown, south of downtown. There is also a trolley that runs from downtown to Little Saigon during lunch. Little Saigon is a little bigger than the chinatown downtown. It has more of everything. There is also a newer and much larger Chinatown/Little Saigon on the westside of Houston. There is a very large mall called Hong Kong City Mall within the neighborhood. The biggest difference is that people live in the westside Chinatown/Little Saigon. There is also a small lKoreantown on the northwestside and a Little India on the westside. As far as a Little Tokyo, I am not sure. Houston has so many diverse neighborhoods, its hard to keep up with what is where.
A collection of Latin American and Pakistani stores and restaurants.
Spicy Foods Grocery
Sheikh Chilli's Pakistani Restaurant
Mazatlan Seafood Restaurant
Chat 'n Paan Snacks
Azukar Salsa Nightclub
5000 Hillcroft from Harwin to Richmond
This is one of the better areas for Middle Eastern and Indo-Pakistani grocery stores, restaurants, clothing shops, and video stores. Places worth checking out include:
Jerusalem Halal Meat Market
Good meat market and sandwich shop with kabob sandwiches. Good Islamic stuff for sale.
Sri Balaji Bhavan Restaurant
Great place to get southern India foods including excellent masala dosa.
Another great location for inexpensive all you can eat Indian buffet.
Specialty is Persian style chelo kabab with freshly made flat bread.
Asian American Food Market
One stop shopping for all your Indo-Pakistani groceries.
Cairo Palace Restaurant
Egyptian style restaurant and place to hang out with friends over coffee or tea.
Raja Indian Restaurant
Samosas, pakoras, thalis, and other fast food.
Bellaire from Gessner to Beltway 8
This is one the great concentrations of Chinese and Southeast Asian grocery stores, restaurants, bakeries, and more. I would recommend starting off some Saturday morning at Bellaire and 59 and making your way up Bellaire, stopping off at the two Diho Markets (One is "L" shaped, the other is a long "C" shaped strip mall), continuing west on Bellaire, stopping off at the market center where Corporate meets Bellaire (Treasure Island is located here), and finishing up on the other side of the Beltway at Hong Kong City Mall. Places worth checking out include:
Vietnam Coast II for black pepper crabs and other delicacies.
Santong Snacks for regional dumplings and noodle soups.
Treasure Island for dim sum on the weekends.
Long Point Market Tour
There are several Korean grocery stores and a pair of Korean restaurants worth your investigation on Long Point.
Hyundai Department Store
8624 Long Point
Teapots, videos, weird Korean knick knacks, Jesus paintings.
Dong Yar Market
(Next door to Hyundai Department Store)
Fermented soy bean paste and hot pepper paste in giant plastic tubs.
Boiled royal fern.
Banana powder beverage.
Acorn barley tea.
Honey flavor twist snacks
Oriental Super Market (Recommended)
9501 Long Point
Piping hot Korean red bean pancakes shaped like fishes in kiosk outside. 3 for $1.00.
Udon noodle samples.
Seasoned fish and kimchi with descriptions in Korean and English.
Pumpkin gruel beverage powder.
Giant beverage boxes of peach juice, citron tea, carrot juice, and Chinese date juice.
Korean Garden Restaurant
(Next door to Oriental Super Market)
Well reviewed and recommended eatery for Korean foods. Also, down the road, Seoul Garden Restaurant with beautiful interior decoration ( waterwheel at entrance)
Big grocery store with Korean, Chinese, and standard grocery store fare.
Giant electronic kimchi pickling tanks.
Korean tatami spreads.
Exotic tea gift sets.
Korean deli, soup and sandwich shop.
The Cho Que Huong Center has the excellent soup restaurant, Pho Cong Ly and:
Cho Que Huong Supermarket
Hong Kong Restaurant
Thien An Sandwich Shop
Lu Quan Cafe
Nguyen Hue Restaurant
The Hoa Binh shopping center includes the Hoa Binh Vietnamese supermarket, one of the best in the downtown area and:
Phnom Penh Tailor
Banh Me Ba Le Restaurant
My Phat Fashion
Pho Tau Bay
There are several other strip centers to the west on Smith with restaurants and specialty stores.
Downtown Chinatown. St Emanuel and Chartres at McKinney and Lamar
Several excellent grocery stores including Kim Hung and restaurants are concentrated right near the George R. Brown Convention Center.
Kim Hung Grocery Store
Very good Chinese grocery in a two story complex on St. Emanuel which includes eateries, liquor stores, clothing shops, and jewelry stores.
New My Canh II
Good choice for dim sum on Saturday mornings, and the starting place of Dorothy Huang's Chinatown tour through Leisure Learning.
The Lucky Inn Restaurant
Murphy Road/Wilcrest at Highway 59
A real mixture of Pakistani ( The Savoy strip center on Wilcrest...restaurant, grocery store, video store, and jeweler), Mexican taquerias, and one or two Chinese buffet style restaurants.
Cavalcade at Airline
A gem of a Thai grocery store, Asia Market, caters to the Thai, Laotian, and Cambodian community. Laotian soups and weird stuff to snack on, on Saturdays. Located on Cavalcade between Airline and North Main.
9600 Bissonnet just at Highway 59
An interesting mix of Pakistani halal style butcher/grocery stores, restaurants and an excellent Guatemalan restaurant ( one of the best in Houston ) called, Lo Nuestro. I've been told that the newly re-opened Koh I Noor Pakistani Restaurant is very good.
Timmy Chan's Chinese Restaurant
Maki Masjid Temple
Quality Sweets Chaat Restaurant
Middle East Halal Meat
Afrikiko Nigerian Restaurant
Top Flite Club
The Maru Ethiopian Grocery has unroasted coffee from various regions of Ethiopia, freshly made Injerra bread, teff flour, Bethany flat electric grills, Ethiopian clay coffee pots, and really fresh spices. You can buy the green coffee beans and roast them at home in your hot air pop corn popper (Wear-Ever Popcorn Pumper, available at second hand stores for about $5.00. Look for the ones which have ribs at the bottom, these will impart a spin to the beans to keep them from flying out. Use 2-3 tablespoons and roast for 7-15 minutes).
6611 Chimney Rock #10
Gran Tangolandia is your one stop shop for music from all over South America, and especially Argentina. They also stock giant bags of Mate tea, many different brands.
5406 Birdwood off North Braeswood at Braesmont
The Russia General Store is one of the coolest places in town to check out. They have Russian souvenirs including medals and pins from the Communist era, samovars, Russian style dry salami, sunflower halvah which looks a lot like something you might step in accidentally but probably tastes terrific, Russian malt beverages, lots of candies, Russian videos, music, and newspapers.
Andros Foreign Foods is a Greek oriented sandwich shop and grocery specializing in Greek videos, wines, coffee pots, spices, sailor caps, halvah, and various frozen and fresh goodies.
5600 South Gessner
Another big Chinese/Vietnamese venue. Includes:
Hong Kong Market
This place smells like a Hong Kong market. You can get ginseng, teas, herbal medicines, coconut graters, religious candles, all the cuts of meat for each critter you can think of (everything but the "oink" as they say). I noticed the packaged beef cuts say "Shoulder Road" instead of "Shoulder Roast". This was the forerunner of the new Hong Kong City Mall mega-complex on Bellaire.
Huong Viet Restaurant
Vietnamese Noodle Shop Restaurant
A little cluster of West Indian places.
You can get authentic Jamaican jerk chicken, Jamaican patties, roti, and curried goat here. Also, ginger beer, banana bread, jerk seasoning, and fried plantains.
Another West Indian restaurant which has not been tried by me but looks very enticing.
On both sides of the street, some interesting places such as the Sahara bakery, La Gran Sorpresa Restaurant, the World Food grocery store complex, Mi Pueblito Colombian Restaurant, and Dodo's Chicken.
11138 Westheimer at Wilcrest
The sign says "Oriental Foods" but this is Nippon Daido, Houston's Japanese grocery store. All manner of Japanese products, fresh flying fish roe, boiled lotus root, dried fish, fresh fish, chopsticks for beginners, sake, magazines, videos, this place has it all. Located in the same shopping center is a Japanese fast food cafe, and a Japanese travel agency.
7333 Hillcroft (between Bellaire and Bissonnet)
Droubi's Bakery and Imports - a nice Lebanese store, making some of the most delicious Middle Eastern style flat breads in Houston, which also sells a variety of foods from the Middle East (including Israel) and Greece, excellent selection of olives and feta cheeses, and a terrific steam table style lunch counter.
Harwin from Hillcroft to Gessner
This is another truly amazing by-way in Houston, full of discount perfumeries, sunglass stores, luggage stores, and more. One of the most interesting shops which you will find is on a side street. At 5615 Savoy Lane, you will find Paayal, an Indian store which stocks the wonderful stainless steel cookware and eating utensils, along with shelves and shelves of multi colored glass bracelets and other Indian curios. This is a great store.
(Tapioca Pearl Milk or Boba)
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That area is becoming more diversified because of the new subdivision Shadow Lakes and the gated community of Royal Oaks being built out there. There have also been a number of older neighborhoods around Dairy Ashford/Bellarie as well as empty properties in that area which have been bulldozed and now have new housing being constructed on them as I am writing this.
Alief is still very heavily a Vietnamese area of Town--one of the mottos of the Alief-Elsik football team is that they still have more "Nguyens" than losses. Some parts are gritty--some of the older strip malls are falling apart because the new Hong Kong City Mall on Bellaire and Boone has taken away a lot their business. That, however has only led to more new construction close to it in order to keep up with the times.
One thing a lot of people do not realize about Houston's Chinatowns, including Westside Chinatown on Bellaire, is that it was originally built by Taiwanese-American investors from New York in the late 1970s who saw the huge potential of opening an Asian-Themed Supermarket in what was the mostly White and Latin area of Sharpstown. They bought an old Kroger Store that had closed during the union strikes of the late 1970s and opened up the Diho Supermarket--the first full-scale Asian Supermarket in Houston (there had been others which were the size of Convenience Stores prior to then.)
Eventually, these same investors bought land half a block down Bellaire where they built the Metropole Center--the first Asian Strip mall in Houston and relocated Diho Supermarket over there. However, Diho Plaza attracted a new Asian Supermarket known as the Welcome Foodmart which took over Diho's old space.
The two Supermarkets still occupy those adjacent Strip malls and draw heavy business--much of which comes from Asian families who live in San Antonio, Beaumont and elsewhere in the State who come to Houston to do all their specialty shopping on the weekends.
People in So-Cal do not realize that we actually have an Asian Supermarket Chain--the Hong Kong Supermarket which operates 4 locations--Harwin@ Gessner, Bellaire in the Hong Kong City Mall, Veterans Memorial Drive and Sugar Land. White, Black, and Latin Families often shop in the HK City Mall location because it has the largest fresh seafood counter in Houston and has some of the best prices on fresh vegetables and fruit this side of HEB.
I teach at HCC in the evenings and have about 30% Asian students in my class, many of whom are So-Cal transplants whose families relocated to the Houston area in order to escape the high cost of living. Some of the kids had been skeptical about Houston at first, but after being here they realized that they got a good deal in the bargain and were often happier here than they were in So-Cal. Their parents had sold houses priced at over $400,000, came here with around $200,000 and had enough to buy a new house and start a business, something they were unable to do in So-Cal due to the cost of living there.
While Houston does have its problems, it has become a model city on race relations and diversity, especially when compared to LA, Chicago and Atlanta. Keep your eye on us--Gordon Quan will be our next Mayor when Lee Brown steps down next year, I guarantee it.