Vietnamese food - African edition

In Botswana (Vumbura camp maybe), there was something called Vietnamese Shaking Beef on the menu one night. I ordered it, of course. My sessions with my Vietnamese food guru, John, had not yet introduced me to this dish, so I was keen to try it and see how the American version compared with the African.

On my return, I asked John about it. His first response was, "Never heard of it". That didn't seem right to me, so I googled the name and showed John the search results (which included a Vietnamese name). His second response was, "Oh, that. I don't consider that really Vietnamese. It's more French. Only the French and rich people could afford beef".

The two versions were not too different. The American version had smaller slices of beef that was probably marinated then sauteed (thus the "shaking" part of the name); the African version came in slightly larger pieces. The restaurant version came with a few slices of tomato and some lettuce for no apparent reason. There was rice with both. Neither version had much spice.

John likes to make a dipping sauce for the beef by mixing salt and pepper on a plate, squeezing lime juice over it, and stirring. He says this is completely optional. I found it well worth trying.

Sometime those odd email messages are important

Got an email late yesterday afternoon that initially looked like it might be a scam. It was from an email address unknown from me. It had some odd formatting/punctuation issues. It claimed to be from my mother (who is currently travelling in France). However, instead of asking for money, it told me she'd broken her arm. There were details in it that made it clear it was from her. I'm glad I looked at that email more closely.

Sometimes relatives do get into difficulties in foreign countries. I haven't spoken with her yet, but she's with friends and the doctor said it was ok for her to return home before seeking major treatment. Surgery will probably be necessary.

BTW, the formatting and punctuation issues were due to her typing one-handed on a French keyboard.
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Vietnamese restaurants, part 10

Back to Ahn Hong last Thursday with John. This time it was the long-threatened congee with pig-parts*. Congee, of course, is rice porridge and can have just about anything added to it. I think John would class this as Vietnamese comfort food. Spare parts added this time included blood pudding, heart, tripe, liver, and some more standard meaty bits. Oh yes, there were the ubiquitous bean sprouts to add as well. John likes to have a small bowl of dipping sauce on the side so one can flavor the various parts as desired without dumping sauce in the soup. John considers that a faux pas; for him, the congee is meant to be enjoyed for its natural flavor I gave John's method a try. It's helpful especially if you're not wild about some of the add-ins (liver, blood pudding). The heart and tripe were fine but were, as expected a bit chewy.

*not the actual name of the dish on the menu.

Vietnamese restaurants, part 2.5

Back to Ahn Hong with John and another coworker for 7 kinds of beef. This time, John pointed out a plant/herb on side platter of vegetables used to fill out the spring rolls. There were just a few stalks of it on the plate. On the first visit, I think I'd missed this stuff entirely because there's at least 5 times as much basil on the plate. John says some Vietnamese people like it and other don't. The herb is described as tasting like fish. He didn't know an English name for it.

Anyhow, the herb is called Fish Mint in English. I figured this out by googling "Vietnamese plant that tastes like fish". I can see why the flavor is described that way, but I don't really taste it as fishy. I'd call it slightly minty/slightly soapy. It's probably just as well I'm not in charge of marketing it since even "fishy" sounds more appetizing. It's not my favorite herb, but I don't dislike it.

Vietnamese restaurants, part 9

This time we went to Pho Le (1356 Dorchester Ave) for pho*. It's not John's favorite soup which is why we left it till this late in the series. Also, it's cold now, so soup works well. We both got the pho with beef slices, beef tendon, and tripe. All were thinly sliced and delicious.

John tells me there are two main ways of spicing up your pho. Both start with putting basil leaves in the soup. Basil leaves and bean sprouts come on a plate separate from the soup. The basil, in John's view, is not optional. Some put a mix of Hoisin sauce and chili/Sriracha sauce in a side dish to be used for dipping the meat slices. Others put the mix directly in the soup. John is a dipper. He says the sauce gets in the way of appreciating the properly-made broth that is the key to a good pho. I tried dipping as well. John's point is well taken. The broth could easily be overwhelmed by strong condiments. The other sign of a good pho is noodles that are not overcooked. If they're falling apart when you pick them up, they've been cooked too long.

Next episode, congee with tripe?

*pronounced fa (but there's also a tone to do there) If you say foe/faux, you've just said the Vietnamese word for city.

Vietnamese restaurants, part 8

This time a group from work went to Pho Hoa (1370 Dorchester Ave). We all had variations on Hu Tieu, a kind of seafood soup. One type had egg noodles and clear noodles. Another (mine) had just the clear noodles. A third was pork-free. The first two also came with small slices of ham. We were also provided with a large platter of bean sprouts (and maybe some shredded cabbage?) to put in the soup.

Ultimately, though my soup was good, I regretted my choice as the egg noodle+clear noodle variant also came with a deep-fried shrimp disk that mine lacked. John assured me that the shrimp disk isn't all that special, but how will I ever know for sure? How can one truly ever know anything? I'm clearly going to have to go back so I can try the deep-fried shrimp disk.


This morning, Tatonka head-butted my paperback book off the bed. I guess she knows a rival when she sees one.

Vietnamese restaurants, part 5.5

Yesterday, John and I and two coworkers went to My Sister's Crawfish, which I described in part 5 of this series. This time, I had the Bun Rieu soup. I had previously described this as "crab stock, crab meatballs, noodles, etc." One of the etc bits was fish meatballs, another was blocks of what initially appeared to be dark red jello. John was able to identify them as blood pudding. I've never been a fan of blood pudding, but I have to admit it's more the idea than the taste. Not wishing to be shamed in front of the coworkers, I summoned up my courage and tried it(finished it too). Kind of bland and flavorless actually (but still made out of blood!). Overall though, the Bun Rieu was was good and really hit the spot on a cold day.

My favorite here remains the Bun Mam. The combination of seafood plus pork slices gives the soup a wonderful flavor I haven't encountered before.

One of the coworkers confessed to getting her Vietnamese soups with a side of peanut sauce (the kind used on fresh rolls). John was horrified (not actually offended though) and thought this was a most improper use of peanut sauce. It seems he does not believe in crossing the culinary beams. The coworker comes from a country where peanuts or peanut sauce are used very commonly and couldn't see the objection.

Vietnamese restaurants, parts 6 and 7

For part 6, we returned to Saigon Seafood for salt and pepper lobster and salted fish fried rice. The salt and pepper lobster, according to John is more a Chinese than Vietnamese disk. It consists of lobster cut into pieces that are breaded and fried (deep fried?). It's tasty, but as is typical with lobster, you have to do some work to extract the meaty bits. I was initially dubious about the salted fish fried rice (not a huge fan of salted fish), but it was very good. The fish was shredded into very fine pieces which serve to add a nice flavor to the fried rice without being excessively fishy.

For part 7, we went to Lucky Cafe, an Asian barbecue place at 1107 Dorchester Ave. I think they have more typical Chinese offerings, but we got the rice combo that comes with 2 kinds of meat. It was $8 and had enough rice and meat for two meals. I had chicken and duck; John got chicken and pork. John is a big fan of the ginger sauce they put on the chicken. I liked it, but I won't rave about it the way John does. BTW, this restaurant is cash only.