Monday, March 7, 2011

Vietnamese Food

If I had a dollar for every person that says "do they serve dog?" when I mention eating Vietnamese cuisine I'd have almost as much as I do when I say I'm eating Ethiopian. (Fill in your with your dated joke from the Eighties about Ethiopian food here)

But seriously folks, Vietnamese food is a wonderful treat if you can find someone to make it right.

Vietnamese food is very unique. There is a lot of the French influence seen in Vietnamese dishes. French bread and the use of crepes can be found in Vietnamese dishes. Vietnamese food typically includes five colors and five aspects that correlate with five elements in Eastern health philosophy. The elements of earth, wind, water, fire and metal are displayed in the colors of dishes. It is said that each dish contains these elements in the form of spicy, sour, bitter, salty and sweet.  Vietnamese dishes contain fresh herbs, seafood and unique ingredients.

 Living in West Tennessee, Memphis is probably the closest place to find authentic Vietnamese cuisine. Three of our favorite haunts for Vietnamese are the Lotus Restaurant on Summer Avenue and Pho' Vietnam on Popular and lastly Saigon Lee on Cleveland.

The Lotus is a unique little restaurant that serves wonderful food and is operated by even more wonderful people. The decor is a trip back to the Seventies with a wall mural of a sandy beach, flanked by a picture of dogs playing poker parallel to a Buddhist shrine and filled with art deco pictures of Asian scenery. The visual is like a bad Quentin Tarantino film, Retro disco meets Saigon. Really.

The owner Mister Joe is a little Vietnamese man who came to the U.S. in the Seventies. He is kind little man who describes every dish as "delicious" and "you will love it!"

For an appetizer, we usually start of with a Lotus eggroll or a Vietnamese spring roll. The spring roll is very unique as it is shrimp, vermicelli and fresh mint rolled in rice paper. A bowl of fish sauce is used for dipping.

Mister Joe makes a wonderful appetizer that is Vietnamese sausage (called 'cha') marinated in red wine. The sausages are then cut and fried in a wok. Delicious...

The feature dish that you must try at the Lotus is Mister Joe's 'Tender Butter Beef'. Strips of steak are marinated in homemade (yes, you heard me right) butter. Strips of beef are then cooked with sweet onions and stewed tomatoes. Served with steamed white rice, this dish on a Winter night can put a fat man to sleep.

The feature dish at Pho Vietnam is , you guessed it, Pho. Pho (pronounced 'Pha') is a Vietnamese noodle soup made with beef and vegetables. You may be asking "what can you do to a soup to make it special? Soup is soup.." Soup is soup..unless it is Pho! Pho is the broth of the gods. The presentation of Pho is a table spectacle in itself. The broth is presented in a large bowl steaming with rich broth. A plate of fresh mint and fresh cilantro are brought out to accompany the soup. Lastly, a plate of fresh bean sprouts are brought to top off the delicious dish. Pho is eaten with a spoon and the noodles pulled from the spoon with your chopsticks. It is a complex and rewarding dish! I typically order the Pho with marinated strips of steak.

One of my favorite dishes at Pho Vietnam is Banh Xeo. (Pronounced 'Ban sew') Banh Xeo is a French inspired crepe made from rice powder and turmeric. The crepe is filled with pork, shrimp, fresh mint, mushrooms, sausage, onions and bean sprouts. Dipped in fish sauce, Banh Xeo is a traditional Vietnamese snack dish.

It is the law (or if it isn't, it should be!) that you use a drop or two of Siracha.  (More on Siracha coming soon!)

If you have never tried Vietnamese, you owe it to yourself to explore the foods of this wonderful culture. The other side of the world is as close as your backyard!

Vietnamese Lotus on Urbanspoon

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