Here, Eat This: A Beginner's Guide to Vietnamese Cuisine

Categories: Here, Eat This

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Photo by Gary R. Wise
Vietnamese iced coffee.
Cà phê sữa đá / iced coffee with milk
Pronounced: caf-fay su-ah da (the final "da" is pronounced like "dad" without a "d" at the end

Called "the undisputed king of coffee" by Digest NY, Vietnamese iced coffee truly is a drink of the gods. This isn't ordinary coffee, however. Really good Vietnamese coffee starts with beans roasted in clarified butter. The finely ground beans are steeped in hot water for a slow extraction, and the resulting coffee is much darker and thicker than typical American coffee. Into the hot coffee, sweetened condensed milk is poured -- no sugar required after that shot of creamy goodness -- and the entire affair is then stirred well and poured over ice.

Soda chanh muối / salted lemon soda
Pronounced: soda chain moo-ee

Although traditionally made with limes (chanh) pickled in salt, most soda chanh muối found in Houston is made using lemons and amounts to something closer to a salted lemonade soda. The more conventional lemon soda -- or soda chanh, made with club soda and a bunch of freshly squeezed lemons -- forgoes the salt and is a safer bet, but both are refreshing on a muggy day.

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Sinh tố bơ / avocado shake
Pronounced: sin toh boh

Unlike western usage, where avocados are found in savory applications like guacamole, avocados in Vietnam are more often found in desserts and sweets. Avocados grow well in southern Vietnam, sinh to bo is used to beat the heat. It's as simple as pureeing avocado and sweetened condensed milk together, then pouring over crushed ice (although you can also drink it in fluffy smoothie form too). The avocado's flavor isn't the star here, but rather it's silky, creamy texture.

Chè ba màu / sweet bean dessert
Pronounced: chay baa mao (the last word is pronounced like "mouse" without the "se")

Like soda chahn, che ba mau is refreshing on a hot day. Like sinh to bo, it's not too sweet. But unlike most American desserts (not counting the miraculous bean pie), it's made with beans. You'll often find it listed on menus as "sweet bean combination with grass jelly and coconut milk," hinting at the dessert's tropical southern Vietnamese roots. Che ba mau means "three colours che" ("che" itself meaning a dessert drink or pudding), referring both to the three colors of beans used in the dessert and the lucky number three. You'll usually find mung beans, black-eyed peas and red azuki or kidney beans in the dessert, and/or gelatin colored green with pandan extract (the "grass jelly" part). It's all mixed up with crushed ice and sometimes served with a coconut milk topping.



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12 comments
geof
geof

Why must you go the Americanized places??  The bottom doesn't get much lower.

sarsi82
sarsi82

Banh bot chien is normally served with a soy sauce mixture. I've never seen or heard of it served with nuoc mam.

Adrienne Byard
Adrienne Byard

I'll never forget the first time I had Chè ba màu. Such an exhilarating and palate-changing experience.

Wuwu
Wuwu

If I could be so bold to rewrite your story it would go like this;


1.  Go to Cafe TH

2.  Ask Minh to show you the ends and outs of Viet food

3.  Enjoy!

Wuwu
Wuwu

If I could be so bold to rewrite your story it would go like this;


1.  Go to Cafe TH

2.  Ask Minh to show you the ends and outs of Viet food

3.  Enjoy!

Bruce_Are
Bruce_Are topcommenter

My local place offers a side order of pig blood.  Not sure, do you eat it or pour it over someone's head?

fmontes
fmontes

Shredded chicken and fried egg on my Bánh mì please!

texmex01
texmex01 topcommenter

@geof where did you see one name of a restaurant? How about reading the entire article next time before commenting, that way you don't look like a troll.....on the bottom

klepto
klepto

@Wuwu Why must it always be about Minh and Cafe TH? He's a nice guy who does decent Vietnamese, but he's not the be-all, end-all of the cuisine. There are plenty of friendly places that will serve you food at least as good, and be happy to explain it.

Bitspitter
Bitspitter

@Bruce_Are It will almost certainly come as a congealed cube or two, so it's not actually 'pourable.' I've had it a few times, but I'm not a big fan.

Wuwu
Wuwu

@klepto @Wuwu please do explain we are all awaiting....more importantly when it comes to Viet I would be happy to hear your options....

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