Thursday, May 17, 2007
Nem Nuong Ninh Hoa Vietnamese Restaurant - Rosemead
Several months ago, one of my readers, who's now in Canada (Hi Tricia!), asked if I knew of the Vietnamese restaurant on Mission and Rosemead, behind the In-N-Out, that makes various meats to wrap with rice paper. Since she now lives too far away to go eat there, she asked if I knew how to make the meat. Well, I pretty much wrap everything with rice paper, but I figured she was probably asking about Nem Nuong (Vietnamese Grilled Pork Patties). And then, when I recently posted my recipe for Cha Ram (Vietnamese Shrimp Egg Rolls), I mentioned that it was a food item that was very specific to the south-central coast of Vietnam. (As opposed to Hue and upwards, whenever people think of central Vietnam.)
Nem nuong originated in Ninh Hoa, a small town near the resort city of Nha Trang, in Khanh Hoa province, on the south-central coast of Vietnam. In Little Saigon, the must-go-to place for nem nuong cuon (Vietnamese grilled pork patties wrapped in rice paper) is Brodard Restaurant - Garden Grove (Little Saigon), whose owners hail from Nha Trang.
In the San Gabriel Valley, the must-go-to place is Nem Nuong Ninh Hoa in Rosemead. (There's also Nem Nuong Khanh Hoa Vietnamese Restaurant - Alhambra. But I thought I should point out that all the nem nuong specialty restaurants, the well-known ones anyway, have owners who all herald from the region where the food originated.)
Nem Nuong Ninh Hoa has an awkward parking lot, is behind the In-N-Out as you can see in the picture below, and is directly across from Rosemead High School. Parking sucks basically. Especially on weekends when there's a line out the door.
One of the specialties of central Vietnamese cuisine is banh beo. These flat discs of steamed rice flour are topped with dried shrimp, a crouton (To replace the small fried pork skin that's sometimes served with this dish in Vietnam.), and served with sweet fish sauce and bird's eye chilies.
Now, for my readers who dine in both L.A. and Orange counties like I do and are keeping score, this platter of 12 banh beo is $4.99, as opposed to only 8 banh beo at Quan Hy Vietnamese Restaurant - Westminster (Little Saigon). An order of 9 banh beo at Nem Nuong Khanh Hoa is $4.25. I would say the quality of the banh beo at all three places are comparable because they're freshly made and steamed. Quan Hy edges ahead on shrimp quality as they use fresh minced shrimp, instead of the dried shrimp that's typical for this dish. But then Nem Nuong Ninh Hoa edges ahead for overall return on cost since you basically get another half order for the same price. You decide.
Incidentally, banh beo originated in Hue, the old imperial capital of Vietnam. One of the characteristics of Hue cuisine are small items as the emperor would sample many, many dishes during each meal.
To eat this, get some fish sauce from the bowl and drizzle it over the individual dishes of banh beo. Then scoop it out with your spoon. I usually section mine into two portions for ease.
As for the nem nuong itself, one advantage that Nem Nuong Ninh Hoa has over Brodard is that you can roll the nem nuong yourself. This order for 2 persons is $13.99 and includes four gigantic skewers of nem nuong, 8 cha ram, 2 nem chua nuong (Vietnamese pickled pork patties), nem cap (Vietnamese pork patties grilled in banana leaves), two platters of herbs, and a pile of banh trang (rice paper).
A similar order at Nem Nuong Khanh Hoa is $13.95. The restaurant says this feeds 2 people, but this was more than enough for 4 of us. You can make 8 or more very generous wraps out of the skewers, as well as the other accompaniments.
The platter of herbs included lettuce, mint, cilantro, tia to (purple perilla), and underneath all that there's pickled carrots, cucumbers, flat-leaf chives, and bean sprouts. And there were two platters of this. If you're keeping score again, Brodard's nem nuong cuon usually just has lettuce and chives to make it palatable for everyone.
On the flip side, no one can beat Brodard's dipping sauce. Nem Nuong Ninh Hoa's nuoc mam cham is a basic garlic and vinegar sweetened fish sauce with lots of shredded carrots to give it a surreal orange color.
If you don't know how, or don't want to wrap your own, an order of 4 nem nuong cuon is $4.99, as opposed to Brodard's $6.50 is it now? And Nem Nuong Ninh Hoa's rolls have cha ram inside, so you get the shrimp too and not just an empty egg roll wrapper.
Aside from nem nuong, there's also lemongrass beef and chicken, and pork chops served with noodles or broken rice. This order of banh hoi (Vietnamese steamed vermicelli rice noodle sheets) comes with several skewers of nem nuong, tom tau hu ky (shrimp paste wrapped in bean curd and deep fried) and cha ram. This was $7.49. If you're still comparing, the tom tau hu ky isn't as substantial as what's served at Da Nang Com Tam Tran Quy Cap, but is still quite tasty.
The restaurant actually started as a catering business selling nem chua, those pickled pork patties with shredded pork skin and black peppercorns. They still do a brisk business and you can buy them, 2 for $1. There's always bags of them in stock. Nem chua is often considered a bar snack, to be eaten with liquor, but you can order a plate of them grilled for $5.99. These are pretty good, but I like mine more pickled, more sour. My youngest uncle and I think Nem Nuong Khanh Hoa does a better rendition of this dish.
A nice glass of che ba mau (3 color che) will run you $2.25. I'd suggest getting che or something sweet to take the edge off all the garlic in the meat and dipping sauce or you'll be burping garlic all afternoon. Not that that happened to me. Ahem.
The chef's special is Bun Bo Hue (Vietnamese Hue-Style Beef Noodle Soup). My second-cousin often orders this dish, but since I haven't eaten it here, I can't vouch for it myself. Nem Nuong Ninh Hoa Vietnamese Restaurant does a solid rendition of its namesake, as well as several other items of central Vietnamese cuisine. If you're not lucky enough to be from the south-central coastal region of Vietnam, or have family members who can cook, I'd recommend it. Otherwise, as one of my cousins and lil' sis said, we can get this and better at home. :P
Other Central Vietnamese restaurants:
Quan Mien Trung Vietnamese Cuisine - Rosemead
Nem Nuong Khanh Hoa Vietnamese Restaurant - Alhambra
Ngu Binh Restaurant - Westminster (Little Saigon)
Quan Hy Vietnamese Restaurant - Westminster (Little Saigon)
Quan Vy Da Restaurant - Westminster (Little Saigon)
Nem Nuong Ninh Hoa Vietnamese Restaurant
9016 Mission Dr.
Rosemead, CA 91770
Thursday to Tuesday 10 a.m. to 9 p.m.