Wednesday, February 28, 2007

If Only Ribbons Were Edible, But Thankfully Banana, Nutella, and Peanut Butter Sandwiches Are

Scrumptious aren't they? Too bad I can't digest fabric...

Must think of a way to incorporate them into my quilting...

Found the ribbons on Yarnstorm. They can be ordered from LFN Textiles.

I couldn't eat the lovely little cakes, but reminded of an exchange I had with Christine about
her love of banana and cheese sandwiches, I decided to make a banana, Nutella, and peanut butter sandwich. And Christine, was it assembly instructions or my stellar food photography you were looking for? Because if it's not clear how to assemble this sandwich even with photos, well, you've got bigger problems to deal with. ;)

In Europe, they sell Nutella in gallon-sized containers. I've also seen Trader Joe's make a knock-off version. Nutella can be found in most grocery stores next to the peanut butter.

Banana, Nutella, and Peanut Butter Sandwich

For one sandwich, you'll need:
1 banana sliced
2 slices bread
Nutella
Smooth peanut butter

I prefer potato or white bread for this because it's softer and has a neutral taste but it's up to your preference.

Spread Nutella on one slice of bread.

Spread peanut butter on other slice.

Add sliced bananas.

Put the slice without the bananas on top of the slice with the bananas.

Slice on the diagonal if you wish.

Here's my attempt at artfully stacking the sandwich halves. Piled on top of each other, they almost resemble a cake. Not a lovely beribboned cake. But at least this version is edible.

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Chinatown - Los Angeles

Since I've been posting about Chinese restaurants lately, I thought I'd share some photos from last month when I took an out-of-town visitor to Los Angeles' Chinatown.

Saigon Plaza, Dynasty Center, and Chinatown Plaza are newer shopping areas that feature swap meet-like booths and shops selling imported clothes, toys, accessories, and CDs/DVDs. About 90 percent of the merchants here are Chinese refugees from Vietnam who set up shop in the 1980s and revitalized this part of Chinatown.

My rule of thumb for bargaining, whether here or abroad, is that if I'm willing to pay the merchant's initial offer, then I start bargaining for a lower price. Even if the final negotiated price is only a dollar or two cheaper, I leave happy because the initial price was something I was willing to pay anyway.



On weekends there's always a crowd of people in front of China Town Deli. Why?


Monday, February 26, 2007

Banh Tet: Banana Leaf-Wrapped Care Packages

Banh tet, and the more popular banh chung, are eaten during Tet because the simple ingredients are accessible to every Vietnamese person. Since superstition dictates that you start off the year with abundance so the rest of the year will be prosperous, even a peasant can afford to make this dish. Since the first few days of Tet are a time for celebration, no work, no cleaning, no cooking, banh tet and banh chung can be eaten as is. While most Vietnamese are more familiar with the squared banh chung, my family has always made the cylindrical banh tet. The round shape means the glutinous rice can be tightly compressed, otherwise what's the point of wrapping it? Since a truly good banh tet needs to be tightly wrapped, the task usually fell upon the men in my family. Growing up, my dad worked seven days a week. So right before Tet, my mom would soak the glutinous rice and and mung beans, and marinate the pork. Then late at night, after a full day at work, my dad would assemble the ingredients - laying foil first, then banana leaves, several scoops of rice, mung beans, pork, another layer of mung beans, the final layer of rice. Then he'd tightly gather the sides of the banana leaves, fold down one side and tap it tightly, upend it, and tightly compact the other side. Then he'd tightly wind string around the whole package. Tightly, because each stage had to be compressed, tugged, folded. My parents usually made at least a dozen good-sized banh tet, sometimes two dozen. The process took hours, and I'd sometimes keep him company late into the night. Sometimes we talked. Many times I simply sat there and watched him work. After I'd stumble off to bed, my dad would pack the banh tet into a large pot and boil it it all night long. The banh tet needs to be cooked for at least 12 hours, sometimes longer. And he'd wake up many times in the middle of the night to check the pots and refill the water. Up all night even though he had to work the next day. A few banh tet would be used for altar offerings for the Lunar New Year. The rest were parceled out as gifts to family and friends. Many, many years ago when I was in college, thousands of miles away from home, my parents would mail me a banh tet with a jar of dua mon (Vietnamese pickled daikon and carrots) every Lunar New Year. That first year, the jar leaked a bit and I disposed of the box in my dorm's hallway trash can. Whooeee! The fish sauce sure made my dorm smell Vietnamese that year. Even after college, when I was living away from family, my dad would still mail me banh tet. He didn't stop until I moved to Southern California and had his family nearby to give me their banh tet. The effort my dad put into making the banh tet each year always made me appreciate how much care and love he put into each banana leaf-wrapped bundle. Even now, when he doesn't work seven days a week and can make them during the day, they still take a lot of work. And when my aunts and uncles give me banh tet, they're passing on the same care and love in each package too. This is the last of the Tet goodies my aunts and uncles gave me. I had already eaten the banh tet and banh it my youngest uncle gave me. I thought this was a banh tet but it turned out youngest auntie made cha lua (Vietnamese steamed pork paste). The banana leaves give the meat a very greenish flavor, if you will. The cylindrical banh tet is courtesy of oldest uncle. The square banh chung, vegetarian version so mung beans only, is from my youngest auntie. These have been in the fridge for the past week so the rice doesn't look as soft as my youngest uncle's fresh version.

Sunday, February 25, 2007

Lien Hoa Chinese BBQ Food To-Go - Westminster (Little Saigon)

On my way to Dragon Phoenix Palace to meet up with the other OC food bloggers, I passed Lien Hoa Chinese BBQ Food To-Go. Which, of course, reminded me that I had an old photo from last month just sitting around and haven't posted it yet.

I go to Lien Hoa for their $1.50 quails. They're the poor pathetic little birds on the top of this photo. Quail is a dark meat bird, sort of like a really, really tiny duck, but a little drier. Half a roast duck was $6.99 if I remember correctly. The duck was only OK. By the time I got home an hour later, the skin wasn't crispy anymore. :(

They've got roast pig, char siu (Chinese barbecued pork), and other assorted barbecued meats. But I really go for the little quails.

Also, since Little Saigon was still celebrating the Lunar New Year, there was a dragon dance in front of the store. I've never seen a string of firecrackers that started on the roof and went all the way to the ground before.

Traffic started moving again so I barely managed to snap this photo of the dragon dancers. They're the red and black blur in the far right corner of the picture.

Lien Hoa Chinese BBQ Food To-Go
9299 Bolsa Ave.
Westminster, Ca 92683
714-894-1085

Saturday, February 24, 2007

Dragon Phoenix Palace Chinese Seafood Restaurant (Long Phung Lau) (Dim Sum) - Westminster (Little Saigon) (Closed)



Almost a decade ago, I was in Boston's Chinatown eating dim sum with a friend who is half-Japanese.The restaurant was packed so the waiter asked us to share our table with a couple.

The couple was an older man and woman from Oklahoma who were in town for a medical convention. He was a doctor. I mention this because I didn't expect them to be the stereotypical hicks, ya know?

"Excuse me, but do you speak English?" he cautiously asked me and my white-skinned, light brown-haired friend.

We said we did. Looking relieved, he introduced himself and his wife, said they had never eaten dim sum before, but that someone suggested they try it.

"Don't you have Chinese restaurants in Oklahoma?" I asked.

"Yes, but in Oklahoma the Chinese restaurants bring the food to your table in plates," he whispered as if revealing trade secrets. "Don't they have chow mein or chop suey here?"

So we explained that dim sum was slightly different. That it was basically lots of dumplings and other small dishes, and that they could simply ask the dim sum cart ladies (Do you ever notice that it's never men who push dim sum carts?) to lift the lids off the containers, and they can point to what they'd like to eat.

Friday, February 23, 2007

Boulangerie Pierre & Patisserie - Garden Grove (Little Saigon)

Amazingly enough there was still room in our bellies for dessert after our lunch at Vien Dong Restaurant - Garden Grove. So we headed across the street to Boulangerie Pierre & Patisserie.

Boulangerie Pierre & Patisserie - Garden Grove (Little Saigon) 1

During their colonization of Vietnam, the French exploited plenty of Vietnamese peasants in their Michelin rubber plantations, but they also left behind their cooking techniques. That's why coffee, French bread, yogurt, flan, and pastries are a regular part of Vietnamese cuisine.

Little Saigon has plenty of French-Vietnamese restaurants, or French-influenced Vietnamese bakeries. Though Boulangerie Pierre & Patisserie is owned by Vietnamese-Americans, the pastry chef is actually French. So you're getting the real deal.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Vien Dong Restaurant - Garden Grove (Little Saigon)

It's hard to separate Little Saigon from its politics. Even when it comes to food.

And no review of Vien Dong Restaurant in Garden Grove is complete without mentioning its former owner, Tony Lam, the first Vietnamese American elected official. Read more about him to read more about him, and read my post about Little Saigon and its history to understand how volatile the Vietnamese American community can be.

The restaurant is now owned by Lam's niece. Back in its heyday, when Lam was on the Westminster City Council, the restaurant was filled with the movers and shakers of Little Saigon who were courting his attention. Lam would often go table to table to greet and chat with every customer.

Despite the lack of his presence now, Vien Dong still retains much of what originally drew customers to the restaurant. It's clean, the portions are large, and the prices are very reasonable. Most dishes are in the $5-$6 range, more for specialty items such as the cha ca Thang Long (Vietnamese Hanoi-style turmeric sizzling fish with dill).

Vien Dong specializes in Northern Vietnamese cuisine. According to Wikipedia and Sally's Place, Northern Vietnamese food is more Chinese-influenced with many stir-fries, more soy sauce than fish sauce, black pepper instead of chili for spice, fewer vegetables, and more beef because of the influence from 13th century Mongolian invasions.

Now, I'm no food expert, I just like to eat. A lot. I read a lot too. And travel. So I'd have to disagree with almost all of the above. In my previous discussion of Vietnamese food, I already admitted my preference for South-Central Vietnamese food. But I did eat my way around Hanoi for a full month. And in all honesty, except for Cha Ca Thang Long (Vietnamese Hanoi-Style Turmeric Fish with Dill) and bun cha, Northern food sadly pales in comparison to Central and Southern Vietnamese food. Yes, I think even pho, which originated in the North, is much better down South. I didn't see more stir-fries up North than anywhere else in Vietnam. Since Saigon was settled by Ming dynasty generals and their troops fleeing the Manchus more than 300 years ago, and because there still is a Cho Lon (big market), Saigon's Chinatown, I don't think the North has a monoply on Chinese-influenced food in Vietnam. And if the food featured more soy sauce and black pepper, I sure didn't notice. There does tend to be less vegetables in the North but that's because of the colder climate and mountainous geography. In comparison, the South enjoys two rice harvests a year. And beef from Mongolian invasions? Like the constant rebellions against Chinese domination, the Vietnamese are also quite proud to have successfully fought off the Mongols. So there!

Now that's Vietnamese food in Vietnam. I've said before that I think Vietnamese food in America is much better because as a wealthier country, we can afford to splurge on ingredients. And with modern movements of people, regional cuisine don't necessarily stay regional.

Most Vietnamese Americans who originally hailed from the North, fled South when the country was divided in 1954. They brought their regional cooking with them, but were influenced by the South. For example, pho, which originated in the North, usually just had beef, rice noodles, and onions or scallions. The way it's mostly served now with basil, sawtooth herb, and bean sprouts is a Southern adaptation. Southern pho also has a much more flavorful broth.

All that excessive background information aside, Vien Dong Restaurant, which specializes in Northern Vietnamese cuisine, was my choice to meet several Orange County food bloggers earlier this month. Elmo of Monster Munching and Chubbypanda, The Epicurious Wanderer, had professed wanting to try bun oc (Vietnamese water snail rice vermicelli soup). We were joined by Rasa Malaysia and Christian Z of Orange County Mexican Restaurants.

Bun cha is one of the few dishes I actually enjoyed during my time in Hanoi. Grilled pork slices and patties swim in a light sweet fish sauce, topped with sliced pickled chayote squash and carrots. Vermicelli rice noodles and various herbs, including mint and cilantro, rounded out the meal. This dish has three variations, with one version including cha gio (Vietnamese egg rolls). I would highly recommend ordering bun cha with cha gio if eating alone, but I was already ordering it as an appetizer.


Vien Dong offers some of the best cha ca Thang Long in Little Saigon. (In the rest of the country, cha (paste) ca (fish) is literally a fish paste patty and is an entirely different dish.) Despite its name, cha ca Thang Long is not actually fish paste. It's tilapia that's been seasoned with turmeric and comes on a sizzling platter with lots and lots of onions, scallions and dill. The use of dill is a distinctly Northern specialty as other regions of Vietnam don't cook with it at all. In Vietnam, the fish used in this dish is ca loc (snakehead), but it's illegal in America because it is very invasive. And at Cha Ca La Vong in Hanoi, the restaurant that claims to have invented this dish several hundred years ago and where the street is named after this dish, the fish comes in chunks and sits in a saucepan with about half an inch of oil. You toss the dill and onions into the oil to wilt before eating.
Unfortunately, in my photo you can barely see the fish under the mound of herbs.

It comes with a side of more herbs, rice vermicelli noodles, fermented shrimp sauce, and toasted sesame rice paper. To eat, grab a little bit of everything into your bowl, and douse it with the smelly shrimp sauce. The blandness of the noodles, the crunch of the rice paper, the slight herbal notes of the turmeric in the fish, the refreshing dill, and the salty goodness of the shrimp sauce hit a little bit of everything on your taste buds.


Chubbypanda was on an oc (snails) kick and ordered these steamed ground pork and oc patties. I've always eaten oc whole and was wary about the loss of flavor when mixed with so much pork, but the patties still tasted really oc-y, if you know what I mean. These came with some gingered fish sauce for dipping, really necessary since oc alone is rather boring and the ginger toned down the fishiness of the oc.


Yes, yet another plate of herbs. Many Vietnamese have a plate of herbs on the table and simply tear off leaves and eat them with everything. I think this plate might have been intended for the oc though.


Look at the golden flaky perfection of the cha gio. You can tell these were wrapped in rice paper and not Chinese egg roll skins. Rice paper wrappers have a lighter, flakier outside layer, while the innermost layer retains a slight chewiness. Although, I was surprised the restaurant didn't call them nem ran, which is what Northerners call cha gio.


Here's the overview picture of everything we ordered.


This is goi mit (Vietnamese green jackfruit salad) with slices of pork, shrimp, chayote squash, carrots, herbs, toasted peanuts, and toasted sesame rice paper. The salad is a little bland and I'd suggest dousing it with lots of fermented shrimp sauce for flavor. Can you spot the unripe jackfruit? It's the flesh-colored chunks on the bottom right corner of this picture.



Now comes the reason why I chose this restaurant. Elmo's first foray into bun rieu oc was disappointing and I had suggested he try Vien Dong's rendition. His verdict? "Truly the best bun rieu oc that I've had (well, okay, I only had it once before), but that was exactly what I hoped bun rieu would taste like. Couldn't get enough of those snails." So with an Elmo endorsement, do I really need to say more?

Bun rieu oc is a tomato-based rice vermicelli noodle soup with minced crab and shrimp patties, water snails, and fried tofu chunks. Vien Dong's version includes plenty of large oc, but the patties are dispersed. Add plenty of fermented shrimp paste and you get a deeply savory broth. Many years ago, I brought two German professors, who were studying the Vietnamese American community, to dine here and they couldn't get enough of the broth and slurped their bowls clean.

Vien Dong's variations of this soup includes the options of shrimp only, crab only, both, and with or without water snails. The bowl of bun rieu oc tom moc, with all of the above, is what you see pictured below.

Another Northern regional specialty that none of us ordered was bun gia cay (fake dog noodle soup). Dog meat is eaten more in the North than the South. (Insert bad Asian stereotype jokes here.) The restaurant's fake dog noodle soup, which uses pork, is a curry-based broth.

Other food suggestions include the yam fries with shrimp, braised pork with hard-boiled eggs, and pork chops with rice. I'd avoid the bun bung though. The description of noodle soup with pork spare ribs, plaintains, and tofu sounds tempting, but I've always been disappointed with its absolute blandness. Though Vien Dong specializes in Northern Vietnamese cuisine, there are plenty of other dishes to please your palate as well.



May 10, 2011 update: More dishes can be seen in my revisit here in my Exploring Vietnamese Regional Cuisine, North, Central, and South, in Little Saigon post.

Who else ate here?
Kirk of Mmm-yoso took my suggestion to visit and really loved the fake dog curry soup.

Vien Dong Restaurant
14271 Brookhurst St.
Garden Grove, CA 92843
714-531-8253

(In case you're interested, Vien Dong Restaurant is located around the corner from the Orange County Islamic Society. The mosque features a dome with separate worship halls for men and women. The building is not aligned with the street, but to face Mecca. There's a Halal meat grocery store at the other end of the strip mall from the restaurant. There are several other Muslim grocery stores along the Vietnamese-dominated businesses on Brookhurst Street.)

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Little Saigon, Orange County - California

Little Saigon, Orange County - California 11

I always think knowing a bit of history enhances the dining experience. And since I've got several Little Saigon eateries to post, I figured a little history lesson is in order.

Little Saigon in Orange County, California is the largest Vietnamese community outside of Vietnam. The 2000 census lists the population at 135,548, but most Vietnamese estimate the community to be at least double that. There are 1.1 million Vietnamese in America, and 40 percent of them live in California. Why is this surprising? Because American government policy specifically dispersed Vietnamese throughout the country in order to facilitate assimilation and to prevent ethnic enclaves. At one point, Vietnamese were scattered across every state and 813 zipcodes. And yet, ethnic enclaves formed anyway. Specifically, Little Saigon. Read more about the Vietnamese in America or read Hearts of Sorrow: Vietnamese-American Lives by James M. Freeman, one of the first books chronicling the Vietnamese American experience, or The Vietnamese American 1.5 Generation: Stories of War, Revolution, Flight and New Beginnings by Sucheng Chan, for a more current look at the community.

Prior to the Fall of Saigon in 1975, there were only a handful of Vietnamese in America. After the Vietnam War ended, the initial wave of 125,000 refugees were first put in four refugee camps: Fort Chaffee, Arkansas; Eglin Air Force Base, Florida; Fort Indiantown Gap, Pennsylvania; and Camp Pendleton, California. These refugees were matched with sponsors, often church groups, who helped them assimilate to American life.

The next wave of refugees, often referred to as "boat people," would take place in the late 1970s and early 1980s as they fled communist reeducation camps and persecution of ethnic Chinese. An estimated 1 million people who were members of the former South Vietnamese government and military were "reeducated," some as long as 17 years. Learn more about the reeducation camps and definitely go see "Journey From the Fall" if you ever get the chance.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Yum Cha Cafe - San Gabriel



Growing up, my Lunar New Year rituals always included cleaning the house and helping my parents with the altar offerings to ensure a prosperous year ahead. Then on the day of the Lunar New Year, we'd get lots of visitors or go visiting ourselves.

So on the first day of the Year of the Pig, my siblings and I visited our aunts and uncles. As a child, in order to get li xi (red money envelopes) I'd have to cross my arms in front of my chest, bow, greet the elder with a proper salutation, wish them a prosperous year ahead and that they'd live to 100 years old. Now, I and they, are so Americanized a simple "Chuc Mung Nam Moi (Happy New Year)" is enough.

But the real meaning of Tet (Vietnamese New Year) has always been about family. So I went out to eat with my brother and lil' sis and we spent the day visiting relatives.

If you're superstitious and want to start off the year with lots of luck, eat dumplings for wealth (because they resemble little money bags) and noodles for health (because they'll give you long life).

We figured all the dim sum restaurants would be packed with families and we didn't feel like dealing with long waits. So off to Yum Cha Cafe in San Gabriel we went. Don't know what yum cha means? Yum cha (drinking tea) in Cantonese is the custom of eating small servings of food while drinking tea. Sounds like dim sum you say? It is. I first heard the term yum cha in Sydney, Australia, when my cousins' family took us out for yum cha. Hello/G'day. Different words, same meaning.

Monday, February 19, 2007

A Not-So-Romantic Fondue Dinner, Although It Can Be If You Want

No, this wasn't made for Valentine's Day but for Lunar New Year's Eve dinner. And my dining companion was my little sister. But hey, if you have a different dining companion and want it to be romantic... ;) The heart-shaped fondue pot has no significance. Faced between a round pot or a heart-shaped one, and for the same price, I opted for the cuter heart. That's all. I actually use the fondue pot more for keeping spinach dip continuously hot during parties.
Fondue 1
Anyway, so the reason for the fancy-ish dinner was because lil' sis helped me scrub the bathrooms and kitchen in preparation for Tet. Someone else helping me clean is always a cause for celebration in my book. My brother had just enjoyed a fancy fondue dinner at Melting Pot. And, of course, that mention got my cravings going... According to Melting Pot, fondue originated with the Swiss as a way to use up hardened cheese. The French slapped on the word fondre (to melt). The Americans made it popular during the 1950s. Most recipes include gruyere or emmenthaler cheese and wine. So if you want to be authentic, find another recipe for fondue. Mine is based on my limited budget and taste. :) Fondue with Feta and Cheddar Cheeses You'll need: 1 8-oz package cream cheese 2 cups milk 1 tblsp cornstarch As much feta or cheddar or any other flavor of cheese as you'd like. In a saucepan on medium heat, melt cream cheese with 1 cup of milk. You can cut the cream cheese into cubes first or just chunk it with a wooden spoon on the stovetop. Dissolve 1 tblsp cornstarch in another 1 cup of milk. Add the milk to the pot after the cornstarch is fully dissolved. The mixture will still be pretty liquidy at this point but should thicken in about 15 to 30 minutes. Just keep stirring occasionally. When the mixture is almost as thick as you'd like, add feta chunks or shredded cheddar as I did, or any other cheese of your choice. Add wine too if you'd like. Once all the cheeses have melted and the mixture is smooth, pour into a fondue pot.
Fondue 2
As for dipping options, you can prepare all the other items while the cheese is melting. I chose to make toasted artisan bread loaf chunks, pesto tortellini, blanched French beans, boiled red potatoes, and grilled steak sprinkled with seasonings.
Fondue 3
Lil' sis likes the above photo because it showcases the dipping foods more. I like the photo below because you can see my leaf plate better and the fondue pot is still in the picture.
Fondue 4
Dinner was a lovely way to usher in the Lunar New Year, but I think I gained 10 pounds overnight.

Sunday, February 18, 2007

Chuc Mung Nam Moi! Happy Year of the Pig!

Chuc Mung Nam Moi! Wishing everyone a happy lunar new year! Happy Year of the Pig! Remember I said that the banana bread I baked for my aunties and uncles was nothing in comparison to what I get in return? Just look at all the yummy goodies I got this year. From the upper left corner there's sesame brittle and sesame/peanut candies, banh it, dua mon (Vietnamese pickled daikon and carrots), banh tet, banh chung, and lap xuong (Chinese sausage).
Banh tet and banh chung are essential to any Vietnamese Tet celebration, so essential that they're part of a mural in Little Saigon with depictions of Vietnamese history. Read the legend of how the sticky rice cakes helped 16th-in-line Prince Lang Lieu gain the throne. While most people are more familiar with the square-shaped banh chung, my family makes the cylindrical-shaped banh tet. The glutinous rice is compressed more tightly when it's wrapped this way. The sticky rice cakes are filled with fatty pork and mung bean paste (My family likes to substitute with fava beans.), wrapped in banana leaves, and boiled for 12-18 hours.
The banh tet are sliced and can be eaten as is with a side of dua mon, pickled daikon and carrots. Or dipped in sugar. Or my favorite, pan-fried.
Do you like the artful arrangement of lap xuong lil' sis did just for my camera?
Those lovely large and very fresh lap xuong (Chinese sausage) are from Quang Tran, Inc. in Rosemead. A 1-pound package runs about $6-$7. Just look at the color and size. These lap xuong are truly spectacular.
My youngest uncle gave me this batch of banh it.
These savory dumplings are filled with pork, shrimp, mung bean, and tree ear mushrooms.
This was my grandma's specialty and my oldest uncle continues the tradition making sesame brittle and sesame/peanut candies.
And because Tet is supposed to signal the arrival of spring, the very first daffodil bloomed in my garden.
When I first moved to California, I loved how the banks responded to their Asian clientele during the lunar new year by offering fresh crisp bills and complimentary red money envelopes.
Quang Tran, Inc.
9000 E. Garvey Ave. #A
Rosemead, CA 91770 626-569-9427

Saturday, February 17, 2007

Tet Preparation, Not So Great Char Siu Bao, and Really Great Banana Bread

Must scrub my kitchen and bathroom before Tet, the Lunar New Year, begins tomorrow. Gotta wash all my sheets and pillows and quilts on account of me coughing on them for the past week too. Washed both my featherbeds already. (Yes, you can wash featherbeds. They just take a very long time to dry.) And hopefully I can squeeze in organizing my paperwork and the books in my library.

It's not that I live in a pigsty. It's just that it's been ingrained that I need to clear away as much clutter as I can before the new year comes. So even though it's been years since I've lived at home, there are just some rituals that still stick with me into adulthood.

Vietnamese Tet traditions are pretty much the same as Chinese Lunar New Year traditions. This pdf file has a much more detailed article.

I also buy several varieties of fruit and bake something to distribute to my various aunties and uncles several days before Tet, so they can have it for their altar offerings.

Last year I, along with lil' sis and two of my cousins, made lots and lots of char siu bao (Chinese barbequed pork buns). As you can see.


The dough wasn't very soft though but I loved the pork and have since adapted the recipe for char siu/xa xiu (Chinese barbecued pork).


This year I opted for banana bread since my youngest aunt really liked the last batch I made. I've been tweaking the recipe a little bit and think it's a really great banana bread recipe. Very moist and banana-y if that's your thing. The trick is to wait for your bananas to get black so that they're super sweet and flavorful.

Friday, February 16, 2007

Angel Hair Pasta with Balsamic Chicken, Bacon, and Tomatoes

Updated from the archives September 29, 2010:

Angel Hair Pasta with Balsamic Chicken, Bacon, and Diced Tomatoes 2

When I first started blogging, I had far fewer pictures so most of my posts were written within a day or so of cooking or dining out. I had my old Canon SD110, with its thumb-sized LCD screen, so it was always hard to tell if the picture would turn out well. I didn't edit my photos, still don't really, just sorted through to select which ones I wanted to use. Then uploaded and blogged.

These days, the camera is better, and I also attempt to plate my food a little bit so it looks more appetizing. Still don't edit my photos much, but the watermarking now sometimes takes longer than the blogging. When I first posted this recipe three years ago, blogging was much less competitive. I just cooked, ate, uploaded, wrote and that was that. Sometimes I wish it was still that easy.

Anyway, I've been updating old posts with better pictures, sometimes tweaking the recipes a bit. I haven't made this recipe since I blogged it long ago. But, I needed a quick dinner tonight, the kind that takes less than half an hour to make, and all these flavors totally hit the spot.

I had seconds.

You probably will too.

And it'd be a shame to let this simple and tasty recipe remain buried in my archives.

Thursday, February 15, 2007

BCD Tofu House - Rowland Heights

So my brother asked if I wanna go out for Valentine's Day dinner.

Say what?

He said if we stick with Asian restaurants, we should be safe from any couples out for a romantic dinner.

Since I'm still feeling under the weather, the thought of a nice bowl of kimchee soup with a side of kimchee seemed just the thing to clear my sinuses.

For late night eats or a quickie Korean meal, I usually opt for BCD Tofu House. There's 13 locations throughout Southern California, Seattle, Japan, and Korea. Most of the branches are open 24 hours too. And each one specializes in one extra offering beyond tofu.

BCD Tofu House likes to pride itself for serving good Korean food in a clean environment. I've eaten at both the Garden Grove and Rowland Heights locations and have found them to be well-lighted, clean, with good service. Since BCD specializes in tofu, you get at least a dozen different varieties of tofu for around $7.99. Or you can opt for a tofu and barbecued meat combination, which ranges from $13.99 for lunch to $15.99 for dinner. On this particular night, I was in the mood for a lot of meat so I got the dinner portion of kalbi (marinated short ribs) for $17.99.

All orders come with a stone rice bowl, kimchee soup, and at least half a dozen panchan (Korean side dishes). On this night, I lucked out and got 9 panchan.

The corvina fish were nicely breaded and fried. Continuing clockwise: Little fishies, bean sprouts, seasoned potatoes, and scallion pancakes.


Fermented spicy clams, kimchee with clams, and pickles. The kimchee with clams was a nice surprise and makes it extra flavorful.

Kimchee soup. I love the crunch of the fresh napa cabbage and the vinegary broth. Slurp!

The large order of short ribs were nicely charred and seasoned. I sort of filled up on all the panchan so even splitting this order, there was plenty left over to bring home for lil' sis', which was what I intended anyway.
The Rowland Heights branch specializes in bibimbap. Otherwise, the rest of the menu is lots of tofu, kalbi, and beef or pork bulgogi.

Yes, I know, I wrote a Korean tofu restaurant review and didn't order the tofu. But trust me, it's good too. I just wasn't in the mood that night.

And hey, it was Valentine's Day and wasn't the red kimchee, red kimchee soup, and red meat what everyone really wants anyway? ;)

1731 Fullerton Rd.
Rowland Heights, CA 91748
626-964-7073
Open 24 Hours

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Sofitel Plaza Saigon Chocolate Buffet

Happy Valentine's Day! In honor of this chocolate-filled holiday, I thought I'd share some photos from the Sofitel Plaza Saigon's chocolate buffet. Photos are from August 2005. The chocolate buffet had just opened that summer and costs approximately $8 US. (For comparison, an average Vietnamese person earns $1/day.) So yes, this was quite spendy. The chocolate buffet is located in the L'Elysee Bar, just to the left of the front entrance. I took my cousin's daughter as a splurge for my last day in Vietnam. The L'Elysee bar is a lounge area, so the seating is leather armchairs and couches with coffee tables. I ordered a pot of tea and then proceeded to demolish as much chocolate as I could.
There's also a chocolate fountain to dip the fruit skewers. But I spent most of my time on the chocolate mousse, the little cakes, and creme brulee. And yes, I had seconds and perhaps thirds of all of those goodies. Other Vietnam posts can be found in the tag Series: Vietnam, but I suggest reading the series in this order: Mekong Delta - Vietnam Com Lam (Vietnamese Sticky Rice in Bamboo) - Sa Pa - Vietnam Pho Cuon Ha Noi (Vietnamese Rice Noodle Rolls Hanoi-Style) Hoan Kiem (Returned Sword Lake) - Ha Noi - Vietnam Van Mieu (Temple of Literature) - Ha Noi - Vietnam Cha Ca Thang Long (Vietnamese Hanoi-Style Turmeric Fish with Dill) Sofitel Plaza Saigon Chocolate Buffet - Saigon - Vietnam Sofitel Plaza Saigon
L'Elysee Bar (on the left side of the entrance)
17 Le Duan
District 1
Saigon, Vietnam
+84-8824-1555