Back in July 2008, lil' sis and I decided to go to Dong Nguyen Restaurant - Alhambra for dinner because she was craving Bo Luc Lac (Vietnamese Shaking Beef) with their Com Do Ca Chua (Vietnamese Tomato Paste Red Rice).
They were closed that day.
But we saw the flashing neon "OPEN" of Banh Cuon Hai Nam Saigon and we were huuungry, so we decided to check it out.
Hainanese written Vietnamese style? Were they Hainanese Vietnamese too? As it turns out, they weren't Chinese, but they were from our hometown.
The restaurant was pretty standard. Look at the giant mugs of Nuoc Mam Cham (Vietnamese Fish Dipping Sauce) on the tables.
They were out of Vietnamese chicken rice that day, so we opted for two kinds of banh cuon (Vietnamese rolled rice noodle sheets).
I ordered the banh cuon dac biet Hai Nam (Vietnamese house special rolled rice noodles sheets), $5.80. The noodles came with Banh Tom (Vietnamese Shrimp and Yam Fritters), banh cong (Vietnamese mung bean cakes), cha lua (Vietnamese steamed pork loaf), sliced herbs, bean sprouts and cucumbers.
A close-up of the banh cong.
The banh cuon was soft and pliable, although a little sparse on the fillings.
Lil' sis got the banh uot Thanh Tri (Vietnamese "wet" rice noodles Thanh Tri-style), $5.15. Thanh Tri, is a district of Hanoi, known for its banh cuon.
Unlike the Tay Ho (West Lake) style, Thanh Tri banh cuon aren't filled, but served in long, loose sheets.
So how were the banh cuon overall? While, they lacked the finesse of Banh Cuon Tay Ho's version, they were pretty good when freshly made. The toppings also lacked that oopmh as well, but for the San Gabriel Valley these were good.
I mentioned to my childhood friend that Banh Cuon Hai Nam Saigon was owned by folks from our hometown, and in October 2008, we stopped in to see if their chicken rice was like how our families make it.
It's listed on the menu as com ga Mien Trung (Vietnamese Central-style chicken rice), $6.25. Served with Nuoc Mam Gung (Vietnamese Ginger Fish Sauce).
The chicken was tender, yet firm, just the way our families make it. Finally! Between here and Dong Nguyen, these restaurants served my favorite restaurant versions of chicken rice because they make it almost as good as my family.
The chicken is supposed to be firm, yet tender, the flavor concentrated because of the cooking method. Not that overly boiled, mushy version served at Savoy Kitchen - Alhambra that I can't figure out why is so popular.
The rice was redolent of garlic and ginger.
Com ga is a simple dish, and while the cooking method isn't difficult, it does take patience. Too many restaurants use shortcuts. I've seen customers get the chicken rice to-go so Banh Cuon Hai Nam Saigon tends to sell out before the end of the day.
We also split a plate of banh cuon and I ordered che sam bo luong (Vietnamese dried fruit and seaweed dessert).
I haven't figured out the name. Were they trying to hit up all the regions of Vietnam? Because banh cuon originated in the North, Hainanese only really came to Central Vietnam, and Saigon is obviously the Southern part.
In any case, the menu is small, but concentrated. Order what they do best, the banh cuon and the chicken rice.
Other chicken rice restaurants:
Dong Nguyen Restaurant - Alhambra
Pho Ga Vietnam Kitchen - San Gabriel
Savoy Kitchen - Alhambra
Banh Cuon Hai Nam Saigon
1425 E. Valley Blvd.
Alhambra, CA 91801
1 year ago today, Spruce Tree House - Mesa Verde National Park - Colorado.
2 years ago today, Arkansas traveler tomatoes from my garden.
3 years ago today, Heirloom Tomato Salad.