Friday, February 22, 2008

Authentic Eats

This funny blog, Stuff White People Like, recently posted entry #71 - Being the only white person around. You hear this quite a bit in expat circles in foreign locales, such as Vietnam, generally as it relates to food joints. 

Seems like a lot of food places get raves by the internet (and hence by English writing reviewers...) based on how 'local' or 'authentic' it is - with commendations directly proportional to the chance of one picking up cholera.

I try not to eat Vietnamese food when I'm back in the States, for obvious 'I have the cow back in Hanoi reasons,' but I have to note that the best banh mi sandwich I've had in the past year was here in the DC area.  And a friend took me to a Vietnamese noodle shop in Northern Virginia where I had some mighty fine Bun Bo Hue.  Some of the best Vietnamese food in the world is in Vietnamese American enclaves in the States - of course you're mostly limited to Southern Vietnamese food, but for the most part it's better than the 'real thing.'  As all foodies would attest, it's all 'bout the quality of one's ingredients.

One dish that I've really taken a liking to, and not available in the States, is Bun Cha - the Northern compatriot to the South's Bun Thit Nuong.  Now that's worth the cholera!    


Vu said...

Do post the names of the bun bo and banh mi places you ate at if you could remember. Were they in Eden Center/located near it?

I think maybe the best banh mi in the area might be at Banh Mi DC Sandwich (redundant, I know :), and my favorite bun bo is at this one small dirty looking place in Eden where the window lettering/design is red. Her bun bo is the spiciest in the NoVA area.

D. said...

Best banh mi is from Eden Center - I prefer the shop affiliated with Four Sisters. I guess it's their take out joint.

The bun bo hue place is inside Eden, right of the supermarket and across from the barbershop. First time I was there - again it's a secondary outpost of another restaurant in Eden.

Oddly, it had some Vietnamese shows on the tube that I didnt' recognize. And it took a lot of thought *not* to call the waitress "Em oi" when I was ready to order.

D. said...

Banh Mi DC is too far away from other shops.. though once in a while I eat at that bad Vinh Kee next door.

Even though you didn't ask, the best pho is a tie between Xe Lua pho that is next to (and left of) the supermarket in Eden and Pho 75 in Clarendon (Arlington, VA), on Wilson Boulevard near the fire station. Of course these are all imho.

vklj said...

D - Bahn Mi So 1 (sandwhiches number 1) in Eden Center is excellent too. I do remember the chicken sandwhiches being one of the best. There's also Bahn Mi Ba Le (it has the Eiffel Tower as the logo), which is outside of Eden Center, I forget where.

And I do agree that I never had Bun Hanoi until I came out to LA. While I do miss the little enclave that was Eden Center, I now have another enclave called Little Saigon, an hour away, tho some places in Chinatown are just fine.

Lastly, after 3 years of eating Pho in DC, Pho Xe Lua was the place I settled for in the end.

Vu said...

No way... how could you say the best banh mi is from Huong Que (take-out Four Sisters)?? :p Don't get me started on their actual restaurant btw.

Banh Mi So 1 is also a close runner-up. Banh Mi Ba Le has not been doing well business-wise for the past many years ever since new banh mi shops have sprung up i.e. Banh Mi So 1 killed their business with their new-fangled longer, thinner loaves of crustier bread and less doughy innards (apparently Viet Kieus don't like doughy bread and prefer a crusty, airy variety).

And as for pho... well I've eaten at many, many establishments, from the long-running Pho 75 to quick closings like place that opened across Eden Center but closed within a year, so I like to think I know pho pretty well in the NoVA area :D

With that said, I'll say that the top four places in NoVA are pretty similar bowls. Just slight variation in clarity of broth, portion size, and robustness of flavor. Basically I've come to the conclusion that when you've perfected it, it's best to just pick the location that is most convenient to you. In Annandale, there is Pho Hot, in Springfield Pho 495/Pho Cong Ly, in Arlington Pho 75 (I think it was better about 10 years ago though), and some more elsewhere.

But Orange County is a whole different story...

HmL said...

"The bun bo hue place is inside Eden, right of the supermarket and across from the barbershop. First time I was there - again it's a secondary outpost of another restaurant in Eden."

If you are talking about the place where we were, it's an outcrop of Hải Dương. Their bún mắm is also top-notch.