Sunday, August 21, 2011

It's the food, the food...

Are you still with me? We are spending the day in "Little Saigon" and with good reason, I made a big deal about the food and went into a huge supermarket to make my point. Those of you who have gone to Vietnam know exactly what I'm talking about. Forget Chinese food, Thai food, even Japanese food. There is something about the scent, the arrangement, the ingredients (ah, ngoc mam, or Nước chấm in VN) of the foods in Vietnam that is more addicting than drugs. So, where are we heading?

As we drive on Bolsa, it is hard to resist entering here, due to the welcome look of the typical Asian roof design which adorns the mall's shops. And of course, the portal is also lovely, borrowing from the Chinese elevated hip rafters and half-round tiles which form the roof. This is where we will find and enter the Asian Dong Market, mentioned in my previous post, and none other than Conficious will be there to greet us.

Here is what some folks had to say about the A Dong Market on, where you can read all twenty reviews; I am only citing a few below:
Huntington Beach, CA
4 star rating
One of the best Vietnamese supermarkets around that offers cheaper prices than other Vietnamese supermarkets! A Dong is located right across from Asian Garden Mall (and in the same plaza as Seafood Cove #2), so if you go during a weekend or a special event, just forget about finding a decent parking spot. What I also like about this location is that there is a lot of walking room in the store, unlike ABC Supermarket (which is also super close to A Dong).....
4 star rating
1.  The prices are cheap as you would expect from any Vietnamese supermarket
2.  You literally will find every thing you need here to prepare any Vietnamese dish your heart desires
3.  Come here on a Friday night if you're lame like me with no plans, you will definitely appreciate that parking will be easy to find.
It's really that simple, and besides distance...not sure why anyone wouldn't go here to fullfill your Asian grocery needs.
So, going thru all the reviews, I noted the most prominent complaint to be parking availability...yes it's damned crowded, but if you read closely, Friday night affords you some breathing room. Some remarks about rude people, stinky fish and loud music in the store. Otherwise, as far as quality and variety, the reviews do rave. I just went around with my camera and started shooting those things I either loved, and/or recognized:

Who doesn't love mangoes and guavas? The insane and the uninitiated. Luckily, I can get these in New York without any problem because Goya provides most local supermarkets with their brand, but they are 20 cents more than these. To their credit, Goya has a wider selection, including Guanabana. Use these as refreshing juice with ice cubes, or as I do, blend them with other fruits for heavenly smoothies.
Noodles are as important to the Vietnamese diet as blood is to the human body. If you are a noodle, you will find yourself most likely swimming into 'pho', the most amazing soup ever made. Forget chicken noodle or anything your mother ever told you. It can be simple, as just noodles in magic liquid broth, lemongrass, and some lime on the side for extra flavor, or you can have it with beef, fish, chicken, and spring onion as in Bánh hỏi. 
The noodles also find their way into another one of Vietnam's most popular foods, Bún chả, which combines vermicelli, ground pork,with salad greens, herbs and sprouts. The variety of dishes is infinite.
The banh pho are flat rice noodles; above them you can spot yellowish colored noodles, and above that more noodles.
Ah, the magical fish sauce that gives the dishes of Vietnam that certain 'je ne sais quoi'.I have seen the exhaustive process of manufacturing this sauce, and believe me, it's extensive. It must be allowed to ferment over a certain period of time to achieve the desired flavor. The largest factory in Vietnam for this product is located in Phú Quốc.

I can proudly say that if you come to my kitchen, you will find this product in my pantry. I am never without it. Even though my Asian market in New York, as well as this one, have an entire aisle of 'white coffees, the Vinacafe brand is the one that comes closest to the authentic Vietnamese Cafe sua da, which has often been referred to as Vietnam's black gold. Forget Starbucks. This stuff ROCKS!
Dessert is a weakness I have never been able to overcome, nor do I want to. However, in Asia, as in Vietnam too, desserts are understated and so much tastier than their Western counterparts. No goo, no whipped cream, lots of fruit based delights. The very first time I had bean in dessert form was in Bali. It was almost soup-like, but tasted like angels. I've since had bean ice cream, buns with different bean paste, - my favorites are red bean, mung bean, and taro root.
There was nothing special about this frozen corn, other than its esthetics. I'm sure it was very sweet.
Oh Dear, how can I talk about Durian in a positive sense?  This fruit is gynormous, and has a smell to match. No wonder the Vietnamese name for it means 'one's own sorrows' (Sau Rieng). Think of strong cheese that has gone bad. Yet, it is one of  Vietnam's most valuable fruit. The inside is yellow, and frankly, I cannot tell you about the taste, as I have not had the courage to try it. 

These are wrappers or small pancakes if you like made of rice.  The center display brought me right back to Saigon, where Hai Ba Trung is a main street in District One, and named for the heroic Ba Trung Sisters.
The bakery section is a death sentence if you are dieting. There are buns here filled with anything you can imagine. 
There are also prepared foods you can eat on the spot or take out.

Of course, I would not remember this since I don't drink beer, but this is the brand made in Vietnam.

If you have enjoyed this little tour, then you're going to love the Cooking Tour of Vietnam that I'll be posting very shortly.

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