My 1st Taste of Vietnam

This past Wednesday afternoon, my good friend and fellow foodie Peter Ferriero (who is also an amazing filmmaker and videographer) and I went to a little Vietnamese restaurant at 212 Main Street in Fort Lee, NJ called Mo’ Phở.  This was my first entrance into Vietnamese culture and cuisine.  I was excited to say the least.  I have heard a lot about phở from watching Anthony Bourdain on his jaunts into Southeast Asia. 

Upon entering, I felt like I stepped into a restaurant in Saigon.  The clientele was mostly Asian, however, the two front of the house staffers were Caucasian and Hispanic, which brought me back to reality.  We were told we could sit anywhere we would like.  We chose a four top next to the wall.  We were presented with our menus and a basket full of rice cakes, which was served with a sweet, vinegar based sauce with shredded carrot. 

Since this was my first experience, I followed Peter’s lead.  Let me tell you, he knows his stuff when it comes to this cuisine.  Peter asked if they served Bánh mì, which are Vietnamese-style sandwiches.  The waiter said no, so we went with the phở, which is a noodle soup that is either beef or chicken based.  We each ordered a bowl of phở with the beef combo, which included tender strips of beef, sliced meatballs (they were definitely not your Nonna’s meatballs) and delicious tendons.  Peter added tripe to his bowl.  I played it conservative this go-round. 

We also ordered an appetizer of gỏi cuốn or summer rolls, which are rice paper wraps filled with rice noodles, fresh mint, lettuce, julienned cucumbers, carrots and your choice of vegetable, shrimp, chicken, duck, pork or beef.  We chose the duck.  These summer rolls were served with a sauce called tương xào, which was subtly sweet and tasted of garlic, peanuts and tamarind.  The summer rolls came out relatively quick.  They were tasty.  The duck was a nice touch.  But the sauce really made the flavors of these rolls stand out. 

Before the phở came out, the waiter placed a plate of bean sprouts, limes, sliced jalapenos and a sprig of mint on our table. 

Shortly after that, the phở came to the table.  The soup was hot but not boiling.  Before adding the condiments on the table, I tasted a spoonful of the unadulterated soup.  My initial response was that it was sweet, a flavor profile I am not used to in a broth based soup.  I brought this observation to Peter’s attention.  He agreed that it was sweeter than what he had in the past at other restaurants.  I then proceeded to doctor the soup up with the mint, jalapenos, lime and bean sprouts.  There was also soy sauce, Sriracha (a Thai hot sauce) and a bottle with a sweet sauce on our table.  I added a bit of each to enhance the flavor of the soup.  The phở also contained rice noodles, sliced red onion and scallions.  All of these components made for a very nice combination.  My only beef (no pun intended) with the phở was the meatballs.  They were definitely like nothing I have eaten before.  Being Italian-American, I have grown up eating our version of meatballs.  There is a big difference between what I am used to and what was in my bowl.  The Vietnamese style meatballs in my phở were actually quite tough.  Not that they were bad, but they were prepared in a way that I am unfamiliar with.

My first encounter with Vietnamese cuisine was a good stepping stone into my continual expansion of my culinary horizons.  For this step, I have to thank my pal, Peter.  I look forward to many more forays in the cuisines of Asia, in particularly Southeast Asia.  My appetite is whet, so now I am ready to continue eating.  I can’t wait to try Bánh mì!  Keep eating and expanding your own culinary horizons.  “Chúc mọi người ăn ngon miệng”, which translates to “Enjoy”!

Living to eat,
Tony Mangia


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