Thursday, April 30, 2015
It was the 40th anniversary of the Fall of Saigon (or the unification of Vietnam, depending on where you sit) and I decided to mark the occasion with some Vietnamese noodles. The event that ended the war nobody loved had a salubrious side effect hereabouts: the enriching of the Bay Area's cuisine by an influx of Vietnamese immigrants who brought their food with them. San Francisco may not be San Jose, the city with the largest Vietnamese population outside of Vietnam itself, but our city contains well over 50 sit-down Vietnamese restaurants within its borders, not to mention countless banh mi shops. The victor in the Vietnam War may have gotten the spoils, but we got the pho.
For my commemoration I chose Tuyet Mai, my favorite Vietnamese mom 'n' pop restaurant and one of the gems of the Tenderloin. The symbolism was appropriate, too; the owners are from Hue which, though technically part of what was South Vietnam, is very close to the part of Vietnam's narrow waist where the two halves of the Republic were sewn together. For my noodles, I was leaning toward one of the Hue beef soups I have yet to try, but with the weather trending toward a very toasty 90° F, I decided to go with the lighter bun mang vit, duck with bamboo shoots noodles.
Bun mang vit is listed on Tuyet Mai's menu in the Hue specialties category, but it is easy to see it as popular in any part of Vietnam, and having analogues throughout SE Asia. It could have come from a Hakka or Chaozhou inspiration, and the duck and bamboo shoot combination is a familiar one as far north as Shanghai, albeit with fresh bamboo shoots.
one of Hai Ky Mi Gia's duck legs!)
There seemed to be a minimal amount of bamboo shoot slices, probably intentionally, as the dried version tends to flavor the broth much more aggressively (and with a different profile) than fresh bamboo. The bun mang vit also came with a little side dish of Nuoc mam gung, a rather sweet but pungent ginger fish dipping sauce. Tuyet Mai's version had three jalapeno slices floating in it, which eventually found their way into my soup. Topping the soup were crispy fried shallots, onion, garlic, and flavorful Vietnamese greens which I have yet to learn to recognize, but greatly appreciate.
In the end it's duck soup, which you might expect to be a comfort food, but that implies blandness, and Tuyet Mai's broth is far too sharp to be considered bland. On top of that, the work required to get the meat off the bone will keep you from getting too comfortable there.
Where slurped: Tuyet Mai, 547 Hyde St., San Francisco
Thursday, April 23, 2015
I fully intended to treat myself to some rustic Xinjiang wheat noodles today, and headed for the coming Tenderloin Uyghur restaurant called either Herembeg or Eden, depending on which part of the awning you look at. A stray reference to "today" in this Chowhound thread gave me the misapprehension that it was already open, but no dice. Or dice-shaped "ding ding" noodles, either. My disappointment was short-lived, however. Nearby Kyu3 Noodles & BBQ had a treat in store for me.
I did some more research on my Galaxy Tab while my dish was being prepared. The full name for the dish, whattya know, is khanom jeen nam ngiao. As mentioned on my last post, "khanom jeen" is a generic term for almost any curry-like soup made with fresh or fermented rice noodles, with a wide variation in stocks and ingredients throughout Thailand. The nam ngiao variant is known principally in northern Thailand; Tammy is from Chiang Mai and the chefs are from the North as well, so it figures they'd jump at the chance to bring forth a proper version.
Tammy said they had enough ngiao blossoms left for another batch of nam ngiao, and promised to post an announcement on Kyu3's Facebook page when she did -- I made her swear to it.
I'll be there.
Where slurped: Kyu3 Noodles & BBQ, 337 Jones St., San Francisco
Tuesday, April 14, 2015
I've been promising myself to break away from my Southeast Asia exporations and go for a bowl of hearty hand-made Chinese wheat noodles, but a glance at my calendar tells me it it's Songkran, the New Year festival for Thailand and some other parts of SEA. Songkran (and Thingyan in Burma) includes a water-splashing festival, patently impractical during California's present drought, so I decided to honor the New Year with a bowl of Thai Noodles, and had one in mind, Kanom Jeeen at Tycoon Thai, simply because I had never had a bowl of noodles with that name before.
Kanom Jeen is in the "Friend's Requested" section of Tycoon Thai's menu, which I think is a cute way of saying "House Specialties," meaning The Real Stuff. It's described on the menu as "Vermicelli noodle topped with a brothy curry of chicken (optional pork blood) served with bean sprout, long bean and cabbage. Try it with boiled egg, Add $2."
A little after-the-fact research via Wikipedia and a Google image search taught me that "Kanom Jeen" is a generic Thai term for almost anything made with fresh or fermented rice noodles and a broth (often, but not always, curry-flavored) and that there are any variants of the dish. Confirming my suspicion, the Lao dish Khao Poon (the "Lao laksa") which I had previously enjoyed at Maneelap Srimongkoun, can be considered a Northeastern (Isan) Thailand variant of Kanom Jeen. Simply put, kanom jeen is apparently what Isan Thai people (which Tycoon Thai's owners are) call the same dish the Lao people call khao poon.
Overall, I wouldn't kick either bowl of noodles off my table.
Where slurped: Tycoon Thai, 620 O'Farrell St., San Franciso
Saturday, April 4, 2015
A restaurant named for a Japanese number with a menu designed to have an "Asian-Caucasian" (owner's own phrase) appeal would seem to be the last place to look for a bowl of Thai Boat Noodles rivaling local benchmark Zen Yai Thai's for authenticity. Then again, it would also seem to be an unlikely place to find Sukhothai noodles on the menu, and it was exactly that which drew me to Kyu3 Noodles & BBQ for my first visit. If Kyu3 was capable of delivering a bowl of Sukhothai noodles that could stand with those of Amphawa Thai Noodle House (the only other place in San Francisco I know of that serves them), I figured they might also produce an authentic and satisfying bowl of boat noodles. I was not disappointed.
It's been a while since I've had Zen Yai Thai's boat noodles, and there it's always been a mix of small bowls of beef boat noodles, pork boat noodles an tom yum noodles; it's difficult to directly compare my single large bowl of boat noodles today at Kyu3 with my ZYT experience, other than to report enjoying a similar intensity of flavors and satisfying variety of textures in my soup at both venues. Kyu3's broth was rich, smooth and peppery, with strong vegetal notes, especially from some pleasantly aggressive cilantro. It was amply stocked with properly firm bun-like thin rice noodles, and pork of three distinct texture gradients: pate-like meatballs, chewy offal, and crunchy cracklings. It's a bowl I'll soon to get back to, despite the seemingly endless variety of other Asian noodle dishes out there waiting to be explored.
Kyu3's Facebook page, at least for the weekly specials, which are identified in Thai (both script and transliteration) as well as English -- along with some mouthwatering pictures.
In a nutshell, don't let the Pan-Asian veneer fool ya; you'll not get dumbed-down stuff here.
Where slurped: Kyu3 Noodle & BBQ, 337 Jones St., San Francisco