At My Lan and Hiep Thai Market, Suburban Strip-Mall Magic

Go for the jackfruit, stay for the pho. Oh, and bring your own beer.

Convincing devoted urbanites to venture to Garland can be a hard sell, no matter how hungry they are. The endless concrete pavement and strip malls, all heavily guarded by expansive parking lots, aren't inviting for exploration, especially when polished ethnic eateries lurk inside the loop. But culinary adventurers willing to brave the bad traffic and even worse sight lines can be rewarded for their suburban sleuthing.

Especially if they find themselves in the Hiep Thai Market, just off Jupiter Road. Waiting inside the Asian market are massive and prickly jackfruits positioned next to pungent durian that leak a sweet, musky odor. Elsewhere in the produce section are obscure Asian herbs: lemony, mint-like shiso, Thai basil and Vietnamese coriander.

There's a sizable fish counter with lobsters and fish — some living, some not — alongside frozen and dried sea creatures. There's balut, an embryonic egg delicacy that I've not yet gathered the courage to try. (They come in duck or chicken; when I succumb, I'll probably go with duck.) There are also full-grown whole birds, with or without their heads but always with their feet, prized for the flavor and texture they add to a home-made chicken stock.

Sara Kerens

Details

My Lan Shrimp Paste $7.95 Grilled Pork $6.50 Combination Pho $6 Hu Tiu Trieu Chau $6.75 Banh Canh $5.75-$6.75 Vermicelli Bowls $5.50-$7.25

Even if you're not shopping for exotic ingredients to cook with, it's enlightening to walk the aisles, which are loaded with foreign fragrances and 50-pound bags of rice. It's also where you'll pick up a six-pack before sneaking through the adjacent battered shopping mall, past the nail salon and barber shop, to My Lan.

A clean, expansive Vietnamese restaurant, My Lan allows its patrons — encourages, in fact — to BYOB. Most Asian restaurants limit your choices: Sapporo, Tiger, Tsing Tao, etc. With BYOB your options can be limitless, cheap or both. I went cheap on my first visit, strolling in with a Chinese lager and settling in for appetizers.

"Have you rolled with rice paper before?" my waitress asked.

Of course I had. But never while under the inspection of an expert. My integrity, my very reputation as a culinary journalist, was on the line.

I dipped a papery-thin, translucent wafer into a bowl of warm water. I felt it immediately give way, eventually wilting into a wet, almost rubbery skin that clung to my fingers.

Mistakenly undaunted, I took two sticks of chao tom, a shrimp paste, and added them to a roll that already contained a slice of cucumber, a shredded and very lightly pickled daikon and carrot, a tangle of noodles and a shiso leaf.

"No, no, only one," she instructed.

Han Nguyen, my 21-year-old server, had only worked at My Lan a few months. Apparently she helps out when she's not busy as an exchange student. She was ultra curious about the only diner on a quiet Sunday evening. She was ultra helpful, too. She pointed to the garnish plate, where I'd overlooked bean sprouts, and then back to my rice paper. Soaked a fraction of a second too long, it was now a crumpled, sticky mass.

I surrendered. Nguyen was clearly aching to show me how to properly construct the Vietnamese rolls, and it was obvious a short demonstration wouldn't hurt. She grabbed a rice paper, quickly floated it through the bowl and handed it to me. It was still firm but continued to wilt while I worked, a much easier task this time. I added the other ingredients from my first spent roll and folded the results into a haphazard cylinder, dipping the fat cigar into a fish sauce lightly sweetened with sugar and coconut juice.

The slightly salty shrimp paste that anchored my crudely rolled contraption isn't the fermented ingredient used to flavor Asian curries. Instead it's a sort of shrimp mousse, tantamount to shrimp in a blender ramped up with fish sauce, garlic and other seasonings. The paste is formed into cakes, fried and cut into strips that resemble prawn-flavored french fries. Paired with fresh vegetables, chewy rice paper, fragrant herbs and pungent fish sauce, they form the perfect balance of savory, salty and sweet — a fresh, reasonably healthy appetizer that's as fun to construct as it is to eat.

If pulverized shrimp isn't your thing, you can order the same snack with grilled pork, grilled beef or meat patties. Make note of each ingredient as you try them; you'll see the same meats elsewhere on the menu at My Lan, which, like many Vietnamese restaurants, reuses finished ingredients more than once.

Speaking of re-use: Dan Bui, a multi-generation restaurateur, is re-using a successful restaurant model with My Lan. The original My Lan opened in 1996 in Fort Worth, where wife Nguyet Nguyen, mother Qui and brother Michael earned a reputation for serving simple, non-fussy food to a mostly Vietnamese customer base. Bui says that original location does a brisk business, but his new location, opened in February, still has a smaller following.

On my quiet Sunday evening, after that intense rice paper session, I was joined by a second table, a couple, while Bui helped me navigate his menu and football played on a single flat-screen. He was out from the kitchen to make sure his waitress had taken my order properly. I'd requested three dishes, a lot for a single diner. After talking, we decided that I'd follow up my Chao Tom with a hot bowl of Pho and a Korean BBQ rib served with fried rice — Bui's favorite.

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4 comments
Travelersb
Travelersb

So what's the address? or at least a cross street?

Richard Buferd
Richard Buferd

Nice article. Though I live in Uptown, I work in Garland and consider the adventure I find in exploring the abundance of Vietnamese restaurants a perk that balances out the 30 minute commute.

Jindo02003
Jindo02003

My Lan restaurant is in garland, you can go there to try a very good Vietnamese food and I sure that you will never regret for it. I recommend you try number 23 ( vermicelli with bean curd, grill pork and eggrolls) or #77. They also have a good dessert.

 
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