Pho From Home: Dishes To Fit Your Resolutions
Mi Hoanh Thanh (wonton noodle soup).
City of Ate reader, Margie, comments, "Oh, and I'd like to add that this rash of dieting talk all over the web and TV is making me sick. My resolution is to eat more and drink more and have more fun doing it. Saying 'hell' more than 'damn' is another one I think I can accomplish."
Well, Margie, I prefer the "mf" word and the politically incorrect "r" word, myself, but here's to goals!
Not that I disagree with Margie's enthusiasm for eating more and drinking more, but I do have a secret to share with my COA community: I am a fanatical, year round, not just the first two weeks of the new year, genuine gym rat.
No, not all Asians come pint sized naturally.
My compulsory dedication to working out contributed to a shocking revelation last week: The "New Year's resolution" weight loss people really do exist. Maybe it was naivete on my part, but I really thought the whole concept was a myth.
The gym at which I am a member is fairly new. A couple of months ago, the mammoth complex could have been mistaken for an abandoned warehouse. However, as I drove towards what resembled a packed movie cinaplex parking lot for my weekly step aerobics class a few days ago, I came face to face with an interesting reality that would lead to my next blog topic.
A couple of weeks ago, my nine month pregnant personal trainer, who was most likely feeling worn and sluggish, sighed, "I don't know how you can write about food and stay so small." Before everyone starts sending in the hate mail, I should let it be known that I was a fat kid. I'm not talking about being fat at an age when it's still cute, and it's still allowed. I was a fat teenager, the most horrifying years imaginably possible for one to be fat. When shown photographic evidence of my fat history, my boyfriend reacted with a "Holy shit, baby!" while my best friend reacted more subtly by spraying Coca-Cola out of her mouth.
Counting calories and exercise is what ultimately aided my weight loss, but maintenance is a different story. I lost around thirty pounds in college, but after how difficult it was to lose it, I now go into panic mode if I fluctuate even three pounds. The problem with this is? I absolutely, pornographically, love to eat.
This will never change, and I don't care to change it. When I first broached the subject joining COA with Dave, I with all seriousness wanted to name my weekly articles, "One Fat Asian."
The thing is, I know how to eat like a fat fatty without doing too much damage on my frame.
Everyone knows about pho, but there are many healthy yet satisfying dishes offered in Vietnamese cuisine. When I first moved to Vietnam, I had never in my life seen people eat so much and frequently, yet stay so slim. Restaurants and cafes would be packed at 3 p.m. for mid afternoon "snacks." I am not saying that all Vietnamese dishes are figure-friendly, but I'm saving all of that fun stuff for a few weeks from now, when all the New Year's resolution novelty wears off. In the meantime, in honor of well-intentioned weight loss hopefuls, this week's post is a review of items you might not be eating, that you should try, and that you won't regret having eaten when you're toiling away on the cardio equipment.
1.) Obviously, Goi Cuon, or spring rolls, are a very popular option in Dallas Vietnamese restaurants. However, there are different varieties of rolls that are often overlooked, including Bi Cuon and Bo Bia. Several Vietnamese restaurants offer these other types of spring rolls, different from the popular shrimp and boiled pork. Besides the vermicelli noodles and vegetables one would find in an average Goi Cuon, Bi Cuon's main ingredient is shredded pork and pork skin that is dusted with toasted peanuts and rice powder. These rolls are meant to be eaten with fish sauce opposed to peanut sauce.
My personal favorite roll, however, is the Bo Bia. Chinese sausage, crispy jicama and carrots, vermicelli noodles, scrambled eggs, and lettuce all in one rice paper wrapper; Could there be a better spring roll for a little fat girl screaming to be let out? Despite the sausage part, the great thing about spring rolls is the portion control. Order two rolls, get the satisfaction of eating tasty pork product, and live to zip up your pants another day!
Bo Bia is a tricky roll to find in Dallas, but Bi Cuon (as I was informed by my lovely friend, Susie Bui of Lumi) can be found at Vietnam Restaurant on Bryan St.
2.) Noodle soups are magical. Is there any better savory, yet healthy, dish in the winter that can keep the belly so full and warm? Americans and Vietnamese alike love pho, but as my mom says, "One cannot live on pho alone." (Aside- That Vietnamese saying is actually a really bizarre Vietnamese analogy for why many men in Vietnam have mistresses.)
Mi, Hu Tieu, Bun, and Mien all may be familiar words you have seen on the menus of your favorite Vietnamese restaurant. Mi, an egg based noodle, is the least healthy option out of all the noodle soups. But occasionally, nothing hits the spot like a Mi Hoanh Thanh, or Cantonese Wonton Noodle Soup. Like Hu Tieu, the broth in the Wonton Noodle Soup is sweeter than pho, and more garlic infused.
First Chinese Barbecue, being a Cantonese restaurant with several locations all over DFW, offers a solid rendition. However, the Haltom City and Richardson locations are the strongest, quality wise.
Hu Tieu, a pork based broth noodle soup, is also a great occasional substitution for pho. There are many variations of noodles that can be used, from clear rice to Mi egg noodles, but my favorite is the Hu Tieu Nam Vang. This is a noodle soup borrowed from Cambodia, which has pork, seafood, and clear rice noodles. In Vietnam, my favorite style of eating it is with the noodles dry and the broth on the side. In the States, however, it is all in one bowl, both noodles and the broth.
If you're lucky enough to frequent a restaurant with Mien Ga on the menu, don't overlook your good fortune. Mien Ga is a favorite for native Vietnamese because it is considered to be the purest form of chicken noodle soup. Made with chicken broth and cellophane noodles, the soup is a simplistic alternative for pho, which is heavier on the spices and sugar.
Rounding out favorites of mine includes a shout out to Bun Rieu, a vermicelli dish with crab, shrimp paste, and tomato. Finally, any noodle soup talk would be remiss without mentioning the spicy and beefy Bun Bo Hue. Beef, lemongrass, thick rice vermicelli, and chilies combine to create almost every Vietnamese person's favorite bowl of soup. As for myself, I'd take the Bun Rieu over the Bun Bo Hue, any day.
3.) Goi or Vietnamese salads are great options for when you tire of the daily Cobb, Caesar, or House salad grind. Diverse selections include chicken, duck, and papaya with beef jerky. My personal favorite is the Goi Ngo Sen, Vietnamese salad with sweet shrimp, tender pork, and crunchy lotus stems.
4.) Chao Tom or Nem Nuong would be the equivalent to a Vietnamese Atkins diet. Chao Tom is a shrimp paste wrapped around a piece of sugar cane, then grilled. Nem Nuong is Chao Tom's less subtle cousin, made of fatty ground pork rolled into a ball, then grilled on skewers. Both can be eaten in a bowl with vermicelli noodles, but a carb free version can be eaten by wrapping both in lettuce and garnishing with various Vietnamese herbs and vegetables, then dipped in fish sauce. Not a carb harmed.
And I lied earlier. Over the holidays, I actually put on my customary winter five pounds. OK, seven.
In the meantime, I will be taking it off slowly, and I will be eating well while doing so.
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