Reyna Duong needs a moment for family meal.
Today it’s literally a family meal: On a Tuesday at high noon, she’s away from her restaurant, Sandwich Hag, after adapting the schedule to give her staff rest on Monday and Tuesday. Home is for mammoth plates of spaghetti. She’s made a plate, as she shares with us, entangled with shrimp, in the same velvet-red sauce she uses for her xíu mai.
Family meal means everything right now. On busy days of rapid service, it’s the meal the kitchen takes a moment to devour: It’s the restaurant’s moment to eat together. It might be something bright but rib-sticking, a specialty straight from the memory part of the brain. When home, especially as we isolate ourselves each day, family meal is the time to rest and shake the heavy armor of the day to the floor. The break doesn’t last long.
Chef Duong’s limited-time specialty is a pure family meal. It’s the real stuff, the gather-around-and-grab-a-fork stuff. Get a bowl when you want, share more than you need. The bánh tàm xíu mai is pork meatballs, each one glossed with Duong’s garlicky tomato sauce, sitting over sliced cucumbers, sprouts, house-blended nuoc cham (fish sauce), coconut milk, rau ram (Vietnamese coriander) and a nest of tapioca noodles. You’ll find it in limited quantities — keep an eye on Sandwich Hag’s feeds for details on when and how to order. Dallas should take notice when it’s around.
“There are so, so many Vietnamese dishes that Dallas has never even heard of or has gotten the opportunity to try, in their original form,” says the Sandwich Hag owner and chef.
“I feel deeply, that in order to honor my Má and the Vietnamese women that came before me, I need to respect our traditional dishes by giving Dallas the opportunity to try them — the way it was meant to be eaten.”
Recently, a trio of orders show up in tins with the crackly plastic lids. Sandwich Hag has enabled contactless pickup in our pandemic age. Order ahead, step in the social-distanced line, grab your bag and disappear into warming meatballs.
Everything’s hit with a salty, still-sweet coconut milk, and the tomato sauce clings to the thick-cut noodles. The plastic top has the instructions: mash up the xíu mai, mix and distribute the sauce into the noodles. Despite the drive home, everything sinks and crackles together, a rich sound of creaminess.
My personal desert island meal is a mammoth bowl of pasta and meatballs with shards of basil (tons of grated Pecorino Romano, please). Both of my parents make blindingly good, impossible to replicate versions of the marinara. They are also warrior-level meatball crafters. The aroma of pasta in marinara is a meal that sends me back and forth through time, a portal to years of family meals.
Bánh tàm xíu mai does that too — it is a meal infused with memory, gleaming tomatoes and garlic. A recent order sent me back to the Sunday dinner tables with a heaping plate full of fettucine and meatballs.
“It was even more important for me to serve this dish to Dallas, especially right now,” Duong says. “But also, I always hope to make the Vietnamese women before me proud.”
Sandwich Hag, 1902 S. Lamar St. (the Cedars). Takeout and delivery (through Favor only).
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