Restaurants & Bars

“Purple Duck” @ Thanh Da, San Jose

Melanie Wong | Mar 9, 200302:38 AM     11

Recently I had the chance to follow-up on the “purple duck” mystery dish at the food court in Grand Century Shopping Mall, site of some chow window-shopping last summer (link below). This is actually “#2 Chao Vit, $5”, on the menu. As always, chibi’s chow sense was again proven to be impeccable. I was sorry that she couldn’t be with me.

Sadly lacking Vietnamese food vocabulary, I had no idea what type of duck (Vit) this might be and asked the cashier to describe #2 and also “#1 Chao Goi Vit (Thanh Da), $6”. She replied, “#1 with cabbage, #2 no cabbage.” I see. (g) So I decided to just go for it and not being afraid of cabbage, I ordered #1 and for good measure a plate of cut-up crullers, $1 too.

This $7 lunch turned out to be several components on separate plates that covered the whole plastic food tray. A big steaming bowl of rice porridge; a plate with a quarter duck hacked on the bone; a pile of shredded cabbage with fragrant basil, rau ram and cilantro; the fried cruller; and a dish of green dipping sauce. I had to make a second run to bring back the condiment caddy with chopped chiles and sauces.

“Chao” refers to the porridge, which is of Chinese origin but with a distinct twist. Rather than ivory white, creamy and almost glutinous like congee made of broken and burst rice, this was brothy with a looser whole rice grain. The darkish stock had an intense and concentrated porcine and duck flavor. The rice tasted nutty and somewhat toasty. Floating on top were chopped scallions and chunks of silky-textured cooked blood. Very full flavored just on its own. Later I learned that Thanh Da is the name of a restaurant in Saigon famous for its Chao Vit made from roasted rice.

Watching how the other customers tackled this dish, I tore the leaves and put the aromatic herbs into the porridge, along with some but not all the cabbage. The rest of the slaw was reserved for adding a fresh crunch to bites of the blood or duck followed by spoonfuls of porridge. The duck, cut into bony bite-size pieces and served at room temperature, was poached and well-rendered with ecru-colored skin, firmish flesh, and the faintest suggestion of 5-spice. What defined and pulled this whole thing together was the brilliantly flavored sweet/sour/spicy/salty dipping sauce. Bright green in color of coarsely chopped raw ingredients, this vibrant Vietnamese sauce verte sang of fresh jalapenos, garlic, ginger, lime juice, and other spicy and zingy elements. Essentially fresh green chili paste, it added excitement and zippy highlights to the otherwise bland duck and blood cubes. I was so taken with this new taste sensation, I didn’t make use of any of the other prepared condiments.

Other versions of Chao are available with chicken, pork, etc., advertised with their own animal-shaped signs. The cruller turned out to be oil-soaked and not very crisp, would skip this next time.

While waiting for my order, I stepped over to Verde Tea Café (reported in ChowNews #32) to get a drink. Eyeing the usual array of tapioca pearl teas and syrup names for fruit-flavored slushies, I asked which were made from fresh fruit. The counter girl recommended the Mixed Fruits Freeze, $3.25 (plus 25¢ for boba), which tasted like it was made from Granny Smith apples, oranges, banana, and pineapple. Deliciously icey and refreshing.

Btw, scanning the many tables at the food court, more than half the patrons this early afternoon were enjoying Chao Vit, clearly the favorite offering in this mall. The runner up seemed to be the Banh Xeo (Vietnamese crepe) from another stand. I’ll have to try that next time I’m in the neighborhood.

Thanh Da
1111 Story Rd., Suite 1015
San Jose

Verde Tea Café
1111 Story Rd., Suite 1021
San Jose

Both located in Vietnamese food court of Grand Century Shopping Mall (west side of building).

Link: http://www.chowhound.com/topics/show/...

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