Warning; When you buy your Vietnamese snacks at Ba Le, make SURE you put them in the trunk of your car. That way, when you get caught in traffic on the way home, you won't have ingested so much dried squid that your stomach explodes!!!!
On the way home from lunch today(more about that later), I stopped in at Ba Le Bakery on Dorchester Ave, where the banh mi, and Vietnamese street food available at Thai Binh Market is born...Last time there, I had noticed big jars full of pickled mango and I wanted to investigate...
Luckily, it was quiet, and two women waiting in line for sandwiches gave me a friendly orientation..There are two kinds, pickled, and pickled with chili peppers ("Little spicy!")..These aren't Indian style pickles, with the oils and spices, but that sweet-tart Asian kind of brine that is used on banh mi pickles...So, you take your pickles out of the huge jar, put them in zip-locks, and pay $6.95 a pound..But, as they clued me in, you have to take some of the spicy, pink, coarse grained salt to dip them into....OMIGOD! I have had these in little foil packets before (for, like $2 an ounce...) but these blew them away..Firm, juicy but not watery, the brine sems to take some of the moisture out, a little acidy, the barest hint of sweetness...And the one with the chilis; a nice lingering spice..But that sour,spicy salt was a flavor I'd put on any fruit, and be happy! There were also pickled tamarind pods, which I'll go back for...
The jar furthest back held flat strips of something dried, also involving chilis...
"Squid, you eat when you drink beer."
Well, okay, that sounds quite appealing! Again, I love those little expensive packets of squid jerky, but these were nice, bookmark-sized ribbons, kinda chopped and flattened, so it didn't get caught in your teeth, and take forever to chew...Mixed with enough salt to set off the mild chili taste, and a hint of sugar,these killed me on the way home. I couldn't stop...And it was too early to drink beer on a work day....BTW, these guys were $12.95 a pound, but do you realize how LITTLE dried squid weighs????
I had to save some of them, so all I could do was sample the dried anchovies, or gourami fish, i had also bought...Similar to Thai and Korean varieties, but drier, they seemed baked, with maybe a litle flour and sesame seeds..The flavor of the fish was more pronounced, in a good way, and it combined perfectly with the sweetness and nuttiness of the seame seeds ...Ah, visions of Tsing Tsao were dancing in my head!
When my lunch date blew me off today, I had taken a little excursion to Dorchester to check out the Banh Mi place that Eric Eto recommended, Hau Giang..The banh mi board is all in transliterated Vietnamese, but there was no fish or tofu on the menu...However, when they got over the fact that I WANTED tofu on mine, they whipped it rignt up. The verdict, very good, everything nice and fresh, tofu creamy in the middle, fried on the outside, whole Thai bird chilis. Bread a little pillowy. It had a nice texture, but it was so big itoverwhemed things a little.. Mix Bakery is still #1, in my book, for tofu, but there were SO many meat variations, and even chicken, from what I could tell, that I suggest you carnivores walk over there with a couple of friends and a $20 bill and order one of each.
The place WAS a little meat intensive. I got a Bun Rieu, to go, and when I got it home, I discovered that the crab-balls were really porky, and there were some large joints of what looked to be leg'o'pig, so I took a pass on that, but I'm sure SOME hounds(and you know who you are!!!) will be sorry they settled for Speed's Hot Dogs today...(g) It seemed very "Homestyle", and was wonderfully packaged with a bag full of sprouts, greens and cucumber shavings, as well as cilantro garnished vermicelli...Sigh...Hey, when you're a veggie hound, you sometimes strike out...Man, and they were SO impressed that I could SAY "bun rieou", too! Anybody in the nabe, come on over and pick up some pig's foot soup!