I read this board constantly and post recommendations rarely - being new to town, I don't feel able to comment. But every once in a while, I feel the need to give back to you kind, wonderful folk. Thus, the following story:
I myself am, while ethnically Vietnamese, about as Americanized as I come. The only cuisine I understand decently, cooking-wise, is Italian, after a long internship under two very Italian friends in Boston. I wouldn't know what to do with lemongrass if it were the last flavoring-substance on earth.
My parents, on the other hand, are, understandably experts. During their last visit to LA, we went down to Westminster for a little Vietnamese, during which I learned some fascinating culinary facts, which I will know share with you.
We went to Thanh My, which I'd heard good things about - a smallish restaurant on Bolsa a little west of Brookhurst. Upon sitting down, my mother glanced and the menu and started to fuss about the place being... I don't how how to spell it, but a think it sounds something like ngohmp.
My mother insisted that I pick what I wanted. So I ordered some canh (hot and sour fish soup), some caramelized hot pot beef, and some eel curry. We also tried to order a shrimp-on-sugarcane appetizer, the the waiter made disapproving noises and told us we'd ordered too much food. We withdrew the shrimp order. The waiter left, brought some tea, at which point my mother informed me that I'd probably ordered entirely incorrectly, except for the eel.
Apparently, explain my parents, this was a place of "ngohmp" food. This meant that it was a men's drinking saloon and eating house, with special Vietnamese drinking foods.
Says my dad: "Men, you know, they went to fight wars. During the day, they fought, and at night, they would go out with each other to places like this and nghomp. That means, they would drink hard liquors, like sake, and eat very powerful foods."
Mother: "Men didn't go out with women. The women, they stayed home, and the men loafed aroudn and drank all day."
Dad: "Well, they fought, you know? There was always a war, and they were always fighting. Anyway, in America, you eat what with liquor? Nuts?"
Mother: "Nuts and pretzels."
Me: "Also, sometimes we have jalapeno poppers. And nachos - nachos are very important."
Dad: "Vietnamese men eat very strange things with their drinks. Like eel, goat."
Mother: "It's all meat. Always, very strong meat."
Dad: "Goat, boar, venison... It's all..."
Dad: "Yes, snake, boar..."
Mother: "Goat, eel..."
So the food comes. The canh and the hot pot, normally favorites of mine, are so-so. But the eel... the eel is sensational. It's rich and deep and mysterious. The flesh is creamy and powerful, the sauce more so. It's a powerhouse, and its delectable. Probably the best eel I've had, outside of a $8 bucks a pop sushi-house unagi nigiri.
My mom and dad inform me that, by their standards, the eel dish was *excellent*, certainly the best they'd had in the States by a long shot, and if I came back to Thanh My, I should get other nghomp dishes, since that was obviously the specialty of the house.
So the upshot is, go to Thanh My, and order the weird stuff. There's a separate section for game - they carry boar, goat, and venison. And, of course, the eel.
Also, take the following warning from my mother: "If you take your Caucasian friends here, don't order the eel. The eel... it's bones are very bad. They don't get digested, you'll have to get surgery if you swallow one. Eel bones are big, so that's very hard to do, but you know Caucasians..."
So: eel bones bad. But they're huge, they stick to the spine, and you'd really have to work at it to swallow one. So I wouldn't worry that much.
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