Banh Khot @ Ngoc Mai (SF)
A recent thread on the NAF board about getting around our fair city talked about parking as destiny sometimes in determining our dining choices. Last weekend I was on my way back to the Viet porridge place in the Tenderloin when the parking gods put me in a space in front of Ngoc Mai. Since a post on this board had recommended the Hue specialties here (http://www.chowhound.com/california/boards/sanfrancisco/messages/127224.html), I decided to try this instead.
I was thrilled to see a long list of appetizers, as well as 14 Hue dishes. Because I had porridge on the brain, I ordered Chao Vit (duck porridge, $6) instead of one of the Hue specialties. This was only fair, with a texture that reminded me of packaged cream of rice, and tough yet plentiful pieces of bony steamed duck. The rubbery and bologna-like Cha Hue (pork patty, $2) ordered as an extra accompaniment was just okay and enjoyed more the next day in a sandwich.
However, what endears me to Ngoc Mai is the glorious banh khot (8 Vietnamese mini crepes, $6). These are the fried-style rather than steamed. The crisp rims of the greasy coconut-scented shells segued to creamy custardy middles and chewy bottoms. The single curled-up shrimp in each was tender and NOT overcooked. Most had the tail shells intact but were not crisp enough to enjoy eating, so I guess thats the trade-off. The assortment of green garnishes to wrap around each morsel was great: green leaf lettuce, spearmint, peppermint, rau ram, basil, and cilantro. [Ms. Patis' recent post about mint made me more conscious about which varieties are on the plate.] The dipping sauce was a little too sweet for this dish and benefited from some extra lime juice.
What other dishes do folks like here?
Ngoc Mai Restaurant
547 Hyde St.
Monday Saturday 10-6
My wife and I went to Ngoc Mai this afternoon, the Banh Khot was pretty good, but really pales in comparison to Vung Tao's version.
The dish was sufficiently different, it was only fried, the shell was to hard, and the filling lacked this nice coconut flavor Vung Tao does so well.
My wife had Bun Rieu, which she said was OK, definitely better than Hunk Ky, but not as good as Milpitas.
I tried another Hue special, which I can't remember it's name. It actually seemed more like a Thai dish than anything else.
Overall Ngoc Mai wasn't that memorable.
Thanks for the post and pic, Melanie. The banh khot looks and sounds great. You know, it's weird, but I don't recall ever eating this before. It sounds and looks familiar but just not something my family eats. I may have had the steamed kind a long time ago.
Your mention about the bologna or cha brought back memories. My mom used to make cha. She also made another one that I'm not sure how to spell due to my pathetic Viet language skills. It sounds like "zho", rhymes w/ "raw." IIRC, cha is a bit darker w/ a leathery exterior while the other is more of an opalescent white/gray.
We sliced them and ate them btwn. toasted bread w/ tons of cracked black pepper, sliced cucumbers, maybe some cilantro. Also put it on top of banh cuon (rice flour crepes w/ meat filling) for a heartier dish.
re: Carb Lover
Glad you mentioned not eating fried banh khot before. You see, when this dish came out, the Viet-Chinese family at the table next to me craned their necks and were puzzled by what it was. They were speaking Cantonese (with a Vietnamese twang) and I could understand most of what they were saying. The father said it looked like a kind of banh xeo. Then the mother clucked her tongue and said the cups were too small, etc. They seemed so curious, I leaned over and told them the name of the dish. Then either they didn't understand me, pretty likely since I have no idea how to pronounce it correctly, or they really weren't familiar with it.
The first time I had banh khot, it was a steamed homemade version. I had a baked version in Los Gatos (link below), then a fried version at Brodard's in OC. I haven't seen it on many menus. I would order it for sure, but I've only spotted it three times. I'll have to try the place that Ms. Patis found.
I was wishing that I had you and Alice at the table. The appetizer menu at Ngoc Mai is peppered with "banh" things unknown to me. I still haven't figured out what banh translates to in English. No matter, I still get excited because I associate it with starchy, streety kind of snacks that are fun to explore.
re: Melanie Wong
It's too funny, because I too learned about banh khot from reading this board, when someone raved Vung Tau's version. I had to look it up on Google because I've eaten a lot of banh in my life but never this one.
Soon after that I slapped together a picture guide of all the different banh and brought it to the San Jose Viet Chowdown that year. If I find it at home, I'll email it to you both.
I just found the post about Vung Tau's banh khot (linked below).
Oh, and the Viet "bologna" is called gio lua, or gio for short (same gio as cha gio). I too pronounce it "zhaw", and I'm from the north. I think people from the south pronounce it "yyyaw". And yes, cha gio is fried spring rolls, but gio cha is the collective term for the various "bologna" and "deep fried patty" type meats.
And I love the mini cha my mom used to make that you reheat in the toaster oven until they puffed out into crispy, airy hot balls again. And the best is cha com, which has a type of flat sticky rice inside.
There's also cha que which has cinammon and is baked as opposed to steamed (gio) and deep fried (cha). Oops, I'm getting into General Topics.
So in the South Bay, you can get Gio Cha at most of the sandwich shops or takeout cafes, like Dakao I in downtown SJ or Dakao II in Milpitas, or Huong Lan (various locations). I don't think that Lee's sells them. The place my grand aunts like best is a deli/cafe on Story Road that I never noticed the name of, it's in a strip mall a couple blocks south of Lion, next to a pho house (oh sure big help). Sorry! I like their ruoc there also (the airy shredded meat that looks like dried belly lint, this is the salty version). And I think it's the only place I've seen cha com.
Oh, and Lion Market (and maybe also 99 ranch) sells gio cha but aren't as good.
re: Alice Patis
Thanks to you both for your posts and links. I've been to Vung Tau a couple of times a long time ago, but never had their banh khot. I've been wanting to go back since their remodel since I like their lotus root salad, but am aware of downhill reports. Green Papaya may be too Westernized for me (Los Gatos and all) and Melanie's report was mixed, but I'll keep it in mind if we don't want to drive into San Jose.
Thanks for the food lesson, Alice. I think you are def. more schooled than I am on Viet cuisine and terms. I'm the product of growing up in WA state w/ no Asian kids around but my sibs. So Melanie, you may even have more expertise than me :-)
I'm w/ you, Melanie, on loving all things "banh." In fact, anything banh always seems to have a fair amount of carbs in it, so I'm also a "banh lover." One literal translation of banh is "cake", and it's not only used in the context of food (eg, cake of soap). For me, the common denominator in food-related banh is that it typically has rice or flour in it. Other than that, it can be steamed, baked, fried, etc. Sweet or savory. Better stop here since it's veering into General Topics.
Hey Alice, please email me that banh food glossary that you pieced together if you find it. Or better yet, post it on the GT board if possible so that others can benefit. Thanks!
re: Carb Lover
Thanks for the explanation of "banh". I've found the crinkled up take-out menu in the bottom of my bag here. The other "banh" items offered are:
Banh bot luc - shrimp and pork over rice past
Banh nam - hue special wrapped rice past with pork
Banh xeo - Vietnamese crepe with pork, shrimp & bean sprout
Banh Khoai - Vietnamese crepe with pork, shrimp, egg & mushroom
Banh beo - fried shrimp & bean rice paste
Banh mi bo kho - beef stew with bread
then four flavors of Banh Yot described as Flour cake roll or Vietnamese rice wrapper, where I'm not sure if the first letter of the second word is a "y" or not in the difficult to read typeface, thit nuong, tom chay, cha lua, thit nuong & cha lua.
re: Alice Patis
Thanks for finding hao's post on Vung Tao. To complete the circle of this discussion, the first banh khot that I ever had were made by hao! I remember her saying that she had to call her mother several times in the process as she herself was not that experienced with the dish.
If you track down the name of the place on Story Road, please let us know. Below is a link to another kind of pork cold cut that Hung Vuong makes. I don't know what it's called, but it was very tasty.
re: Alice Patis
re: Alice Patis
Thanks so much for these wonderfule posts - I still remember how much we loved the Banh Khot at the old Vung Tau in San Jose. We really didn't know what we were ordering and just went off the menu descriptions. They just sounded so delicious, we had to try them. I believe they were the steamed variety. We just scarfed them up! The other dish we ordered without really knowing how great it would be was the baby lotus salad. Just a revelation. This was a couple of years ago and I've wanted to go back ever since but just haven't had the chance....
re: RWCFoodie (Karen)
Vung Tau's Banh Khot is steamed first and then fried to get this crispy shell.
There are very few places that serve this dish, so I'm glad to catch this thread, and I think we are on our way to try Ngoc Mai.
I have been to Vung Tao several times after they reponed, the food is still good, especially Banh Khot, just pricier