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Feb 17, 2009 01:07 PM

Vietnamese Snack Food Crawl in San Jose - Report

In this thread, I asked about ideas for a food road trip to the Peninsula/San Jose....
had lots of responses, and here's what we ended up doing:

Our road trip developed into a bit of a Vietnamese snack-food crawl through San Jose, instead of the original plan of Afghan or Persian. But it was a huge success nonetheless.

We wanted to go to Salang Pass, but it was closed for lunch on Mondays, so the initial plan was to go to the Grand Century Mall first, then eventually head to Shalizaar on the way back. But by the time we got to Grand Century, we were pretty hungry and intrigued by lots of things, so we ended up just doing most eating in San Jose.

We started at the food court - shared an order of banh khot from that stand, and a chicken salad from another stand. I didn't think either were as good as their equivalents at my favorite Vietnamese places in SF, but they were both pretty tasty. The banh khot seemed to be made only with egg whites (they were white, not yellow) and didn't taste super coconutty to me. The chicken salad was chicken on the bone, which I didn't love - but the gingery dressing was really good, and is different than most Vietnamese chicken salad that I've had.

We shared a few drinks - sugarcane juice w/ kumquat, lemonade, peach/mango smoothie. All quite good. We also really enjoyed the green mochi from the dessert stand - filled w/ coconut, mung bean or taro - I think we all agreed coconut was best, and I brought a few home w/ me as well.

After these snacks, we walked around the mall - we stopped at the candy/dried goods shop and tried some jerky samples - three of us ended up buying the deer jerky. I think it's great! sfbing describes it well - I can pick up lots of flavors in there, including some lemongrass, definitely also sesame, a bit of, and most other jerkys, were 8 dollars per lb. The woman working there seemed happy to give out samples - I also tried pickled mango which I didn't really like. Friends got dried banana, and also some lemon ginger candy.

The kitchen/restaurant supply store was fun. They sell cast iron banh khot frying pans for $10.99. We didn't buy one, but thought about it. How easy is it to make banh khot?

Next we went to the bakery near the front entrance (Grand Century Bakery?). They were making bright green pandan leaf waffles (green seemed to be the theme of the day in this mall) and I bought one. Very tasty, and nice to eat it fresh from the waffle iron. Friends bought more mochi here, which I thought were too goopy texture-wise, but they liked them.

Already feeling half-full, we decided that a short banh-mi crawl would round out the trip. So we looked on chowhound quickly and went to two spots that are recommended for banh mi - located in diagonally opposite strip malls at the corner of Tully and King.

We first went to Huong Lan Sandwiches, where we had 1 BBQ pork and 1 Grilled Pork. Both $2.50. I liked both sandwiches, certainly as good (if not better) than any I've had in SF. The BBQ pork was cold, and cut thin, so I didn't taste too much flavor...I liked the grilled pork better, and I liked that this sandwich came w/ chopped peanuts and fried garlic on top too. I also had a hot Lipton tea for 50 cents.

Next we went over to Kim's Sandwiches, where we shared 1 charcoaled pork sandwich. I thought this was slightly less good than the grilled pork sandwich at Huong Lan, but still tasty. Also $2.50. I also bought some sticky rice and banana sweets, which I ate tonight - pretty good, though not the best I've ever had. I also bought sticky rice w/ pork but I haven't opened that one yet.

This was the end of our visit to San Jose. However, on the way home, we made a stop in San Carlos for some yogurt at Harmony!

I liked this place - the yogurt is all organic Strauss Dairy, and they had good topping selection. We sampled all flavors - blueberry, blackberry, plain. I thought all were good. I had blueberry w/ mochi. Others had plain yogurt w/ a very good homemade tasting raspberry sauce. I'd definitely return to this yogurt place if I am in the area.

Thanks everyone for suggestions - perhaps there will still be Taiwanese, Persian and Afghan road trips in the near future.

Dave MP

P.S. On the way in and out of the mall, we passed a fruit stand set up in the parking lot. There they were selling fresh jackfruit, rambutan and mangosteens! Nothing was cheap, so we didn't buy, but we did see other people purchasing fruit there. I think a bag of 4-5 mangosteens was $15.

Kim's Sandwiches
1816 Tully Rd 182, San Jose, CA 95111

Huong Lan Sandwiches
1655 Tully Rd, San Jose, CA 95122

Harmony Frozen Yogurt
1226 Arroyo Ave, San Carlos, CA 94070

Grand Century Shopping Mall
1001 Story Rd, San Jose, CA

Century Bakery
1111 Story Rd, San Jose, CA

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  1. Great report Dave! Love Grand Century Mall. Haven't been in quite a while but had the banh khot the last time I was there and loved them. Maybe they've gone downhill, hope not...

    Hope this doesn't get me bumped to the Home Cooking Board: You asked how easy they are to make: there was an article in the Chron a few years ago that inspired me to give it a try - see this link:

    The link to the photo on Flikr doesn't work anymore but my avatar is a photo I took of my results...

    1. I knew the deer jerky would win out, as soon as sfbing posted.

      I do love Harmony. I know some people prefer Fraiche in Palo Alto, but Harmony is my idea of what frozen yogurt should be: tart and unadulterated.

      1. I was crawling along with David for this trip. Here are some of my impressions...

        Harmony surprised me because I very rarely (actually: never before) stray from the straight plain yogurt flavor. Every iteration of fruit I've tried at every Pinkberry-imitator in San Francisco has been too sweet and cloying or too artificial tasting. So I was surprised that I very much liked the blueberry flavor here, which I got with mochi and graham cracker bits. Delicious.

        On Huong Lan versus Kim's, Huong Lan is a full service deli, with some steam table specials, a seating area and many sorts of packaged goods. Kim's was a little counter inside a strip mall with no seating area. Also, we were past prime lunch time, so I wonder if that affected the meat there--I think it was around 2 by the time we arrived at Kim's; Huong Lan was still bustling so it's possible our ingredients were fresher.

        I agree with David that the banh khot hat the food court had less flavor than versions I've tried in San Francisco (my favorites is Lotus Garden, where they are not on the menu but can be requested, and Yummy Yummy), but they were nicely crispy.

        Deer jerky coated in sesame seeds was very much like jerky I ate in Luang Prabang, Lao this past fall, so I brought some back with me. The other big win was the coconut mochi at the juice/shake/dessert stand at the mall food court (different than the bakery mochi Dave complains about)--I was there to get a lemonade when the Vietnamese couple in front of me recommended them. We tried all three flavors and liked them, but coconut was fresh, not too sweet and had a lovely texture--chewy without being gummy.

        1. Hey Dave-

          Was the grilled pork at Huong Lan a formed and sliced grilled meat? That is what it usually is when I get it. I love the peanuts and garlic aspect, but wish the meat were just straight actual grilled pork. I didn't notice it until halfway through my first sandwich there, but if you didn't notice, next time take a closer look.

          Kim's grilled pork can be pretty good to very good, but there is variation. Many times the BBQ pork has very good flavor at Kim's and isn't as non-descript as Huong Lan's. Also, Kim's is a super friendly mom and pop style place.