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I might be ready for Vietnamese but I think I need your help...

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So, I just had my first banh mi and I loved it. I also had a bite of some beef/noodle thing my friend got from a food truck and liked it. I want to explore more Vietnamese dishes, can anyone recommend a great place for a novice? Preferably Hollywood (east or west) area. I love vinegar but am not great with heat. And PS, I don't eat seafood of any kind. Thanks!

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  1. LA - no real advice for where, but I LOVE VN food! if soup sounds good then Pho (often pronounced fuh) is what you may want. usually beef based but there all kinds of variations. mostly a complex noodle broth served with a side plate of stuff to let you make it as spicy as you want or not.

    another gateway dish is 'Bun Thit Nuong' (grilled pork on rice vermicelli) often served with a small side of cha gio (crispy rolls) as a special combo.

    if you want something light and cool, don't skip the Summer rolls - bi cuon or goi cuon chay (soft rice paper rolls not fried, think a handheld salad.

    1. Head to the SGV or to Van Nuys (Pho So 1)?

      1. Stay away from the pho places in Koreatown. It'll give you the wrong impression of Vietnamese.

        1. Are you opposed to eating fish, or do you just not really like it? A lot of Vietnamese foods come with (or are dressed with) a fish sauce vinaigrette. Nong La on Sawtelle in West LA (hey other Chowhounds, are there places like this in the Hollywood area?) offers basic Vietnamese dishes (banh mi, pho, bun bo Hue, vermicelli noodle bowls, rice bowls, etc) that may ease you into Vietnamese flavors than would a more authentic Vietnamese restaurant, and you can request a vegetarian "fish" sauce in case you're looking to avoid eating fish altogether.

          17 Replies
          1. re: phamschottler

            I've found that while fish sauce as a marinade imparts a certain flavor in the cooked food, really no fish flavor.

            1. re: phamschottler

              Not opposed, just really, really hate. So much so that if I accidentally ordered something with a fish sauce it would probably be the last time I try vietnamese food again :) What would a vegetarian fish sauce taste like? I think I really need to start with some basic stuff.

              1. re: schrutefarms

                If you really, really hate fish sauce then I don't think you have any sort of realistic future with Vietnamese food.

                1. re: Tripeler

                  I was skeptical about fish sauce but I love it. Favorite condiment for almost everything. Left over Chinese. Steak. Fruit and chili salsa. Don't fear

                  1. re: Tripeler

                    I've never had fish sauce. I just know I hate fish.

                    1. re: schrutefarms

                      Usually fish sauce does not have an overly distinct fish taste, rather sweet and vinegar. The fishiness, is overabundant in the aroma department however.

                      1. re: A5 KOBE

                        I've never had fish sauce that was vinegary. Agree with Tripeler, if you really, really hate fish sauce, you have no real future with Vietnamese food.

                        It doesn't have to have shellfish (there are all types of fish sauce). It really isn't "fishy", unless you smell it.

                        1. re: JThur01

                          Sweet salty tangy and nice w raw jalapeño in or on stuff. I agree not vinegary but pungeant.

                          1. re: jessejames

                            Fish sauce (vinaigrette, not straight-from-the-bottle fish sauce) is super salty, savory, and sweet. It has a pungency not unlike vinegar, and you might not even notice the fishiness. In fact, schrutefarms, I was wondering if you've already had it in one of your dishes and wasn't aware of it. It's a very nice complement to other Vietnamese flavors, so if you just disregard that there might be small amounts of fish in your food, you might really enjoy Vietnamese cuisine. I'd say, stick to dishes like Vietnamese egg rolls, pork spring rolls, rice and noodle bowls, and have a few more banh mis to get better acquainted with the flavors. When you start craving it more often, then move on crazier stuff.

                            1. re: phamschottler

                              I'd allow that fish sauce may smell like old dead socks left in an unused cooler for a few weeks, but not fishy. and that rankness used in a marinade cooks off and leaves the food with a whole new profile. but no taste of fish.

                              not sure if this thread will win you over or send you further into the shadows:
                              http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/4422...

                              1. re: hill food

                                Agree w/ all the other posters that fish sauce doesn't really tasty "fishy."

                                To the OP, give it (the dishes containing it, not the sauce alone) a try. What's the worst that can happen?

                    2. re: Tripeler

                      Might as well amend the statement to "southeast asian food"

                      1. re: ns1

                        Plenty of Indonesian dishes don't use fish sauce/terasi.

                        1. re: BuildingMyBento

                          We got like what, 4 Indonesian restaurants in SoCal?

                          Fair point though.

                          1. re: ns1

                            There seemed to be plenty, as in more than 4, in Gardena when I was there a couple weeks ago.

                            1. re: Dirtywextraolives

                              Waddya know. I learned something today.

                               
                    3. re: schrutefarms

                      Not near you but Saigon Dish in Lawndale does many very good vegetarian dishes. It's a wonderful neighborhood place too.

                  2. Did you have a bad experience with fish to come to this hatred of it?

                    1. When the weather gets hotter, try Bun (a cold noodle salad). The salad has lots of fresh herbs and the dressing is light but flavorful (not fishy at all!)

                      It's a lovely choice in the summer.

                      2 Replies
                      1. re: happybaker

                        The accompaniment to most cold bun is nuoc mam (the diluted version), so if the OP is apprehensive about fish sauce the OP is destined for fail. Bun without fish sauce is like salad without dressing.

                        1. re: ns1

                          But it's REALLY diluted.

                          Then when tossed with the noodles, fresh herbs and a protein? There is no fish, just sauce : )

                      2. GAH!!! I just want to try Vietnamese food! And I don't like fish! Are the two things mutually exclusive??

                        14 Replies
                        1. re: schrutefarms

                          they're not at all mutually exclusive, just don't confuse the taste of fish sauce with fish, by the time it's refined it has only the source ingredient in common and by then it's just a slightly tangy/salty condiment.

                          plenty of other things on most menus than fish.

                          1. re: hill food

                            PLEASE tell me what those things are and where to find them. That was the point of this post!

                            1. re: schrutefarms

                              go for the grilled pork or chicken, 'Bun Thit Nuong'; 'Bun Ga Nuong'; 'Bun Bo Nuong' (beef) - and there are always tofu versions and ones on rice instead of rice vermicelli. fish and shellfish just jack up the price anyway.

                              I can't tell you where to go in LA, but stick to the grilled things served over rice or noodle (and fried or fresh rolls - can't miss those) for now and let the rest come later.

                              1. re: hill food

                                Hey schrutefarms, sorry to cause any chaos with the mention of fish sauce. I just wanted to make sure you didn't have a fish allergy because there can be trace amounts of fish/ fish oils in Vietnamese food. But you won't be able to detect it (I HATED fish as a kid, and I NEVER knew when I was eating fish sauce). Try places like Blossom, Gingergrass, and Nong La. Ask your server about ingredients if you're curious; these places should be accommodating (or at least informative).

                              2. re: schrutefarms

                                You really need to have some fish sauce and tell us how you feel. The potential problem is most non-fish dishes (even the ones hill food suggested) STILL use fish sauce as a condiment.

                                1. re: ns1

                                  So totally do NOT do this schrutefarms. Sorry ns1, I don't want to start a fight, but while it would be interesting to see what the OP says about fish sauce, I was super finicky about fish before, and this would have ruined me for Vietnamese food. Ignore the idea of fish sauce. Try the food. Let us know what you think, especially after several meals.

                            2. re: schrutefarms

                              One of the features of Vietnamese food is that it is expected for you to customize your email. Fish sauce is just one of the accompaniments that they will bring to your table. You don't need to add them if you don't want to.

                              Different dishes will come with different spices and flavorings. For example, if pho (noodle soup) and banh mi typically do not have fish sauce. Pho often comes with basil, lemon, bean sprouts, chili paste, or hoisin sauce.

                              Some dishes may be cooked with fish sauce. In that case, it will not taste fishy. Instead, the flavor is quite complex, as others have noted. You probably won't even recognize it if it was used in cooking your food. I generally don't add additional fish sauce to my orders.

                              If you are hesitant to try fish sauce *as an add-on*, try any of the following dishes:

                              These are usually easy to find:

                              Grilled beef/pork/chicken with broken rice
                              Grilled beef/pork/chicken with vermicelli
                              Lemongrass chicken/beef
                              Cha gio (fried rolls)
                              Pho tai

                              These are a bit more harder to find:

                              Seven courses of beef
                              Thit Kho (braised pork with eggs)
                              Banh hoi
                              Nem nuong (grilled pork)
                              Banh xeo (ask them to cook without shrimp)

                              Some are regional specialties, so some places would make it better than others.

                              1. re: raytamsgv

                                Grilled beef/pork/chicken with broken rice
                                Grilled beef/pork/chicken with vermicelli
                                Cha gio (fried rolls)
                                Pho tai
                                Seven courses of beef
                                Banh hoi
                                Banh xeo (ask them to cook without shrimp)
                                -----------------------
                                Eating all this w/o fish sauce is like eating salad without dressing. You COULD do it, but dear god WHY.

                                Agree OP should find pho or nem nuong. Brodard and whatnot.

                                1. re: raytamsgv

                                  > One of the features of Vietnamese food is that it is expected for you to customize your email.

                                  I am confused.

                                  1. re: Scrofula

                                    email = meal.

                                    That tray of condiments that you're given is very much used to adjust the seasoning of the meal to your personal tastes.

                                    1. re: Scrofula

                                      Sorry--my fingers do that all the time.

                                  2. re: schrutefarms

                                    Can you stand Worcestershire sauce or Caesar salad? I have heard both described as similar to fish sauce. Things I have eaten with fish sauce I usually can't single it out as "fishy" in with everything else.

                                    1. re: blackpointyboots

                                      Yes on both of those-I actually had no clue that Worcestershire had anything fishy in it! Granted, I think I've only used it for Bloody Marys…
                                      And I love Caeser salad, but I do ask every single time I order it if it's fishy, or if there are any anchovies in it…If they say yes, I always change my order.

                                    2. re: schrutefarms

                                      Fish sauce doesn't remotely taste like grilled or fried fish. When it's cooked into something it just lends a very, very umami taste to it.

                                      I can't help you with Hollywood suggestions—I live near Little Saigon, in Orange County—but I urge you to try it anyway, because it doesn't taste like fish. Order phở tái (beef noodle soup with rare filet mignon), phở gà (chicken noodle soup), or bún chả giò thịt nướng (cold noodle salad with grilled pork and egg rolls) to start down the Vietnamese road. If you hate it you've wasted all of $7.

                                    3. You should try places like Blossom or Gingergrass.

                                      Non-threatening places to test your tolerance for Vietnamese food before venturing into the real stuff.

                                      1 Reply
                                      1. re: ipsedixit

                                        Yes to both these suggestions by ipsedixit!

                                      2. RE fish and "fish sauce"

                                        Are you ok with Worcestershire sauce?

                                        If yes, then you'll be fine.

                                        Vietnamese fish sauce is inaptly named to say the least.

                                        It's sort of like calling Worcestershire sauce "anchovy sauce".

                                        9 Replies
                                        1. re: ipsedixit

                                          Damn, Ipse...
                                          You beat me to this!

                                          1. re: ipsedixit

                                            well yeah if ya want to be all succinct and direct and not confusing and stuff.

                                            pffff kids these days...

                                            1. re: hill food

                                              Fish sauce by name has always confused me! I've never known if it is a sauce with fish in it, or if it's to be used on fish. After all, it's not like steak sauce has bits of steak in it, or fry sauce having bits of french fried potatos in it...

                                              1. re: schrutefarms

                                                quite understandable. Onward! always twirling, twirling! into the future (Simpson's ref)

                                                1. re: schrutefarms

                                                  Fish sauce (nước mắm) is salted anchovies that have been left to ferment and then are pressed to extract the liquid. It is very similar to a less-pungent Worcestershire sauce.

                                                  There's a dipping sauce called nước chấm, which is very common—it's like Vietnamese ketchup because it's so ubiquitous—which is made with nước mắm that's been diluted with hot water, sugar and lime juice, then spiked with a little garlic and chile. It is sweet and salty, but does not taste remotely like fish.

                                                  1. re: Das Ubergeek

                                                    FYI schrutefarms, you will never be given nước mắm (straight fish sauce) with your food. If you dine in, there may be a bottle of it on the table, but it's not requisite for the meal. You may, however, get a side of the nước chấm that Das Ubergeek describes above. Think of it as a sweet chile vinaigratte. It's great. And so is Vietnamese food. So please please try it. This fish sauce thing has been blown way out of proportion. Probably because of me, so I'm sorry.

                                                    1. re: phamschottler

                                                      nah not really. if you spill some nuoc cham on yourself, it smells a lot worse than "sweet chile vinaigrette".

                                                      I gotta call my mom to see if I'm been mis-pronouncing it my whole life, but I've never gone to a restaurant to ask for "nuoc cham". hell I never even heard of "nuoc cham" until wikipedia.

                                                      I always ask for nuoc mam and I always get (what the internet refers to as) nuoc cham.

                                                      1. re: ns1

                                                        I think that's normal -- to ask for nước mắm and always get nước chấm (I've never said nước chấm in my life either). But it does taste milder than it smells. I just don't want to scare the OP, because I don't think he/she should be scared of this food. :)

                                                        1. re: phamschottler

                                                          I think that's normal -- to ask for nước mắm and always get nước chấm (I've never said nước chấm in my life either).
                                                          -------------------

                                                          thanks, glad I'm not alone!

                                            2. Go to pho so 1. On sepulveda, e side of street n of. Victory next to 99 ranch market. Get the beef 7 ways. Might be enough for 2.
                                              From Hollywood on off hours, about 10 minutes or so via fwy.

                                              1. One of my favorite VN dishes, at least here in Austin, is Shaken, or shaking beef. A bit tangy, and spicy, here at least, but overall a good beef dish. Also there are various chicken and vegetarian options on most menus. This restaurant has a" hot pot" with various mains in it. I love the vermicelli noodle dish with herbs and topped with
                                                BBQ'd spare ribs or a sliced pork egg roll. Pour your fish sauce over it and add a bit of hoisin and some Sirarachi (sorry for the spelling) and I am a happy eater.

                                                Also, if you are a coffee drinker, order the VN coffee for after dinner, but order it early in the meal because it takes awhile for it to filter.

                                                10 Replies
                                                1. re: singlemalt

                                                  bo luc lac, aka french style shaking beef

                                                  requisite version can be found @ Newport Seafood.

                                                  1. re: singlemalt

                                                    Chicken? Is chicken commonly featured in Vietnamese cuisine? For most Asian places, I always assumed that was to cater to the non-Asian folk....

                                                    I also assume that many Vietnamese preparations that are ostensibly vegetarian actually do contain some "hidden" source meat....

                                                    1. re: ilysla

                                                      Is chicken commonly featured in Vietnamese cuisine?
                                                      -------------------
                                                      yes, yes it is.

                                                      1. re: ilysla

                                                        Oh hell yes! Chicken is all over the place in Vietnamese food.

                                                        1. re: cacio e pepe

                                                          To both you and ns1, I'll have to pay closer attention next time I have Vietnamese! (which isn't all that often, actually) Part of it might be a bias on my part, since I tend to gravitate toward anything *but* chicken most of the time....

                                                        2. re: ilysla

                                                          "I also assume that many Vietnamese preparations that are ostensibly vegetarian actually do contain some "hidden" source meat...."

                                                          Not if it claims to be a vegetarian restaurant. Many Vietnamese are Buddhist, so it is important to ensure that such restaurants do not serve meat.

                                                          1. re: raytamsgv

                                                            Point taken. However, singlemalt above said "vegetarian options," which isn't the same thing as going to a place that specifically states it is a veg restaurant. OP isn't veg, but in case some one else reading is (and isn't familiar w/ Vietnamese food).

                                                            1. re: ilysla

                                                              Some non-specialized restaurants will make vegetarian-specific dishes because Buddhist and non-vegetarian patrons often eat together. But the dishes were sometimes not on the menu.

                                                          2. re: ilysla

                                                            Look for the word "chay", which means "vegetarian". If you see it, there is no meat product in it, so nước mắm chay is vegetarian fish sauce, and cơm chay is vegetarian food ("cơm" means rice, but means food in general too).

                                                            1. re: Das Ubergeek

                                                              Thanks for the tip.

                                                              Not a vegetarian myself, but have veg friends and friends who keep kosher (which usually means eating vegetarian for them).

                                                              Will never forget how said friend and I went to a Thai place. She ordered a vegan shrimp dish and got the real thing. And when she complained, the waitress shrugged and seemed confused about why my friend was upset. ::shudder::