The very first Vietnamese restaurant that I ever went to was called “Miss Saigon” in Poughkeepsie, New York. It was a family run operation—Mom and Dad (a former IBM employee) took turns cooking and hosting. Junior, their son, bussed tables, took food orders and did homework in the restaurant when it was slow. It was a lovely, homey place to eat—they had a fantastic, spicy and addictive chicken curry and I loved the Bi Cuon. (Fresh spring rolls). I still reminisce to myself about the flavors.
It was located very close to Vassar and the Culinary Institute of America, so I would frequently see other students and instructors there. My second run in with Vietnamese food would occur years later when Pete and I lived across from a Pho restaurant in Mountain View. Their Pho broth was amazing. It was love at first slurp. We ate there at least once a week until we moved to San Francisco.
Sadly, there are not any Vietnamese or Pho places within walking distance of our house these days and although I do occasionally make the broth for Pho it is not even a monthly occurrence That’s one of the reasons that I was looking forward to this week’s French Friday’s with Dorie. What a perfect excuse to make a Vietnamese soup!
I love the spices and flavors of Vietnamese cuisine. I mean really, cilantro, coconut milk, chilies, ginger…..it sounds divine just reading it off of the page. What I particularly like about this recipe was how accessible it was. All of the ingredients should be available in most well stocked urban grocery stores. The only changes that I made was to use 6 kaffir lime leaves instead of grated lime zest and instead of putting the spices in cheese cloth I used a stainless steel tea strainer. (Much easier than messing around with cheesecloth.) The soup was divine—an ivory colored broth enriched with coconut milk and gently laced with chilies. For me, this soup is all about the broth and tender rice noodles. The chicken barely makes an impression. You could easily make a vegetarian version with tofu and vegetable stock. Instead of fish sauce season to taste with salt.