I suspect my new neighbourhood is full of little gems that need wheedling out. One that never needed any investigation is An Nam, a Vietnamese restaurant in the Wing Yip Centre on the Purley Way. Their chef has won local awards and while it’s not as crowded as Tai Tung (the Cantonese restaurant) at the front of the centre, they more than hold their own. We’re pretty much regulars there now.

However, we’ve mainly had their starters and one dish meals – very similar to the casual street food you’d encounter in Vietnam. On our most recent trip, we brought my brother along and he gave the place a hearty thumbs up – the kind of thing I like to hear from someone who did a long work placement in the country! Anyway, we didn’t eat all that you see below on just one visit; this must have been over at least four, I reckon.

I love Chả Giò (£4.50) and the version here at An Nam is fantastic. I love the sticky, crispy rice paper wrapped pork rolls and I love that they’re served properly with the lettuce and herbs and pickles, all to wrap around the fried rolls.

Chả Giò

Gỏi Cuốn Tôm (£4.50) are the fresh summer rolls filled with salad, rice vermicelli and prawns and their rolls are light and not at all stodgy like others I’ve had.

Gỏi Cuốn Tôm

Their Bánh Cuốn Thịt (£4.50) are definitely one of our favourites. These thin rice rolls are filled with seasoned minced pork and mushrooms and are just gorgeous with all those herbs and the usual side of nước chấm. They do have a tendency to slip out between one’s chopsticks though!

Bánh Cuốn Thịt

Bún Chả Giò (£6.50) makes a meal of the chả giò with the addition of the bún (rice vermicelli) and salad and pickles (daikon and carrot). Pour over that nuoc cham and dig in!

Bún Chả Giò

Bún Thịt Heo Nướng (£7) normally has bún but we can substitute rice…which is what we clearly did here. This is accompanied by fabulously delicious grilled marinated pork slices, complete with crispy edges. And there’s a generous pile of the thinly sliced, tender pork too.

Bún Thịt Heo Nướng (but with rice)

Wait for it…..Bún Thịt Nướng Chả Giò (£7.50)…. combines the best of both worlds – the grilled pork and the fried rolls.

Bún Thịt Nướng Chả Giò

Chả, Bi, Suon Nướng (£7.50) is another rice dish which can also be served with bun. There’s a grilled pork chop (drool, so good), a slice of steamed pork and egg loaf and shredded pork and pig skin; it’s a winning combo.

Chả, Bi, Suon Nướng

It’s not all just stuff on rice and noodles. They have noodle soups too. Their Bún Bò Hue (£7) is a spicy bowl full of thick rice noodles and tender stewed beef. This really hit the spot on that cold night when our heating wasn’t working yet!

Bún Bò Hue

We are going to have to try more of their main dishes soon though. A spicy steamed aubergine we ordered as a side vegetable for dinner one night was brilliant – the soft, silky, steamed aubergine had been sliced and laid flat and then topped with a mixture of soy, garlic, chilli, scallions and fried shallots.

Spicy Steamed Aubergine

Next on my list to try there (if you can tear me away from any of the bun bowls) is their deep fried fish – I saw a massive platter go by our table one night and it looked fantastic. Their pho is also pretty solid as is their fried rice (why is Vietnamese fried rice always ridiculously good? What secret ingredient do they put in there?!). The only thing that was a dud so far was a random pork udon soup we once ordered but if you stick to the Vietnamese classics (and anything that says it’s their specialty), you won’t go wrong.

An Nam Vietnamese Restaurant
Wing Yip Centre
544 Purley Way
Croydon CR0 4NZ

An Nam on Urbanspoon

More healthy eating before I get onto the total shameless gluttony that occurred in Hong Kong. This time it’s with one of my favourite vegetables, the ever versatile aubergine. I love the flavour one gets when burning an aubergine…burning may be too harsh a word. Essentially it’s cooking a whole aubergine until its skin is charred and the entire thing is soft. The silky, uncharred flesh inside develops a smokiness that is particularly good in salads.

Vietnamese Aubergine Salad

I came across this aubergine salad in Mai Pham’s excellent cookbook Pleasures of the Vietnamese Table and had to try what appeared to be an extremely simple recipe (adapted to feed the two of us). It’s certainly a dish that’s more than the sum of its grand total of five ingredients (four if you don’t include salt). The silky vegetable gets coated in a savoury mixture of spring onion and fish sauce and somehow just pulls together into something you can’t stop scoffing. Good stuff.

Dinner

This salad ended up being part of a meal we ate with white rice, long beans fried with egg and leftover curry.

Vietnamese Aubergine Salad
serves 2-3 as a course with rice.

3 large, long Asian aubergines
1.5 tbsp sunflower oil
1 large spring onion, thinly sliced
0.5 tbsp fish sauce
a pinch of salt

Grill your aubergines until their skins are black – I whack them onto our gas stove and char them. You can also throw them into a very hot oven or better yet, under the grill. You want the skins to be black and the insides all soft. Leave until cool enough to handle.

When cool enough to handle, peel the blackened skins off and cut each aubergine into lengths of about 5-6 cm and cut each length into 4-6 strips (depending on how you like your aubergine pieces).

Heat a small frying pan (or any frying pan really) and add the oil. When the oil is hot, add the spring onion and stir until wilted. Take off the heat and stir in the fish sauce and salt. Toss this dressing with the aubergine strips.

Serve warm or at room temperature.

This was my first attempt to recreate a Vietnamese curry that I loved in Vancouver; however, the curry from my memories had large meatballs while this is a more traditional cà ri gà – a chicken curry. Still, it was delicious and a relatively quick curry with a short ingredient list to make on a weekday; it really helped with my curry craving that day! We sopped up the gravy with a baguette, as is done in Vietnam (so I’ve read, I’ve not been) but you can also serve it with rice or noodles.

Vietnamese Chicken Curry

I didn’t have a proper Vietnamese curry powder (I found a photo of this brand but I have no idea what is available in London)and so, on the advice I found online, substituted a very yellow (yup, lots of turmeric) Malaysian curry powder (Yeo’s brand in the packet). If you need a bit more heat, add some chili paste in but check first if you’re using a Malaysian powder – most have some chilli powder in the blend. Do make sure you give it as long a simmer as you can; too short a time and you’ll still be able to taste the raw spices.

Vietnamese Chicken and Sweet Potato Curry
adapted from this recipe.
serves 2-3.

Approx. 500g chicken thigh fillets, trimmed and cut into large chunks
1 large orange-fleshed sweet potato, peeled and cut into large chunks
1 large carrot, peeled and cut into large chunks
1 large potato (floury), peeled
2 large shallots, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 stick lemongrass, left whole but smashed
a thumb sized lump of ginger, minced
4 tbsps curry powder
2 tbsps sunflower oil
160 mL coconut milk
1 tbsp sugar
2 tbsps fish sauce
salt
2 spring onions, finely sliced
a few sprigs of coriander

Mix the chunks of thigh fillet together with 2 tbsps of the curry powder and a good pinch of salt. Set aside.

Prepare all your vegetables. Cut the potato in half and then chop one half into large chunks and cut the other half into small pieces. These small pieces will help thicken the curry.

Heat a pot over medium heat and add the sunflower oil to heat. When hot, add the shallots, garlic and ginger and saute until the shallots are soft and the ginger and garlic are fragrant. Add the rest of the curry powder and the lemongrass and continue frying for a couple of minutes.

Throw in the chicken and cook until no raw bits appear. Add the coconut milk and then cover with water. Bring to a boil and then lower the heat and let simmer for about 10-15 minutes.

Add the vegetables, add water if required (to cover them all) and continue simmering – probably another 20-30 minutes. The vegetables should be soft and the smaller bits of potato disintegrating into the sauce. As well, there shouldn’t be a raw curry powder flavour to the curry; if there is, continue simmering, adding water if it gets too thick.

Stir in the sugar, fish sauce and salt to taste. Dish out into bowls and top with the spring onion and coriander.

Serve with white rice or noodles or a baguette on the side.

Last Wednesday, a friend from work organised a dinner at Song Que – I was really looking forward to it as I’d not been to Pho Mile in a long time and Song Que is meant to be one of the best along the stretch. Even on a Wednesday night, the place was packed and there was a constant queue (albeit a short one) at the door. Though a table was booked for us as 7:30pm, we didn’t make it there until 8pm but luckily, a large round table freed up just in time for us seven.

The menu is long and takes quite a bit of perusing. When a dish is ordered, the waiter whips out his ballpoint pen and scribbles your order number on the paper tablecloth near you, Wagamama style. Watch out for those waiters – they love a good joke or two. I asked one for some chili sauce for my pho and he shook his head – no; I was so puzzled as I’d seen bottles of the stuff on other tables. He walked away as I sat there in confusion but then promptly came back with all the available condiments and with a big grin on his face, happy that he’d played a good joke on me. Uh huh.

Anyway, I ordered a Vietnamese coffee with condensed milk to drink, something I would later regret as I lay in bed that night, my mind racing. I wasn’t to know of those effects, of course, as I sipped on this sweet, icy treat.

Vietnamese Coffee with Condensed Milk

To start, we ordered a number of appetisers to share between us. I don’t remember their Vietnamese names (I didn’t take a photo of the menu) so bear with me as I call these dishes by their generic sounding English names!

First up, beef wrapped in betel leaves. These juicy little parcels came with a small pile of rice vermicelli, lots of mint and Vietnamese basil, and plenty of pickled carrots and daikon in a green pepper cup. Delicious.

Beef in Betel Leaves

Beef in Betel Leaves

The grilled squid in tofu sauce was tender and tasty though I wasn’t actually sure what the tofu sauce was.

Grilled Squid with Tofu Sauce

The meaty spring rolls were good specimens of the Vietnamese variety but nothing seemed to suggest anything particularly special about these ones.

Vietnamese Spring Rolls

Two large summer rolls came to each order, each one plump with three prawns. The freshness of these went down a treat.

Summer Rolls

For the vegetarian in our group, we ordered the green papaya salad minus the pork and prawns. Even without these meaty delights, the salad was gorgeous! It took a lot of self-discipline not to gobble up the whole plateful and thus leave none for our vegetarian.

Green Papaya Salad

The fried soft shell crabs were excellent; the hacked up crabs were lightly battered and fried and served with a scattering of garlic, spring onions and sliced chilies.

Fried Soft Shell Crab

I thought the weakest and most disappointing of our appetisers was the prawn paste on sugar cane. The prawn paste was fine enough but the sugar cane itself was quite terrible to chew on after the paste was chewed off. The prawn paste had left an almost unpalatable saltiness to the cane. Ah well.

Prawn Paste on Sugar Cane

For mains, it was every man for himself. A couple at our table opted for the single dish with egg fried rice option but I have no idea how Vietnamese these dishes were as they were sitting on the opposite side of the table. A couple others went with the bun (rice vermicelli) with various porky things on top – I think there was grilled pork, shredded pork and perhaps more of the spring rolls.

Bun with Various Porky Toppings

For the final three of us, we each had pho with rare steak, well done flank, tendon, tripe and beef balls. Now this pho just blows the pho at Pho out of the water (how many phos in one sentence?). The broth was deeply beefy, the noodles not at all mushy, the herbs generous and fresh, the beef all delicious. The portion too was huge and probably would have been enough for me. We dipped our heads towards the bowls and slurped away happily.

Pho Bo

The Table

As we were full to bursting, we skipped dessert, the only offerings being ice cream and a che, a Vietnamese soupy dessert. It was for the best, we reckoned, as we rolled out of the restaurant after splitting the bill – £16 each. (You can easily get away with spending less than a tenner if you stick to just the pho or bun and a drink.) So far, Song Que is the best Vietnamese restaurant I’ve been to in London – what are your suggestions for worthy competitors?

Song Que
134 Kingsland Road
London E2 8DY

Song Que on Urbanspoon

Every trip back to Vancouver means a visit to Phnom Penh in Chinatown. I’ve never had a dud meal there and my last meal there was no exception. My father, brother and I rocked up on a weekday evening and found no trouble in obtaining a table for 3. I do believe this is not the case on weekends.

I wanted to shake things up this time and so instead of ordering our usual fried chicken wings, I ordered a small portion of spicy garlic fried squid. The squid came in quite large pieces but each was perfectly fried – tender inside and crisply battered – and it came with a bowl of their gorgeous lemon pepper dipping sauce. A good scattering of lightly fried garlic and chopped chilies finished the dish. Make sure to get all your dining companions to eat that garlic too so you’ll all stink wonderfully!

Fried Garlic Squid

Because we love fried things, we placed an order of fried spring rolls too. They use the more Chinese spring roll wrappers (as opposed to the Vietnamese rice paper ones) but they’re still tasty crunchy morsels. Each roll was chock full of pork, mung bean threads and vegetables and I ate them wrapped with the accompanying lettuce and dipped in the nuoc cham. I was surprised to see the rice vermicelli on the side but was glad that one could just make a meal of this plate.

Fried Spring Rolls

My brother and father cannot visit without ordering their Trieu Chau fried rice – a very very delicious fried rice with lots of oil and Chinese sausage. Don’t be alarmed by the oiliness: I’ve found that the best fried rices are all quite oily!

Trieu Chau Fried Rice

With all the wedding stuff going on, I only managed one visit this time; if I had my way and a few extra stomachs, I’d try to eat at Phnom Penh every other day (but uh…perhaps not only ordering the oiliest things on the menu!). Now that I think about it, there was no time for banh mi in Vancouver either – hopefully next time.

Phnom Penh
244 E Georgia St
Vancouver, BC
Canada

Phnom Penh on Urbanspoon

A long time ago, in a far away place (Vancouver), I once ordered a banh xeo off the menu at a Vietnamese restaurant, hoping to try one of Vietnam’s other specialities. I was already very familiar with pho, the savoury beef noodle soup, and bun cha gio, the cold vermicelli topped with fried rolls, but these were what I always ordered and I wanted to try something new. What arrived was a huge yellow crepe (though yellow, there was no egg) stuffed with lots of beansprouts, pieces of pork and large prawns. While the first few mouthfuls were tasty enough, it soon became terribly monotonous and a bit greasy and quite soggy. Very dull altogether.

But for some reason a few weeks ago, I felt like I should give this dish a chance again. From Wikipedia, I realise where the restaurant version went wrong – they hadn’t served it with any of the lettuce or mustard greens and herbs. These made a huge difference in the dish: crispy pancake (something I found lacking in the restaurant example I tried) and coconut flavour and fresh herbs – delicious! And the crepe doesn’t need that much filling – it even becomes more economical with just a bit of pork and shrimp. I guess making a large crepe chock full of ingredients (which in turn possibly make the crepe soggier faster) is a restaurant’s way of justifying the price of the dish! I’m converted to the charms of the banh xeo and would recommend that everyone just make it at home!

Banh Xeo

The name banh xeo means sizzling crepe, the xeo being an onomatopoeic word for the sound of the cooking process. Anyway, enough of my rambling; here’s the recipe I put together with based on the ingredients I had and adapted from various recipes around the web. To eat the banh xeo, cut off a piece of the crepe and wrap it, along with some herbs, in a lettuce leaf. Dip the wrap into some nuoc cham and eat!

Banh Xeo Meal

Banh Xeo
serves 2 for a meal or 4-6 as one dish among many

For the batter
1 cup rice flour (not glutinous rice flour)
1 tsp salt
1 tsp sugar
1/2 tsp turmeric
1 small tin coconut milk (165 ml)
about 1.5 cups water
2 spring onions, thinly sliced (both white and green parts)

100g pork belly (no skin), sliced into small thin pieces
100g small shrimps (I used cooked ones)
1 small onion, cut in half and sliced thinly
beansprouts
sunflower oil

For serving
lettuce
fresh mint
coriander
Thai basil (optional – I didn’t have any)
nuoc cham (recipe below)

Make the batter for the crepes first – mix together the rice flour, salt, sugar and turmeric in a bowl. Add the coconut milk and start stirring. Stir in the water slowly, you may not need it all and you may need more. You want the consistency of crepe batter. Finally, stir through the sliced spring onions. Let the batter rest as you prepare the rest of your ingredients.

Make your salad plate. Wash the lettuce and herbs first. Separate the lettuce into its leaves (dry if needed) and arrange on a plate. Arrange the herbs alongside (people can pick off the leaves at the table). Prepare the nuoc cham (recipe below) and serve in small bowls for individual dipping (read: allows for double dipping!).

Now to cook the crepes! Heat a nonstick pan over medium-high heat. I have a 10 inch pan and the recipe reflects this size – adjust accordingly for your own pan. For each crepe, heat about 1 tsp of oil in the pan and throw in a few slices of onion and a few slices of pork belly. Fry until cooked and then toss in a teaspoonful of shrimps. Stir around for a few seconds and then arrange the ingredients around on the pan. Stir the crepe batter with a ladle and then add a ladelful evenly to the pan, turning the pan to coat it evenly. You should hear a good sizzle when adding the batter, hence the name of the dish! I found that if you let the batter go up along the sides of the frying pan, these edges become wonderfully crispy. Add a small handful of beansprouts onto one half of the crepe and then leave the crepe to cook for 4-5 minutes. When the crepe is ready, the edges will have pulled away from the sides of the pan. Fold the crepe in half and plate it. Continue this process with the rest of the ingredients and batter, making sure to stir the batter before using it as the rice flour tends to sink to the bottom. You could put the crepes in a warm oven to keep warm as you continue cooking or just serve as they come out of the pan.

Serve immediately with the nuoc cham and the salad plate.

Salad Plate

Nuoc Cham

Nuoc Cham
adapted from Viet World Kitchen.
enough for 2.

3 tbsps lime juice
2 tbsps sugar
1/2 cup water (125 ml)
2.5 tbsps fish sauce
1 clove garlic, crushed or minced finely and smashed
1 tsp chili paste (optional)

Mix the lime juice, sugar and water together until the sugar has dissolved. Add the fish sauce and adjust for lime juice, sugar and fish sauce to taste. Add the garlic and chili paste and stir through.

I know there are many Vietnamese restaurants over in East London but it’s not often that I’m in that area. Where I do frequent is Soho, in central London, due to the variety of shops on offer there. One place that we do like to have a budget dinner is Viet, one of the few Vietnamese restaurants not in East London!

I recommend sticking with the Vietnamese dishes on the menu. We did eat a pad Thai here once which was truly awful, all overcooked noodles and tomatoey sauce. On a recent visit, we started with an order of cha gio, those little and lovely fried meaty spring rolls, along with their accompanying fresh herbs and chili dipping sauce,

Cha Gio

Herbs and Dipping Sauce

grilled lemongrass pork on cold rice noodles for me,

Grilled Pork on Rice Noodles

and a combination rice, with shredded pork and pork skin and a crab meat ‘cake’ for Blai.

Shredded Pork and Crab Meat Cake on Rice

Blai’s dish was quite plain though not too bad but the winner was my grilled pork. There was so much flavour in the pork, probably marinated for a long time, and I love eating the cold noodles alongside. A small bowlful of nuon cham (a light dipping sauce of fish sauce, lime juice, chili, garlic and sugar) is served on the side to pour overtop, dressing the mixture that can be dry without it. The whole bowlful is light and fresh and perfect for summertime (or anytime) eating.

One of my favourite things to eat there is their bun cha gio or hot fried cha gio served with cold rice noodles and lots of fresh raw herbs and vegetables. You can see that I really do love Vietnamese bun!

Bun Cha Gio

I’ve also had their pho and bun bo hue (pictured below), both noodle soups, the former being thin flat rice noodles in a beefy (or chickeny if it’s pho ga) stock while the latter is thicker round rice noodles in a spicier broth. Both are served with plenty of the fresh herbs and raw beansprouts, to be put into your soup at your will.

Bun Bo Hue

I do suspect that there’s a hefty amount of MSG in the soup but hey, when most of the one dish meals hover at around the £5-6 mark, it’s hard to complain. And they do fill you up! Mmm…I’m craving some noodle soup now!

Viet
34 Greek Street
London W1D 5DJ

Viet on Urbanspoon

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