Vietnamese Food to Go


As I said last week, my intention was to go back to Turtle Towers the next morning for another bowl of pho; that happened. This time I ordered chicken. (It was certainly not going to be a vegan-before-six day; my travel days rarely are.) The broth was deeply soothing, the noodles silken, the chicken itself not overcooked. And I wisely ordered a “small” this time.

Then I headed across the street to Saigon Sandwiches (560 Larkin). I was after a few bánh mi, and I got them. They were good, though I’ve had better. (Sorry. I’d like to be raving, but if you rave about everything the truth loses impact. And they were a helluva lot better than the junk they were serving on the plane. Sheesh.)

However. While I was there, I picked up two different banana-leaf-wrapped items and a bag of “garlic peanuts.” I don’t know what the wrapped things are called; I’ve had similar ones before, and I could guess at their name, but I’d be wrong. (They’re probably bánh-something-or-other, since bánh is a kind of generic word that refers to almost anything filled or stuffed.)

The first is next to my bánh mi, and in the next pic too; it’s a little pyramid of coconut, peanuts, sugar, fish sauce, mixed with sticky rice and wrapped in mochi. (That’s the Japanese word for the marshmallow-like glutinous rice mixture; again, forgive me; I don’t know what it’s called in Vietnamese. Sometimes I just eat ’em, I don’t think about ’em.) The whole thing is in turn wrapped in a banana leaf.

I gotta tell you, had I known how good this thing was going to be I would’ve bought 12. A fantastic not-too-sweet dessert or not-especially-savory non-dessert. Perfect snack, is what it was.

I was disappointed by my other two purchases. One was a long log, filled with sticky rice that was in turn filled with pork and yellow beans. Beautiful, isn’t it? But it wasn’t as well spiced as the coconut job.

And the garlic peanuts? Great concept. But bitter garlic powder. Win some, lose some. It’s all fun.

Posted in Vietnamese


  1. Anonymous said...

    Mr. Bittman!!! I love following your food blog and I am SO excited to see that you love Vietnamese food. The last dish that you showcase in your photo collection, Banh Chung…I’m wondering how you prepare it as the only way that I’ve had it was fried to a chewy crispiness and served with pickled vegetables. So delicious! brings back fond memories of my mom’s home cookin… =)

  2. Anonymous said...

    At home, I have the banh chung just nuked/steamed to warm it up and drizzle it with soy sauce. and the veggies of course.Mark, you should try a banana filled banh chung. If you liked the peanut banh it, it’ll likely sit well with you.

  3. An Nguyen said...

    The round and white mochi-like thing is bánh nếp, bánh being basically what you described, and nếp indicates the kind of sticky rice that the dish is made out of. The long log thing is called bánh tét, the bánh chưng the previous comments mentioned is the exact same thing with the same kind of filling, except it is shaped in a square and wrapped in leaves of a plant called Phryniumplaentarium (couldn’t find a popular English name) instead of banana leaves. Bánh chưng is more traditional, and identifies more with Northern Vietnam, while bánh tét is a purely Southern thing.

  4. Anonymous said...

    I love the log thing…its actually called Banh Tet (New Years pastry). Best way to eat it is to panfry with eggs. Slice log into 1 inch rounds. Scramble a few eggs, mix in a small handful of sliced green onions and some chopped garlic. Fill up a hot oiled frying pan with rounds, until the yellow mung bean is almost golden brown on both sides. Pour the egg mixture over it, flip banh when egg is cooked on each side. Its so much better this way than plain, It’s crisp, eggy and chewy!

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