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NYC Vietnamese/Chinese food vs. Toronto


Todd36
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Had about six dishes at a modest Vietnamese place in Toronto. Probably run of the mill by Toronto standards. I noticed a couple of interesting things, at least compared to my US east coast Vietnamese experiences (mostly in NY).

1. A general lack of Cilantro. A tiny bit in the Pho, none in anything else.

2. More Basil than usual.

3. Not very salty.

4. No use of soy sauce.

5. No use of a thickening agent in the sauces.

6. Sauces were thin, and used sparingly.

I'm wondering if this restaurant is an aberration or? Anyone know of a place on NY that sounds like this?

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Todd-

It might be worth mentioning the places where you've done your Vietnamese eating in New York, or at least, the types of dishes you tend towards. Anything featuring a basic sauce of nuoc cham shouldn't be thick or have soy sauce in it (the saltiness may depend on whose nuoc mam they're using), but others here are certainly more knowledgable than I.

I want pancakes! God, do you people understand every language except English? Yo quiero pancakes! Donnez moi pancakes! Click click bloody click pancakes!

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There's a "The Best" thread on here for Vietnamese in NYC...may not address your specific questions, but might be worth a look!

"We had dry martinis; great wing-shaped glasses of perfumed fire, tangy as the early morning air." - Elaine Dundy, The Dud Avocado

Queenie Takes Manhattan

eG Foodblogs: 2006 - 2007

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I've been to Nha Trang a bunch of times as well as more upscale places of the Cyclo and Hue type (and I found Hue to be pretty poor). I've been to a pretty famous pho place in East Hartford, CT. And of course there is always Monsoon on the upper west side. I figure I've eaten in at least 15 Vietnamese places in the last 3 years, and this was different from any of them, both the fancy and less fancy ones. For example, in the old stand-by of summer rolls, much more mint and basil, more shrimp and less noodle than usual, wrapper not as sticky, dipping sauce much thinner. Bo luc lac was largish cubes of chewy and quite rare meat, with a very small amount of thin sauce on the meat. These are all standard, Americanized dishes, but these versions were different. Coffee was strong enough to burn a hole. Rice pancake was sweeter than most, less beansprouts and more pork. Well, it was different food.

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It's possible the place in TO had a cook from a different part of Vietnam than most of the places you've eaten at in NYC. I don't know if emigration here (TO) tended to come from a certain section of Vietnam. The Vietnamese place I tend to go to didn't serve pho until a year or so ago - I'm assuming because they're not from the capital region.

So maybe you just encountered a regional variant? I don't think I've ever eaten Vietnamese while in NYC, so I can't comment fuurther regarding the differences in Vietnamese cuisine here and there. It is good here though, definitely one of my favourites, and I think a bit unknown still to many.

Cheers,

Geoff Ruby

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Pho is very big on the menu in the central-west Toronto Vietnamese restaurants (Spadina, west to Dufferin streets). While I haven't had lengthy conversations with the staffmembers, or locals, because of language barriers, I gather that many of them, perhaps a majority, came from Saigon as boat people.

Many have fascinating stories to tell, but the most remarkable of all is that of Kim Phu Ti, the little girl who ran naked from a burning village, and now lives east of Toronto.

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I've never had exceptional Vietnamese food in NYC but have had it elsewhere. I know that some but not all of the Vietnamese restaurants in NYC are run by Chinese people who may or may not at one time been been residents of Vietnam but are not ethnically Vietnamese. That's not meant in any way to say the Chinese restaurateurs can not produce excellent Vietnamese food but stylistically it may be different.

Most of the dishes at the place I frequent most often here in Syracuse are not salty nor is the sauce heavy but there are a couple exceptions on the menu. Sorry I can't recall the Vietnamese names of these dishes but one is chunks of boneless fried chicken with an insanely hot sauce that is thick. Not syrupy but thick.

The caramel sauce on their quail is thin and not overly sweet or salty. The "house fried rice" (a special entree) is a bit salty but it uses salted dried shrimp that account for that fact.

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I agree with the suggestion that NYC Vietnamese restaurants are generally run by ethnic Chinese owners. In fact, I don't think I've been in a NYC Viet restaurant in which Chinese wasn't spoken. I also agree that this at least partially explains the distinctiveness of Vietnamese cuisine in NYC.

As far as I know, cilantro is not widely used in Vietnamese cuisine, at least not as widely as one would think from eating at most Vietnamese restaurants. I think the availability of cilantro explains its overuse. One serious shortcoming of Vietnamese food in NYC is the lack of a variety of herbs. Grocery stores in OC, California (where Little Saigon is) regularly stock about a half dozen herbs that I've yet to see here in NYC. As a side note: I just spent a couple of weeks over there and the pho I got has no comparison over here--not even close. I can't explain what the difference, but there is definitely a difference.

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Pho is very big on the menu in the central-west Toronto Vietnamese restaurants (Spadina, west to Dufferin streets).  While I haven't had lengthy conversations with the staffmembers, or locals, because of language barriers, I gather that many of them, perhaps a majority, came from Saigon as boat people.

Many have fascinating stories to tell, but the most remarkable of all is that of Kim Phu Ti, the little girl who ran naked from a burning village, and now lives east of Toronto.

This place was on Spadina and was in an area loaded with Pho serving places. At first glance, Toronto has a larger Vietnamese population than NY.

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There's at least one great Vietnamese sandwich place in New York: Banh Mi Saigon on Mott St. between Grand and Hester. I had a fantastic Banh Mi Gai (chicken) for lunch today, and my friend mascarpone got an equally great Banh Mi Saigon (with pork). Check it out! Report and pictures here.

Michael aka "Pan"

 

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I was extremely disappointed with the lack of good Vietnamese food in NYC when I lived there, but then...I'm from Seattle, and there are some damn good Vietnamese places there. And we're not just talking bahn mi or pho--real veggie-driven food.

If you are in NYC, the best bahn mi I had was on the corner of Lafayette and Broadway---this tiny little yellow-painted spot. I liked this one better than Bahn Mi So 1.

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[...]the corner of Lafayette and Broadway[...]

There is no such corner. Lafayette and Broadway are parallel and never meet. Can you describe the location a little more?

Michael aka "Pan"

 

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I agree with the lack of excellent vietnamese food in NYC-- I've had much better on the west coast.

I have never been to Vietnam but I have had stellar Vietnamese meals in Bangkok and the lack of inexpensive fresh herbs available to restaurants here is really key. Meals at my favorite restaurant there are served with baskets of herbs containing upwards of 15 items, some really strange and mouth numbing.

My favorite place in town is Pho Bang on Mott and Grand. it is mentioned in the best vietnamese thread. It is nothing fancy, very simple-- really, its not amazing (actually on a recent trip it was pretty average, very one dimensional/sweet but maybe it was just off)-- but they have good pho, better than the other places I've tried (they serve it with basil whereas other dishes are merely served with mint), fresh chilies on the tables (so important), two kinds of hot sauce, I love the sweet and sour fish soup, and the pork on shrimp chips is my favorite food splurge of the summer...if you like, there is also alot written on their hanoi style pork chop (a bit sweet for me).

but you won't find much soy (if any (?) I'm no authority here...) in vietnamese, and I don't recall seeing any cilantro at pho bang ever... as for thickening agents and the like, what you speak of is a bastardization of vietnamese food--there are definitely restaurants like that in NYC...they most likely exist in the chinatown area. Anh is/was very good I haven't been there for a year or so...but it is in the late twenties on third, lovely place... an americanized upscale-ish interpretation but very delicious and true to flavor (great inexpensive lunch menu!).

Edited by ninadora (log)
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I was extremely disappointed with the lack of good Vietnamese food in NYC when I lived there, but then...I'm from Seattle, and there are some damn good Vietnamese places there. And we're not just talking bahn mi or pho--real veggie-driven food.

Just curious - how do you rank Seattle's Saigon Bistro on Jackson in the International District. Do you find it to be among the better of the Vietnamese restaurants in Seattle? I ate there last sumemr and was underwhelmed. My goi ga (chicken salad) was excellent, the fresh rols were just okay and the cafe sua da was dreadful (not surprising considering that they used an espresso machine to make it). But I did think it was as good as most of the Vietnamese places I've tried in NYC.

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  • 3 weeks later...

I will never forget my first and last V food in T.O. Missed my flight back to the States for so-so pho and egg/spring roll!!! I would said the best V food in the States can be found in LA/Orange County. Vancouver has the best V food in Canada. NYC V food is a bit sweet.

Cheers,

AzianBrewer

Leave the gun, take the canoli

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I've found that the Vietnamese food served at Pho Tay Ho, in Bath Beach, Brooklyn, compares favorably to the ones I've had in the DC/Richmond-area. Much better than most in NYC, if not all. (Save banh mi - NYC has the best banh mi anywhere, save for Saigon I imagine.)

Very nice, nuanced pho broth and it's not too sweet.

It was reviewed favorably in the Times a while back:

The Soul of the Vietnamese Kitchen - Pho Tay Ho NY Times review

One thing that I might add is that the food here seems to be cooked to the Vietnamese palate, versus the ones off of Canal St and in Flushing that seem to be geared towards a Southern Chinese palate. The ones alojng 7th Ave. in Sunset Park also stand out for their more traditional interpretations of the cuisine (and some really friggin' good banh mis, too.)

Edited by lambretta76 (log)
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One thing that I might add is that the food here seems to be cooked to the Vietnamese palate, versus the ones off of Canal St and in Flushing that seem to be geared towards a Southern Chinese palate. The ones alojng 7th Ave. in Sunset Park also stand out for their more traditional interpretations of the cuisine (and some really friggin' good banh mis, too.)

Hmm, that's interesting. Please elaborate on the Vietnamese vs. Southern Chinese palates.

Herb aka "herbacidal"

Tom is not my friend.

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  • 2 years later...

NY Vietnamese restaurants are apparently all run by ethnic Chinese (that doesn't mean they didn't spend time in Vietnam)....none are highly regarded (Nha Trang and Pho Bang seem to have the best reputations...and they're the best I've had here).

there is plenty of excellent Chinese in Flushing...and some in Manhattan if you know where to go (GS, Shanghai Cafe, Oriental Garden)

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Michael Huynh of Bao and Mai House is Vietnamese. Simon and Michelle Nget, the owners of Saigon Grill, are refugees from Cambodia -- I believe they're ethnically Vietnamese but I'm not positive, though I'm certain they're not Chinese. The best Vietnamese food I've had in the metro area, however, has been in northern New Jersey. K.T. Tranh, the owner of Saigon R and Mo' Pho, is Vietnamese and her mother was some sort of chef to dimplomats over there.

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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Michael Huynh of Bao and Mai House is Vietnamese. Simon and Michelle Nget, the owners of Saigon Grill, are refugees from Cambodia -- I believe they're ethnically Vietnamese but I'm not positive, though I'm certain they're not Chinese. The best Vietnamese food I've had in the metro area, however, has been in northern New Jersey. K.T. Tranh, the owner of Saigon R and Mo' Pho, is Vietnamese and her mother was some sort of chef to dimplomats over there.

And Michael Huynh's new noodle place, BUN, is allegedly opening tomorrow, though they've been opening for a month now. Grand and Lafayette.

There's a fairly good pho place on lower Allen (I think it's No. 5)...been there for years, and I don't believe it's run by Chinese...I'll check next time I walk by.

Mitch Weinstein aka "weinoo"

Tasty Travails - My Blog

My eGullet FoodBog - A Tale of Two Boroughs

Was it you baby...or just a Brilliant Disguise?

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My sister, who's living NY, told me both Vietnamese and Chinese food over there sucks a$$. On the other hand, Japanese and upmarket restaurants are of a higher quality than most other places.

I think your sister is wrong about Chinese food...

Vietnamese, there just isn't a Vietnamese enclave or much of an immigrant population to speak of. Saigon Grill is great, if you like your Vietnamese "dumbed down" a bit, but their bo luc lac is a guilty pleasure of many. Nha Trang is also great, if I recall, a lot of people miss out because they don't ask for the red menu. There's a weird green menu/red menu thing going on there, and you have to ask for the more authentic, hardcore menu. But all of those pale in comparison to Vietnamese I've had in LA and in particular Little Saigon, Garden Grove and other parts of Orange County, where much of the refugee population settled. And if you're from Australia, you'll also find better Vietnamese there, thanks to it's large southeast Asian immigrant population.

Edited by raji (log)
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      Chicken Soup
       

      The ubiquitous Egg and Tomato
       

      Dried fish with soy beans and chilli peppers. Delicious.
       

      Stir fried lotus root
       

      Daikon Radish
       

      Rice Paddy Fish Deep Fried in Camellia Oil - wonderful with a smoky flavour, but they are not smoked.
       

      Out of Focus Corn and mixed vegetable
       

      Fried Beans
       

      Steamed Pumpkin
       

      Chicken
       

      Beef with Bitter Melon
       

      Glutinous (Sticky) Rice
       

      Oranges
       

      The juiciest pomelo ever. The area is known for the quality of its pomelos.
       
      After lunch we headed out to explore the tea plantation.
       

       

       

       

       
      Interspersed with the tea plants are these camellia trees, the seeds of which are used to make the Dong people's preferred cooking oil.
       

       
      As we climbed the terraces we could hear singing and then came across this group of women. They are the tea pickers. It isn't tea picking time, but they came out in their traditional costumes to welcome us with their call and response music. They do often sing when picking. They were clearly enjoying themselves.
       

       
      And here they are:
       
       
      After our serenade we headed off again, this time to the east and the most memorable meal of the trip. Coming soon.
       
       
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