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"Real" Vietnamese?


foldack
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After returning from 2 months of gastronomic bliss in Vietnam, I'm dead-set on finding as close to the real thing as possible in Montreal. Now, I've been through similar quests before, most notably with Thai food, and came to the sad conclusion years ago that there isn't a single Thai resto in Montreal that comes close to matching the real deal. (Yes, lack of truly fresh ingredients is partly to blame for this)

I'm hoping I'll fare better in the Vietnamese quest. Camelia is very good, and many of the pho places, Pho Bang New York, in particular, can produce pho that is easily up to Hanoi standards.

Dishes like bahn bao and cao lao are a lot harder to find. The Vietnamese version of Thai tom yum, made with tamarind and pineapple is a very rare beast indeed. There used to be a resto on St. Laurent called Tong Nam back in the 80s, the location of which was later absorbed by Hong Kong restaurant. They did that soup right on par with the best restaurants in Saigon.

Give me your best shot....

Bob

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I've never been to Vietnam, so I can't speak to the authenticity of this place, but Banh Xèo Minh at 1308 Belanger has Banh Bèo along with a bunch of other Vietnamese dishes less often seen in this town.

I highly reccomend the house specialty: Banh Xèo. It's a large crepe with porc and shrimp filled with bean sprouts and served with lettuce and fresh herbs. It's quite tasty and refreshing. If you asked nice perhaps one of the kindly ladies working there will make you a soursop milkshake to go with it.

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I'll have to give that one a try this week.

There's a place nearby on...hmm, St. Denis, I think (it's been a while) that sort of models itself after a very good fish restaurant in Hanoi, and is quite good in it's own right. The Gazoo did a thing on them last year.

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Yum! I went to that place on St-Denis and had the special fish dish –delish! I have never been to Vietnam but I do like the Vietnamese places in Montreal (even if they are a pale imitation of the real thing). It will be interesting to read what people recommend.

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You know, to be honest, several of the pho restaurants around town do soup exactly as you'll find it in Hanoi, and the vermicelli noodles with pork/beef/etc, are almost identical to Bun Bo in Vietnam. The cuisine of the North is not nearly as varied as the South, and the main staples are pho and variations thereof. Again, Pho Bang New York on Cote des Neiges does about the best I've ever had in town. It's all about the broth, and they have it nailed. We were sitting in kindergarten chairs at a little plastic table on the sidewalk outside what is reputed to be the best pho place in Hanoi, and agreed that it was only marginally better than in Montreal.

In the South, the food is similar to Lao and Thai cuisine, with much more complex layering of flavours. Saigon rivals Bangkok as the food capital of the world (my opinion...). That's the stuff that's hard to find here. Loads of fresh chili, lemongrass, tamarind, fish sauce.

If it exists, I will find it.

Bob

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I have never been to Vietnam but love the food that I have been able to find in nearly every city I have lived in - Montreal for me has the best so far. I always think a sign of a good ethnic restaurant is one that is frequented by people of that nationality - the old adage, if you want to find a good restaurant in Chinatown go to the one that has the most Asian people in it (my friend Mr. Sung gave me that hint).

There is restaurant called Hoai Huong (5485 Ave Victoria - corner of St-Kevin) that serves some very interesting dishes along with Pho's and Bun Bo's. There is the Banh Xeo there as well but also a dish (do not know the name) with shrimp chips, rice sheets and grilled pork that is awesome, and self-wrapping beef dishes that are fun to share. My friend Mr. Nguyen thinks the meat is a bit too sweet but goes there very often none-the-less.

He also informed me of another of his favorites: Nhu Y (Jean Talon West close to Saint-Laurent), they specialize on 'banh tom' a pancake-like dish of shredded sweet potato topped with shrimp then tempura and deep fried, served with vegetable and herbs. I can't wait to try this one!

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I have two favorite Vietnamese restaurants that I visit quite often. First one is Pho Tay Ho on the west side on St-Denis, a bit south of Baubien. They have a (huge) appetiser that is raw beef marinated in lemon, served with peanuts and hot chilies, this dish is wonderful IMHO. I also recoment the BBQ pors (number 36 I think) which is also quite good! There Pho are also quite descent.

The other one is Dong Que, on Rosement, between De la Roche and De normanville. They also have descent Pho. Thier lemongrass chicken is VERY good, it is served in a spicy sweet thick sauce. Be sure to take the one on the menu rather then the one in the combos are they are very diffrent dishes.

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I can't say that it will match up to Vietnam, but I can recommend Au Cyclo on the corner of park and laurier. This is probably not what you are looking for, but they are a solid little Vietnamese place with excellent service and good food at reasonable prices. I'd love to hear about if you do find any place that you think matches or even comes close to what you had in Vietnam.

As far as Thai food I would probably agree with you, although I think some good things can be said about Chao Phraya and Red Thai.

That's the stuff that's hard to find here. Loads of fresh chili, lemongrass, tamarind, fish sauce.

I think you're saying here that southern vietnamese food is hard to find here? For a second I thought you were saying these ingredients are hard to find here, which is not the case at all.

I would point out that many traditional recipes for tom yum do include tamarind, and it could be considered part of the classic dish, though tamarind is rarely included in modern versions.

I think I'd also disagree on the availability of fresh ingredients, there are a number of excellent asian markets in montreal now that offer a wide variety of good quality ingredients, provided you know where to look. I cook thai all the time and have been very pleased with the stuff I've been able to get lately.

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I'd have to agree, but conditionally. Yes, I've been buying my galangal and lemongrass, etc in Chinatown for years, and yes, they are OK. But they are honestly a million miles away from the quality and freshness you find in Asia. OK, not a million miles, but...

When you grab a bunch of lemongrass stalks over there, the scent rises up to meet you, whereas here I have to start cutting it and practically stick it in my nose to get the same hit. Galangal is the same. When you pass a table of it in a market in Saigon or Bangkok, it practically leaps off the table at you, and even with your eyes closed, you know you're in front of the galangal. I have to use 3-4 times the quantity here to attempt to coax the flavour out of it. Transport is not kind to many of these ingredients.

It's quite true that many of the Vietnamese in Montreal are from the South, but the bulk of the Vietnamese food you find here is from the North, pho and bun bo being the two main staples of the Hanoi dinner table, and the "typical" Montreal Vietnamese restaurant. Soupe Tonkinoise, as they call it here, referring to the Gulf of Tonkin. But, yes, there is much more than pho and bun bo in Montreal, but not too much more, and that's my problem. Cau lau is an amazing noodle dish from central Vietnam, made with thick rice noodles and pork cracklings. It's to die for. The almost-raw beef and watercress salads are incredible, and the flavours and scents almost knock you over.

And I should qualify my comments about Thai food. Most of the local curries are pretty good, but that's because they're using pastes made in Thailand, though in Thailand, the curries don't use as much thick coconut milk as here. Most of the non-coconut curry dishes here are pretty woeful imitations. Not to say they don't taste good. They do, but I'm always looking for the real thing. I've asked many of the chefs here why they don't make it like at home, and the answer is not a surprise. "Nobody would eat here"

On a related note, for those who care, the biggest surprise I've had in years was that the best Thai food I've ever had outside of Thailand was at a restaurant in...wait for it...Maine. It's on Rte 1 just outside Biddeford. No kidding. It's run by a gang from Chiang Mai, and they do not compromise one bit. It was absolutely fantastic.

Bob

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I am in general agreement with your views. The bit about southern vietnamese was just to clarify that you were indeed talking about ingredient availbility, I don't even know that much about the vietnamese food scene here but I am well aware of the ubiquitous specialty "soupe tonkinoise" restaurant on every other corner.

I would agree about the thai restaurants too.

And I'll mostly agree on the ingredients, but I think you may have missed out on some good stores. Personally I find china town less than satisfactory on most counts, and before my discover of two other asian markets in the area I probably would have agreed with you completely. The two are Marche Orientale, on the corner of St. Denis and Jean Talon, and Marche Hawaii way out in St. Laurent near cote vertu metro.

Marche Orientale is one of the most well kept, best run asian market I have ever run across and they have some really great stuff there. Fresh shipments arrive every tuesday and if you go shopping on tuesday or close to it you can find some really fresh stuff. Marche Hawaii is like the mother of all asian markets, its way out there but is incomparable. Its in a giant warehouse and has a massive selection of anything and everything from asia, but it is subject a bit more to availability. If you get there or the right day though you can get some great stuff.

Now I have never been to thailand, and I know most stuff (coconuts!) will not compare, but if you get to the good markets on the right day you can find some nice stuff. Even If I have not been, my sister has traveled extensively in thailand and she has given me a good idea of how my food compares. I might also point out that massive baskets of fresh herbs and roots out in the heat of a Thai day are naturally going to be more aromatic than individually packaged stalks of lemongrass or wrapped trays of galangal in a refrigerator case. But this does not mean that they are any less flavorful provided they are processed correctly, shipped promptly, and you get to them in a reasonable amount of time. After all, most of this stuff is coming from thailand and a lot of it stays good for a while provided it is storred and shipped properly. Additionally, in the case of galangal, older roots are actually preferred for some applications like curries.

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Went to Pho Tay Ho on Friday night, and would have to agree that the raw beef is a winner, big time. A perfect blend of lime, onion, chili, and peanut. And you weren't kidding when you said it was huge!

Bob

I have two favorite Vietnamese restaurants that I visit quite often.  First one is Pho Tay Ho on the west side on St-Denis, a bit south of Baubien.  They have a (huge) appetiser that is raw beef marinated in lemon, served with peanuts and hot chilies, this dish is wonderful IMHO.  I also recoment the BBQ pors (number 36 I think) which is also quite good!  There Pho are also quite descent.

The other one is Dong Que, on Rosement, between De la Roche and De normanville.  They also have descent Pho.  Thier lemongrass chicken is VERY good, it is served in a spicy sweet thick sauce.  Be sure to take the one on the menu rather then the one in the combos are they are very diffrent dishes.

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Went to Pho Tay Ho on Friday night, and would have to agree that the raw beef is a winner, big time. A perfect blend of lime, onion, chili, and peanut.  And you weren't kidding when you said it was huge!

Bob

Glad you apreciated it! I really think there is something to this dish, I brought it sometime to pot luck dinners were I didnt have time to prepare anything. Even if it is made of raw beef I made people who are somewhat refractory to exotic cuisine (you know what I mean) taste it and they all loved it!

BTW number 36 on the menu is BBQ Pork, not pors

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  • 4 weeks later...

I'm surprised Ru du Nam wasn't mentioned in this thread. The Notre-Dame/Charlevoix resto offers some of the best Vietnamese cuisine in the city. It's not Pho Bac cheap but it's as authentic as anything else. The space is ultra charming and just adjacent is a little shop full of Southeast Asian knick-knacks, dinnerware, tea sets etc. Really lovely.

I ate there tonight for the first time in two years and it was just as good as ever. Hue beer, comforting ginger congee, papaya shrimp salad, tamarind shrimp, sauteed garlic beef, rice paper rouleaux assortment ... very good, healthful, tasty and satisfying.

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