Nana and Grampa drive up from San Diego to visit us when we were staying in Dana Point (at our friend's beach house). Along with presents for the kids, they arrive loaded with food: a pot of Grampa's special clams and Vietnamese take-out. It's late, VERY late, and the kids are asleep. After all these years, they are still wondering how I can survive in an area (Utah! ...totally baffling) not swarming with Vietnamese restaurants. I am lucky to have such an adoring mother who, without hesitation or thought, continues to spoil me with exactly everything I crave.
The craziness and excess of the late night SURPRISE NOSH....
Grampa's special clams in ginger, herbs and glass noodles. AMAZING and clearly made with extra love.
"Che" cups with sides of coconut milk garnish. Che isn't just dessert, but the most popular Vietnamese snack. Instead of chips or a cookie, you snack on a cup of "che" - a sweetened gooey soup usually containing beans, sticky rice, tapioca or coconut milk.
From Saigon Restaurant (on El Cajon Blvd in San Diego)...
Beef wrapped in Grape Leaves, my all-time childhood fave! The ground beef is marinated in shallots, garlic, lemongrass, fish sauce, shaped and wrapped in grape leaves, grilled/pan seared, topped with scallion oil. Their fish sauce has lots of fresh minced garlic. "Mam Nem," Anchovy-Pineapple Sauce, (omg delicious!) was a treat as many restaurants don't even bother with making (a pain to make, difficult to store, way smelly - aroma vs odor?!). Every Vietnamese person growing up has some absurd story about spilling Mam Nem (or fish sauce) in the car and having that smell linger for years or until you finally get rid of the car!
Standard pile of raw greens/herbs: lettuce, mint, Thai basil, shiso, cilantro. There was also sheets of unsoftened rice paper. Have a hot bowl of water nearby to soften the rice paper. Then add greens and a beef roll. Roll it up (spring roll style), and dip in to fish sauce or Mam Nem. Double-dipping is critical! Fyi, I go through withdrawals for Man Nem sauce.
Grilled meat kabobs with fish sauce. Same as above!
"Take-out lobsters," under any given circumstance, is pretty decadent. Even after sitting in a closed styrofoam box for an over-an-hour drive, the garlic lobster was still AWESOME! This is MY FAVORITE lobster prep of all time: lightly coated and wok-seared in a TON OF GARLIC, shallots and oil. The crunchy and chewy textures of the fried sweetened, salty, peppery, garlic was unreal and the best part is sucking/scraping the shells and licking your fingers. There were at least a couple of giant lobsters (forgot to count the heads and didn't know they made styrofoam boxes so big). Meaty tail, gigantic claws and moist crab-like legs (not overcooked/dried out) were precut to easily peel without major tools. Intensely deliciously gratifying, wow.
She even brought sweet sticky rice with black beans, another fave.
The kitchen counter was laden with food, much of it not pictured pictured here... like several baguette sandwiches, "banh mi," other detail specific condiments, a bunch of extra long crispy french baguettes, Laughing Cow cheese (?!?!), a big bag of pickled carrot and daikon, containers of jasmine rice, the rice paper...
I love you to death, Mom.
I love you to death, Mom.