Most days, Kirk posts about adventures and food here at mmm-yoso!!! Often Cathy blogs about foody events as well. Some times Ed (from Yuma) has a post. Today is one of those times.
While Tina was stuck in Yuma working, entertaining international visitors and amusing our dog, I was looking forward to a few days in San Diego. Not wanting same ol’ same ol’, I carried a list of some of Kirk's favorite Vietnamese dishes with me. Of course, one place was closed for remodeling, and I ran out of time before I ran out of restaurants, but I had three interesting noodly adventures.
The folks at the restaurant were amazed that someone who looked like a total gabacho knew to order the duck soup, Bun Mang Vit (thanks, Kirk). The folks at one of the tables in the tiny, shabby little restaurant said "yeah, that's what we’re all having." Anyway, I was conspicuous enough without taking pictures, but Kirk is right about soup – the duck is good, the noodles are plentiful, and the dipping sauce perfect and full of ginger. I have had more flavorful duck broth, but it's hard to complain about a $6.50 meal as good as this one.
Here I have no exterior picture because I forgot. No interior shot either. I ordered pho # 4, flank steak, tendon, tripe, and brisket (thanks again, Kirk). The garnish showed up first:
Look at that wonderful abundant fresh basil. Perfect. Notice the sawtooth leaf underneath it. Four thick slices of jalapeño and perfectly fresh bean sprouts.
Then came the soup:
Both the flank and brisket were melt in your mouth tender. A little more tendon and tripe would've suited me, but it is hard to complain about a soup this good. The broth in particular was extremely rich, spicy with anise, and deeply and profoundly beefy. I cannot remember a better pho stock.
And when I looked at the noodles carefully, I realized that some of the noodles were wider than others, and I wonder if mixing two gauges of noodles helps keep them more separated. In any case, this is my new standard for a bowl of pho.
Years ago, Kirk and I had some Bun Mam (pungent catfish and pork belly noodle soup) at Nhu Y, which used to occupy the space now named Com Tam Thuan Kieu:
On his last visit, Kirk thought Thuan Kieu’s version was still the best in town, but that it seemed to be changing. If my visit is any indication, the evolution of Bun Mam here is continuing.
First came the garnishes:
Notice that everything is mixed up together – as if the restaurant is saying, we know the right proportions of mint leaf, shredded red cabbage, shredded regular cabbage, beans sprouts, lime juice, and fresh jalapenos. I honestly don't know what the long green grass like leaves are, but they went into the soup anyway.
And this is how the soup looked:
The broth certainly was less pungent than the version at Nhu Y, if my memory is accurate. In fact, it does not look as dark and funky as the version in Kirk's post. Otherwise the visible contents seemed about the same, except for that odd green thing at the back of the bowl that looks like some sort of a strange vegetarian clam.
Here you can see the chunks of eggplant (cooked soft and buttery), decent sized shrimp (a little overcooked), a one of the few pieces of squid (pleasantly tender), and some of the pork belly:
This picture shows more of the pork belly (rich and flavorful and slightly chewy). Notice also the flecks of red chilies in these pictures:
There were two thin slices of excellent, clean flavored catfish:
And that strange green clam thing? Actually, it was a jalapeño stuffed with Vietnamese white sausage and then roasted whole before going in the soup:
This was something new to the soup and was an excellent addition, providing green chile spice and sausage flavored pork in every piece. And it did add an interesting visual as well.
Overall, this Bun Mam was, for my taste at least, truly outstanding. It had a greater interplay of flavors than I remember from the version at Nhu Y. In fact, it reminded me in some strange ways of the complexity that I love in the Bun Rieu at Mien Trung – perhaps my favorite Vietnamese soup in all of San Diego. Well, it used to be my favorite.