I can’t remember the first time I had this dish, but 1) it always stuck with me and 2) my family always ordered it when we went there. Tay Do Restaurant (in Houston, Texas) is where I’m referring to and Dau Que Xao Cay is the dish.

For 20(?)  years, we’ve eaten at Tay Do for Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, birthdays, Tet, funerals, Christmas or general family gatherings. It has changed a little bit over the years…but not the food. Muc Rang Muoi (the best thing and you can’t find made this way anywhere else), Soup Mang Cua, Ca Kho, Canh Chua — some goodies I recommend getting if you’re ever in the neighborhood. We frequent the restaurant less now, but it has a dear place in my heart.

On Tay Do’s menu, they describe this as “string bean sauteed: mince pork sauteed with string bean in spicy sauce.” That’s why the title of my recipe says “sweet(ish),” because the hoisin sauce does add some sweetness to it. This recipe isn’t a replica or dupe, but I’d like to think that it’s pretty close, AND it’s an easy dinner + leftovers for lunch!

green beans and ground pork vietnamese

Recipe: Spicy & Sweet(ish) Green Beans with Ground Pork

Ingredients:

  • 8 to 12 oz of French green beans, cut into 1.5/2 inch pieces
    • For Texans, I usually get them from HEB in the bagged veg section
  • 1 lb of ground pork
  • 3 gloves of garlic
  • cooked white rice

Sauce Ingredients:

  • 2 tbsp hoisin sauce
  • 2 tsp soy sauce
  • 1 tsp sugar
  • 1(ish) tsp cornstarch
  • a splash of fish sauce
  • pepper
  • salt

Make sauce:

  1. Combine all sauce ingredients in a bowl, mix and season to taste! Leave aside.

Cook green beans:

  1. Fill a medium stock pot with water and heat to a roaring boil.
  2. Make sure to season your water with salt!
  3. To be disputed: do you or do you not cut the tips off your green beans? If you do, now is the time. Then, cut your green beans into bite sized pieces — this could mean cutting your green beans in halves or thirds.
  4. When your water comes to a boil, throw in your green beans for about 2 minutes. You don’t need a long time because they will cook further with the meat, and I PERSONALLY like a good crunch to mine.
  5. After 2 minutes, dump the green beans into a colander. I don’t think you need an ice water bath, but you can do that method if you so choose. A good cold water rinse will do. Set aside.

***AT SOME POINT before you cook your meat, cook your rice! Follow the directions on the packaging…or get a rice cooker for stress-free rice cooking!***

Brown Your Meat…and The Rest

  1. Peel and dice your garlic cloves. Set aside.
  2. You’ll need a heavy bottom pot/pan on the stove with medium-high heat.
  3. Pour in some neutral oil, but for the most part, your ground pork will render fat, so you don’t need your pot to be TOO oily. (Am I good at directions guys??)
  4.  Drop your garlic into the pot, let it cook for a hot second and then add your ground pork in a nice even layer in the pot.
  5. The browning meat process will take a few minutes. Don’t touch it too much, let it brown. After you flip the meat over is when you can start breaking up the ground pork into little pieces with your spatula. I personally like little bites and not big chunks of ground pork, but THIS IS YOUR SHOW.
  6. Warning: this process goes pretty quick…When the meat is browned, add half of your sauce. Stir and mix the sauce with the meat for an even coating.
  7. Now add in your green beans, give it a stir to combine meat and green beans in perfect harmony…and then drizzle the rest of your sauce and stir/mix well. This takes a couple minutes and after that, you can turn off your stove so the green beans don’t get sog.
    • Sidenote: the reason why we add cornstarch to the sauce is so that it gets thicker and will adhere better to the meat and green beans. You don’t want slippery sauce, do you?
  8. Serve a happy helping over a bed of rice (pictured).
  9. Mời!

vietnamese ground pork and green beans

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Cooking is a labor of love. It might be love for the individual ingredients you use, the people you’re cooking for, the memories that a specific dish gives you, or…it could be all of the above. It is often all of the above for me…except tater tots, that’s just love for tots.

Think about it. Our moms (or dads/grandparents/etc) cook us the foods we love because they know we love it and they love us. One of my aunts gets so excited for an event (i.e. whether it’s a holiday, grandma’s birthday or a family get-together) that she will wake up at 4 a.m. to cook…and she doesn’t cook one thing, she cooks several. It is in her nature to cook and to serve the food (a lot of it).

I recently got the chance to practice this labor of love for some of my siblings. And I’m going to  preface here that this is a WORKING recipe…but I love it so much I had to share it. It’s called Mi Xao Giòn in Vietnamese, which translates to crispy noodles with beef and broccoli (or as my siblings like to say “CRISP-AY NOO-DUHL”). It is one of my absolute favorite things to eat because I like a good crunch, but this dish also has a nice balance. You’ve definitely seen this on a menu and you can put different things on top of your crispy noodles like a seafood/vegetable medley.

Should I have paid more attention when my mom was cooking it three weeks ago? Yes.
I have the noodles down at least, okaaaaay?

mi xao don crispy noodle

Mi Xao Gion (Crispy Noodles with Beef and Chinese Broccoli)

Difficulty: Intermediate because my recipe is…loose
Noodle Frying Time:
45 mins
Total Cook Time: 1.5 hours
Yields: 5 “bird noodle nests,”  generously serves 4-5 peeps

Ingredients:

  • Egg noodles, specifically Canadian Style Wonton Mein and can be found in the frozen/refrigerated aisle where all the noodles are in your local Asian grocery store
  • 1.5 lbs of London broil or flank steak
  • 2 bunches/bags of Chinese broccoli (Cai Lan), cut into bite-sized pieces
  • 2 to 3 cloves of garlic, diced and minced
  • 3 to 4 tbsp all-purpose flour, maybe more**
  • 2 to 4 tbsp oyster sauce**
  • 1 to 2 tsp hoisin sauce, this has a strong flavor, so start with 1 tbsp and taste**
  • 1 to 2 tbsp soy sauce**

**Note: these are rough estimates and slowly added to taste. Keep in mind that the flour is to create the “gravy” and the various sauces are to support the flavor of the “gravy”

candian style wonton mein

To prep & fry noodles:

  1. The noodles I use are already divided into 5 equal servings, but you still need to unravel them and form them into piles. See below…you do this so that the noodles don’t clump together because that’s gross. Making these piles also help give you an even fry.
    candian style wonton mein
  2. Personally, I use a cast iron (which is shallow), but you can use whatever pan you use for frying. I like using a 10-inch cast iron because it helps me form the shape that fits nicely on a dinner plate.
  3. Add about ½ inch of neutral/canola oil to your pan and heat to ~350 degrees.
    1. PRO TIP: If you have wooden chopsticks…stick the chopstick into the pan. If there are lots of bubbles coming off it, it’s ready. A smoking pan is a bad sign, and if this happens to you…take the pan off the heat to let it cool.
  4. When the oil is ready, take your noodle pile and try to spread an even, flat-ish layer in the pan. If you don’t get this, that’s ok! After you drop it in, immediately take your chopsticks (or tongs) to spread it out. You do not want clumping because you will get uncooked noodles. 
  5. I kept my eye on it but if I had to say a time…about 2-3 minutes until it’s golden (more yellow than brown) before you flip it over for another 1-2 minutes. I use chopsticks to do this, but if you are not good with chopsticks…I think tongs could work!
  6. Repeat steps 4 and 5 until you’re done. You may need to add more oil into the pan. You may also need to wait a little bit in between frying so that the temp can get back to where it needs to be. Put a paper towel between each “nest” of noodles, so it can soak up the oil.

To prep meat & veg:

  1. Peel, smash and dice your garlic. This will be incorporated with your meat in its “tenderizing” process.
  2. Slice your meat against the grain, PRETTY THIN (not pho tai thin, but close), and about 2ish inches long. Not bite-sized, but small/short enough so that you don’t need a knife.
  3. Grab a medium sized bowl and add 2 tbsp of vegetable oil to tenderize the meat. I DON’T KNOW WHY, my mom does it. Add the garlic and mix with your hands.
  4. Let it tenderize while you prep the vegetable.
  5. Wash and cut the Chinese broccoli.chinese broccoli cai lan
  6. There are two parts to Chinese broccoli: the stem and the leaves.
    1. If the stem looks too thick, cut it in half lengthwise, this will make it easier to eat and cook.
    2. You can cut the leaves if it looks too big, but keep in mind that they wilt and shrink.
  7. Set your Chinese broccoli aside.
  8. Fill a medium-sized stock pot with water (fill up about 2/3 of the way) && salt your water!
  9. Get a dutch oven or a heavy-bottom pan — this is where you will be browning your meat and preparing your “gravy”/sauce.
  10. Add enough canola/vegetable oil to your pan to cover the surface, and when it’s hot (right before it starts to smoke) add your meat.
  11. You want to brown it, but not cook it all the way through because it will finish cooking later when it’s incorporated all together. This part should take a few minutes.
  12. In the interim, if your water is boiled, throw in your Chinese broccoli. I don’t know how long it takes (I told you this is a working recipe), I would check it after a few minutes. Again, you don’t want it FULLY cooked because it’s going to get cooked in the sauce and meat. Let’s go with check in at 3 minutes (I Googled it).
  13. Take out your browned meat and set aside in a bowl. Turn your heat to low-medium and now add flour. Use a whisk and stir constantly so that it doesn’t burn.
  14. If you have ever made a roux, the process is similar. The goal is to cook the flour with the meat drippings (?) and not let it stick to the pan.
  15. Slowly add water to the pan to loosen the sauce/gravy.
  16. Add soy sauce, hoisin sauce and oyster sauce, still stirring. Taste. Add more if you need to.
  17. You are looking for a gravy-like consistency — not too thick, not too watery. You may need to add more flour, you may need to add more water. Keep stirring.
  18. This may take 10 minutes to figure out the right taste, but once you do…it’s time to dump in your Chinese broccoli! Let it warm up for 1-2 minutes…then dump in your meat!
  19. At this point, you are warming your sauce and goodies, and checking to see if you need to add more salt/soy sauce/water/etc.
  20. To serve: each nest goes on a plate. Personally, I let each person to ladle their own because some like it saucy and some don’t (like me). See above image for reference.

The first time I did it…I didn’t make enough sauce. The second time I did it…same thing, so I guess the lesson here is: make more sauce than you think you need to!

If you’ve stuck around to this point, thank you for being patient. I am amazed by the response from people about my blog, I cannot thank you enough for pushing me to publish this dang thing! I don’t think it’s a difficult recipe, but it might take some trial-and-error. Godspeed and good luck.

One of the most inspirational people in my mind once said, “you learn a lot about someone when you share a meal together.”

Too Long ; Didn’t Read: I’m providing context to this project because I need you to know that I wasn’t always curious about cooking, and I never paid attention. BUT I started to read more, write down recipes, and forc—encourage my mom to cook, to let me watch and to tell me measurements (because AZN moms/gmas don’t do that, ever). It’s never too late and it’s scary but JUST DO IT, OK? It will be worth it.
(Scroll down if you’d like to get to the recipe.)

Both sides of my family love food. They love eating food, and more importantly, they love cooking food (especially my mom + aunts). I have a lot of memories of my grandma pounding pork with a mortar and pestle to make ruoc, my brother shaping banh bao (with photo evidence somewhere), and big crawfish boils (or is it broils, tell me guys!!!). But honestly, I never paid attention. Step-by-step visuals are vague, but I can tell you exactly how certain dishes should taste (or not taste). I know what pho should taste like or thit kho or mi xao don…but I can’t tell you exactly how to make it. Are you still with me? 

So, the time is college, the place is Austin, Texas — as an Asian American kid, I think when you’re away from your mom’s cooking and Asian food…you develop withdrawals. I wanted some com bo luc lac (aka shaking beef), some pho ap chao (pan fried rice noodle with veg and protein), some banh mi thit nuong…but I had never made it by myself. Of course buying/going out was an option, but sometimes it’s not enough.

Fast forward to present time, the place is San Antonio, Texas. I’ve thankfully had a handful (or two) of people who have encouraged me, inspired me to learn how to cook Vietnamese food…including/especially my mom. My stomach inspires me. Strangers’ comments about how much they love Viet food inspires me. Seeing and eating Viet food inspires me. I hope it inspires you, especially my AZN friends out there. We’re missing out on so much when we walk away from the kitchen while our parents are cooking. Like I mentioned above, you learn a lot about someone when you share a meal and I believe that includes the preparation of the meal.

If you’re reached this part of my post, thanks for sticking around.

Enter “Project Nam Noms,” the beginning of posts like stories from growing up as a Vietnamese American kid, my mom’s voodoo and ultimately recipes that I’ve tried/tested out/loved/maybe hated.

There are a lot of recipes I wanted to start with, but I’m basing this purely on the fact that I have a picture of it. I made this for the first time…a little over a year ago. It’s easy, balanced and a crowd-pleaser. You’ve definitely seen this on a Vietnamese Restaurant menu and I’m picky about how it tastes.

vietnamese shaking beef com bo luc lac

Recipe: Com Bo Luc Lac (AKA Shaking Beef)

Adapted from The Ravenous Couple (which is a GREAT food blog btw!!)

Feeds: 2 people generously, but 4 people realistically
Prep Time: 1 to 2 hours (including marinade time)
Cook Time: 15 minutes
Family style meal, but what Vietnamese dish isn’t?

Note: Please bear with my recipe writing skills…I try to be as thorough as possible but it’s friggin’ hard!

Main Ingredients:

  • 1.5 lbs beef sirloin (or skirt steak), cut into 1-inch cubes
  • 1 small to medium red onion, thinly sliced
  • 1 bunch of watercress, keep stems but cut into bite size
  • 2 tomatoes, halved & thinly sliced
  • Cooked white rice

Marinade Ingredients:

  • 2 tbsp minced garlic (Note: I guess and use 2 to 3 cloves)
  • 1 ½ tbsp sugar
  • 2 tbsp oyster sauce
  • 1 tbsp fish sauce (Note: the Red Boat brand is pretty solid, but I grew up with squid one. AZN FRIENDS: tell me what you use!!)
  • 1 tbsp sesame oil
  • 1 tsp thick soy sauce
    • To make thick soy sauce (which is essentially a sweet, thick soy sauce and great for many things such as fried rice):
      ¼ cup of water, 1 cup of dark brown sugar, ½ cup of soy sauce
      Bring water to a boil, add your ingredients and stir. Then, stop stirring completely — cook on medium to low heat. Watch it bubble until it gets dark and thick. Then, you done!

Vinaigrette Ingredients:

  • ½ cup of rice vinegar
  • 1 ½ tbsp sugar
  • ½ tbsp salt

Dipping Sauce(s):
Option 1: Juice of lime, ½ tsp kosher salt, ½ tsp fresh cracked pepper
Option 2 (my personal preference): Leftover vinaigrette in a dipping sauce dish + cracked pepper

Directions:

  1. Prepare by combining your marinade ingredients – garlic, sugar, oyster sauce, fish sauce, sesame oil, thick soy sauce with beef.
  2. Let marinate for ½ hour to 2 hours.
  3. Prepare quick red onion pickle for salad — thinly slice red onion and 3 to 4 tbsp of vinaigrette, set aside for at least 10 minutes.
  4. Cook rice. I advise you to get a rice cooker.
  5. Prepare your bed of salad — watercress, thinly sliced tomatoes (red onion pickle comes in later) — on a serving platter.
  6. IT’S GONNA GET SMOKY. Heat your pan (we use a large cast iron) over high heat. Add 2 tbsp of cooking oil and when it begins to smoke (KEY: IT’S HOT), add an even layer of beef — allow to sear for ~2 minutes before “shaking” or turning/flipping to cook the other sides. This may take an additional 1 to 2 minutes, it goes pretty fast. Do this in batches if necessary, overcrowding is a no-no.
  7. Transfer beef to bed your salad of watercress and tomatoes. Drizzle 3 to 4 tbsp of your vinaigrette and add your pickled red onions!
  8. Lastly, make your dipping sauce of choice.
  9. La table: serving platter + bowl of rice + dipping sauce = voilà!

Every new place I’ve gone to in my (adult) life, I had this urge to BE a local, eat like a local, go where the locals go, do what the locals do. However, on my recent trips, I had a stark realization that I am a tourist. (I know what you’re thinking. NO DUH. Hear me out.) No matter how much research I do (from other tourists, btw), no matter what alley I go down (not recommended unless you’re in a group), I will be a stranger coming to a new place. I will be a tourist in the place I go because that place is not my home. As much as I want to be where local people are, I will inevitably be where tourists are too.

But that’s okay.

I want to see the Eiffel Tower,
I want to eat at Noma,
I want to go to Ha Long Bay,
and so many more things that you will consider “touristy”.

There is a reason why people flock to places and make it that way. It’s because it’s beautiful, highly-regarded and worth seeing (except Time Square, but also I’ve seen it and maybe it’s why I say that. Sorry to call you out, NYC).

Recently, I went to Yosemite National Park for the first time. It is one of the most touristy national parks I’ve been to, but damn, it is beautiful. I ate the expensive cafeteria food, I bought postcards, I did the hikes, I was among tourists (and locals! or frequenters?) and it was great. I would definitely recommend it, I’m definitely coming back to visit and hike it again. I will be a tourist the next time I come with just a little bit more knowledge than before, but a tourist regardless.

We are all touring an unfamiliar land at one point or another, why not throw up that “double peace sign” pose every once in awhile and live life a little (touristy)?

thu texas

It me.

So…I just found out the month of May is Asian Pacific American Heritage Month; and while I’m not a fan of the “Eat Whatever You Want” Day / “National Pickle Day” days (or months), this one’s pretty important to me. Only the last couple of years has this feeling become especially impactful* in my life.

(This is going to sound rhetorical and stupid.) I’ve grown up Vietnamese my whole life. I’ve eaten what’s placed in front of me (most likely rice or noodles), done my fair share of “chuc” during Tet, and I never asked many questions about my heritage. I never needed to; it’s usually told at me.

I listened to my parents/relatives/teachers/Vietnamese strangers tell me what it means to be Vietnamese…I’ve heard the “boat people” story a million times over, and I’ve actually gone to classes for Vietnamese. I had a general sense, and that was enough for me (at the time). However, it is truly only a few years ago that I’ve taken it to heart. It’s like I woke up and realized, “Shit, this is important. This food is good and not just average. I should probably remember how this food was made, where it comes from, why my parents came to America and where I came from.” (This feeling might have started during my undergrad years when I was lacking Vietnamese food in my life and didn’t know how to cook it myself.)

I’ve woken up because of the people around me, and the people I encounter at the grocery store or coffee shop. They’ve gone beyond the frequently asked question, “Can you say something in Vietnamese?” (The answer is yes, but it’s so I can talk about you in another language.) They’ve asked me deeper questions about where and why and how…and I didn’t know these answers. I’d have a vague answer or say, “I don’t know, it’s just always been this way.” I still don’t know all of the answers, but I’m slowly learning. Whether that’s through cooking or research or asking my parents myself, I’m learning (again). I don’t know if many Asian Americans have had this experience, but I felt compelled to tell a little schpiel. I’ve definitely taken homemade pho for granted. Or should I say pho-granted? (I’ll stop.) (Spoiler Alert: I don’t have many Asian American friends and I can’t stop the food puns.)

I’ve also woken up because I’ve seen more “Cafe Sua Da” at non-Asian shops, reinterpretations for Banh Mi and people asking me where my favorite pho shop is. (The answer is Home.) What seemed so normal and average to me seemed like a discovery to others. When thit nuong seemed to be a staple of family parties is almost a treat now. With this slow learning, I’m entering this discovery process too. From a different perspective, I think, but definitely with perspective. I try and not take it for granted. Instead, I try to take it and appreciate it. Maybe even elevate it (in regards to food, and it will definitely take time). I want to do my parents proud, my grandparents proud and my heritage proud.

I don’t want to be a person who doesn’t know where her food comes from, why we have tea ceremonies on the morning of a wedding, or why there is liquor on every table at a Vietnamese wedding. (The last one…I actually have no idea and if you know, holla at yo girl. I figure this was cost-effective and well, Asian people like to drink one thing aka cognac.)

Before this sounds like dribble (because I may or may not have written this while drinking), I wanted to celebrate and toast to my heritage. It’s not often I do this in writing…or at all. I’ve tried to show it to others in conversation and food (the best education there is), but I wanted to write something. I’m proud to be an Asian American. A Vietnamese American. It’s truly a blessing. Who knows how long it would have taken me to discover the amazing-ness of Bánh Mì Thịt Nướng (with pâté, obvi) or Chao Tom or Bánh Chung or Cha Chien…this list could go on…

Wow, okay so it’s been a hot minute seven months since I’ve written my last post. And I can give you many-a-excuses as to why I haven’t been writing, but I will only give you one: I thought I lost all creative sense for writing. I still briefly feel that way, but with my one small stroke of inspiration, I’ll attempt. There may or may not be some (Houston) liquid courage involved…**

I’m writing about how I feel about Houston, Texas. The 713, 281, HOU, HTX, Clutch City, etc. The city has many (debatable) names. I’m writing about how I miss it.

YERP. I miss it for a multitude of reasons even though I’m in the city I’ve wanted to be in for nearly two years. The reasons that kept me from moving are the reasons I miss it (of course):

  • The people
  • Supper club
  • The [diverse] food
  • The Vietnamese grocery stores
  • The Heights and its esplanades
  • Some dude I have my blinders on for, whatever

This seems like a short list, but you’d be surprised of its impact. I mean, the whole lack of Vietnamese grocery stores (yes, I know about MT) could be a whole blog post itself. Yes, I’ve only been here a month and I know it takes time (ugh). I’m keeping an open mind, I promise. However, if you ask me, ask anyone, don’t you find Austin different than what you remember when you visited last? You can’t deny its growth. I mean, look at the new medical school on Red River…or the multiple complexes that have popped up on the east side (where it was once scary AF).

All in all, I’m saying something my thoughts will probably change again…because it happens. Change happens. (Gosh, Thu, what a revelation you had…) Houston will change, Austin will change. Heck, Dallas is probably changing (but who cares as long as the State Fair is still there?). This post is my appreciation and apology to Houston, its people and its food. How did you wedge yourself into my heart?

Recently, while driving in the rain I thought about Houston like this:
You’re like dry socks on a rainy day. (Caveat: I’m not very good at analogies, but go with it.) My friend, Eric, always told me to have a pair of extra dry socks, especially in Houston weather. There’s nothing like putting on dry socks after running from a flooding parking lot to your dry location. It’s kind of amazing. I guess what I’m saying, Houston, is that you’re amazing. When I have those “rainy days,” I’m glad I can look back and put on those dry socks and think of 8th Wonder Brewery, Coltivare, supper club and Viet Hoa (among many, many other things you have to offer).

Cheers to you Houston, but not to your traffic. I will see you again soon. Thanks for being those dry socks.

Processed with VSCO with a6 preset

Thank you for my reminder, JT.

**Drinking a 11th Below ‘Oso Bueno’ beer

IMG_7719

Missing. What a wonderful feeling. Or, horrible feeling.
It’s all about context.

It’s wonderful because you miss something/someone so much that it hurts, but at the same time wonderful. It’s a sign of true missing. It’s not filler. It’s not unauthentic. It’s real, and it’s visceral. It’s an aching feeling that can only be fulfilled when it/they come back. I say “it/they” because it can be your favorite tv show, your favorite YouTube channel, your favorite jeans or person.

It’s horrible…because it’s an aching feeling that can only be fulfilled when whatever you miss comes back. It’s even more horrible when you know that it/they can’t come back. When that show you love so much has ended, that YouTuber has decided to stop making videos, that company stops making jeans or person is no longer here.

What a juxtaposition. It’s confusing. How can you miss something or someone and feel so wonderful and so terrible, simultaneously?

I bring this up, because I feel this way currently. A simultaneous feeling of happiness and sadness, wrapped so closely that I can’t sort it out. What do people say? “How lucky I am to have something that makes saying goodbye so hard?” Winnie the Pooh said that…or his maker, A. A. Milne.

It’s true, isn’t it? How lucky are we to have something that makes saying goodbye? Even if it’s heart-wrenching…for a couple of days, weeks or even years. What I’ve realized and preached, is with some time, the feeling dissipates. Sounds insensitive, but that’s how we process and move forward. Breakups, loss of life, loss of tv show (not to trivialize the former two).

This was mostly a process, stream-of-consciousness-type post. To get through how I’m feeling and to…eventually move forward. I do feel lucky. You should feel lucky if you ever come across this feeling, too.

Remember: It’s about context. And it takes some time.