I seem to be having a lot of lunches with my friends lately, haven't I? Last Friday, I met up with Kim who I haven't seen since last Christmas. In that space of time, she'd finished her third year contract with the JET program in the rural Noto (where we first met as newbies in the program three years ago), and had found a teaching position in Chiba at the exact same school I taught at when we first moved to Tokyo two years ago. It's actually kinda freaky how it worked out like that.
We'd planned to go to K-town to have some Korean food at a favourite restaurant, but the 11 month old boy got his first fever a couple of days beforehand, and although he made good and quick recovery, I didn't want to go too far away from home. So we headed instead to Vietnam Frog in Shiodome City (same building as Rob's office), which is significantly closer to home than Koreatown is. Kim has quite an extensive knowledge of Vietnamese food (she hung around a lot of Viets back home in the states) so I asked her choose the dishes to order. The waitresses were donned in the traditional Vietnamese dress, and I'm guessing the interior was Vietnamese-style, but Kim said that the menu is very Japanised. She saw a few dishes that bore some resemblance to the authentic version and we ordered those that she said were good when prepared the authentic manner.
The Bánh Xèo (Vietnamese crepe) was delicious - crispy pancakes stuffed with slices of fatty pork, shrimp, bean sprouts and cabbage served with lettuce and a vinegar dip. Kim said that usually more variety of green leafies are eaten with this dish, but the bánh xèo was pretty good in her opinion.
Crispy delicious Bánh Xèo and a close up of its innards:
We also ordered the Beef and Mushroom Stirfry (I didn't catch the Vietnamese name that Kim mentioned), which was your standard stirfry dish of beef chunks with piman (green Japanese capsicum/pepper) and enoki mushrooms in an oyster-sauce based gravy. The beef was tender and flavoursome, but not really anything to set it apart from other Asian-style stirfries. The other main dish we got was the Vietnamese Curry (if I'm not wrong, it's called Cà Ri Gà in Vietnamese). To be honest, I had no idea the Vietnamese also has curry in its cuisine - this is how little I know of the culture (I don't know why, but I didn't think Vietnamese cuisine contained anything spicy). This one wasn't very authentic - the karaage-style deep fried chicken was a dead giveaway that this was a very Japanised version of Vietnamese curry. According to Kim, the gravy tasted a little bit like Vietnamese curry, but also very much like Japanese kare. It was tasty, but it lacks a certain spicy oomph, and the deep fried chicken was the dish's weakness. Now I'm curious to try authentic Vietnamese curry!
Stirfry Beef; and Vietnamese Curry:
We couldn't resist ending the meal with something sweet, so we shared a tall glass of multi-layered Black rice and Mung Bean Che. The crunchy black rice grains didn't taste like it had been cooked, and Kim said it was probably just soaked to soften it. It provided a nice texture to the dessert. It also contained cubes of banana and sweet potatoes in a sweet coconut milk base. It was yummy, but I'm still very partial to the Malaysian ais kacang.
Although this wasn't a very authentic experience into the Vietnamese cuisine, it was a good experience because it has opened the door for me to cuisine beyond the typical and ubiquitous pho. And catching up with a good friend is always a plus.