Tuesday, October 05, 2004

Little Saigon, a prelude

The TV shows "The OC" and "Laguna Beach" would have you believe that only rich, beautiful, white people live in Orange County. Which they do; Newport Coast and the clifftop homes in the superexlusive Irvine Cove are loaded with the white people that even white people call white people. White folks -- love you (air kiss) and your food -- but oftentimes, I need a food fix of the Asian persuasion.

For that, I drag Adam on a venture into Westminster, the largest Vietnamese enclave outside of Vietnam. Little Saigon is a local gem that makes our county more special to live in. Adam is my 4 year old, lily-white stepson, the most Asian white kid in our neighborhood. We start our forays into Little Saigon at Top Baguette and the Vietnamese sandwiches made with them, called banh mi. It's a multitextured party of flavors in my mouth, filled with various meats (Chinese style red roast pork, shredded braised chicken, etc); juliennes of pickled carrot and daikon; slices of raw jalapeno; sprigs of fresh cilantro. Entry into this party: $1.50. Crazy cheap. Even though the Vietnamese consider banh mi a fast food snack, they're about the best fast food I've found. I tip my hat to any culture that reveres good, fresh food as much ast the Vietnamese.

I wrote about banh mi on chowhound.com earlier this year, after I tried a dozen or so banh mi shops. Click here for part 1 of the report, and click here for part 2. Top Baguette is still my first choice for banh mi. They have very few potholes on the menu, and the rest of the choices are top notch. If I want a banh mi with a smear of paté, I'll go to Gala Bakery, because I like theirs better. If I'm in the mood for really great red roast pork, I'll go to Tai Buu. Today, we ordered a fried egg banh mi (Adam's favorite) and a pork "ham," which is actually not ham but a mild, white, cold cut made from ground pork. Think sliced, processed turkey cold cuts, but made of pig. If a 4 year old can like it, so can you. But then, he likes it because it's mild. If you like big flavors, get the hoisin-tasting Heo Nuong (roast pork) or the Xiu Mai (meatball).
Top Baguette
9062 Bolsa Ave (south side of street)
Westminster, CA

There's a tiny mom and pop fruit vendor a couple blocks East on Bolsa Ave that sells Southeast Asian fruit like mango, jackfruit, durian, lychee for retail and wholesale. Today, the store was loaded with bright pink dragonfruit for $4 / pound, which is a steal. In the past, I've paid higher than average prices here for jackfruit and mango, but their quality is high, fruit is all they do, and they give friendly service, so I'm willing to pay more. I regret not bringing a camera because the sight of the store filled with this bright magenta fruit impressed me. If you've never seen a dragonfruit, scroll down to the "fruit from hell" photo on the SF - Part 2 post. Check back next week and I'll have photos too.

Tien Phat
9291 Bolsa Ave (NE corner of Moran)

I find it funny how the Vietnamese do French food better than the French in this part of the world, and for less money too. Adam and I finished our trip today at Sing Sing Bakery, which makes excellent French style pastries. I especially like their puff pastry and the pastry cream here, so we got a mini fruit tart and several cups of Vietnamese yogurt. The silky yogurt is made with sweetened condensed milk, which contributes a caramelly, mild sweetness. The small, clear plastic cups of yogurt are sold all over Little Saigon. The cups look remarkably similar despite different labels, so I'm guessing there's a wholesale source that these shops all buy from. Will track that down and report back when I do.
Sing Sing Bakery
9600 Bolsa Ave Unit A
Westminster, CA


Blogger Pat Saperstein said...

Please, do report on Vietnamese yogurt. I'm intrigued. Have you seen them closer to L.A.?

10/07/2004 04:45:00 PM  
Blogger Professor Salt said...

No, Patty, I haven't seen them in LA county. I suspect that if you go to a Vietnamese-owned bakery / banh mi shop /deli, you'll find them in the refrigerator case. Just hope they're fresh, because they sharpen noticeably in flavor as they age a few days in my fridge.

10/07/2004 07:47:00 PM  

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