The Mississippi Gulf Coast has a double handful of good Vietnamese restaurants, and if you have not eaten at one, you just don’t know what you are missing!
It’s just not possible to talk about Vietnamese food and not start with pho. Superchef Anthony Bourdain famously called pho “a steaming bowl of goodness.” Pho most often has a fragrant beef broth base, made by roasting beef bones, along with a few other exotics, to make a clear and delicious stock. There are several different varieties, but basic pho is made with thin slices of beef, rice noodles, and a lovely medley of fresh herbs, wedges of lime, bean sprouts, and hot peppers. It is also sometimes made with chicken and is just as delicious as the beef version. On a cold winter’s day, I can hardly think of anything more delicious. This dish is so popular in the Vietnamese community it is commonly had for breakfast, lunch, or dinner.
Another must-try Vietnamese standard is beef stew. Yep, you read it right but don’t think grandma’s old-time stew. This is fragrant with spices you might not expect to find such as lemongrass, Chinese five-spice, ginger, cinnamon, and annatto seeds. Don’t worry if you are not familiar with any of these spices, because this stew is delicious! It is most often served with crusty French bread for dipping, but you can get it with noodles if you like.
Another Vietnamese specialty that might surprise you is the common pork chop but don’t expect it fried Southern style. This chop is made caramelized and delicious with the help of shallots, brown sugar, fish sauce, and vinegar. Don’t turn your nose up at the fish sauce, because it is a basic component of many sauces and dips and when balanced properly it is a wonder. Try this dish and your idea of the lowly pork chop will change forever.
One last suggestion. The Vietnamese are also famous for their sandwiches, or Bánh mì. Some call this great sandwich a Vietnamese po-boy, but its roots are not in Creole or New Orleans but in the French idea of a sandwich. Vietnam was a colony of France for many years and any true Frenchman would lovingly fill a baguette full of delicious cold cuts and cheese. The Vietnamese versions include a huge variety of delicious things, but the core of it is the crunchy French bread. Never expect soft white bread, that just wouldn’t do.
I have eaten at every Vietnamese place on the Gulf Coast and I would recommend all of them. Breakfast, lunch or dinner, you are in for a real treat when you go Vietnamese!