Today I went down to Little Saigon to check out Tet, the Vietnamese New Year festival. Little Saigon has the largest Vietnamese community outside of Vietnam, so you can imagine how crowded it was. There were a lot of vendors, food stalls, game booths, and random karaoke stands. A lot of women were dressed up in cute Chinese dresses and beautiful Vietnamese aodai dresses.
I was really excited to try different types of foods at the food stalls, but to my disappointment a lot of them had the same stuff with very little variety. I ended up settling for some cha gio (deep fried spring rolls), goi cuon (fresh spring rolls wrapped in rice paper), and pho bo (beef rice noodle soup). When in doubt, stick to the basics.
The festival grounds were filled with the pungent and distinct smell of squid:
The dried squid is quickly roasted, then torn up into little pieces and served with hot sauce and pickled vegetables. We have something similar to this in Japanese cuisine, and it’s usually savored with a glass of cold beer.
I really enjoyed the tall cup of freshly squeezed sugar cane and kumquat juice:
The sugar cane is put through the machine several times to extract every last drop of juice. I remember having freshly squeezed sugar cane juice in Cuba, but they had to manually crank a large 3 foot high machine to do it- it was hard labor.
I was amazed at how large this festival was. There were so many game booths and large amusement park rides; I was really impressed! I regressed for a little while and enjoyed playing games that I hadn’t played in a long time. I won a red crawfish stuffed animal…which reminds me, I just had crawfish in Little Saigon last week, so I’ll post that on my next blog entry. I also rode the ferris wheel- it’s been ages since I’ve done that! I felt like a little kid again.
We watched a bunch of live performances by local Vietnamese-American artists and high school and college groups.
The most interesting part of the evening came after the festival though. My friends and I went to a restaurant called Luc Dinh Ky on Bolsa Avenue. They serve free sweetened chrysanthemum tea and specialize in Chinese herbal soups. We ordered 2 types of soup, one with black chicken and the other with goat testicles.
This was like the Korean chicken soup, sam gae tang, with all of the same Chinese herbs (chinese dates, goji berries, chestnut, jinseng). The chicken meat was so tender and flavorful, and it just fell right off the bones. The chicken used here is black chicken, with white feathers but black skin, meat and bones. It’s supposed to have more anti-oxidants than regular chicken, and is highly prized for its nutritional value. Here’s what it looks like:
If you think that looks unusual, then look at what I had for dinner tonight:
This has the same type of Chinese herbs as the black chicken soup, except the main attraction are the chunks of goat testicle. They are very tender, soft, a bit spongy; like biting into a spongier version of very firm tofu. But they definitely have a slightly strange aftertaste- or maybe it’s just psychological. I was okay with the testicles at first, but I became more and more apprehensive when I started identifying attached structures by their medical names.
My favorite dish of the night was Bo Luc Lac, which means ‘shaking beef’. It was super tender ( I didn’t now stir fried beef could be this tender!!) and went really well with the stir fried rice.
‘Bo’ means beef, and ‘luc lac’ refers to the way that you have to ‘shake’ the skillet back and forth to cook the beef.
We also had Com Tay Cam, which is white rice in a clay hot pot served with, in our case, salmon.
I love eating the crispy browned rice in these clay hot pots. Such a wonderful crunchy texture, not to mention the deep smokey taste.
What a full day, filled with new experiences and new foods. I look forward to celebrating next year’s Tet!
Random trivia: Did you know that around the world, more people drink goat milk than cow milk?