Monday, November 19, 2012

Sushi Dai - Greatest Sushi, Longest Wait

I promised you sushi porn and I'm delivering. Here is our story:

Nick and I scoured the internets for the best sushi in Tsukiji market for our Tokyo adventure. We all knew that Jiro's in the Ginza subway stop (exit C6) was the best sushi in Japan, bar none and with three Michelin stars to prove it. However, Jiro's requires a reservation several months in advance and a few hundred dollars; we were looking for something a little more reasonably priced and without a reservation requirement.

According to the world wide web, and a colleague of mine named Osamu, the best sushi can be found at Sushi Dai. Finding Sushi Dai was another matter, when Lonely Planet's Tsukiji market map put it at the wrong location in the entire market. So ignore Lonely Planet's woefully incorrect map and follow the Tsukiji information station's careful instructions and see where the line is... 

Front line for Sushi Dai
Three hours - enough time to see The Hobbit

We (finally) arrived at the line at 9:48am and found what appeared to be three lines. There were two massive lines huddled around two tiny sushi shops next to each other and then a straight line around the corner; the Sushi Dai line actually had two distinct lines with one group of twenty or so people huddled out in front of the shop and then a separate line around that corner on the sidewalk facing the large, private part of the fish market. The other line in front of a shop with orange banners was for Sushi Daiwa, apparently the second best sushi joint in the area. The line was quite orderly and there was a restaurant hosted who served as line guard and kept records of people in line, their party's size and prevented people from cutting in line or jumping in the line by the door, instead of waiting at the true end of the line around the corner. We waited for three (that's right, three) hours before getting to go inside of the restaurant and sit down. We were about to give up when we spent most of the time waiting in the line on the sidewalk barely moving and needing to get snacks just to make it but were ecstatic as soon as we were promoted to the closer line. Waiting in line was painful but we had a lot of time to get to know a couple from L.A. we really liked during those three hours: Colt and Christina with whom we got to share a painful wait and a memorable meal.

Happy sushi chefs
Inside, the restaurant only serves 14 people huddled tightly at the counter in front of three jovial sushi chefs. These guys were absolutely delightful; they spoke English to us and even a little Mandarin to the girls from Taiwan seated to my left and constantly cracked jokes, thanked everyone profusely for waiting in the long line and were generally incredibly welcoming and informative. Above all, they took joy in their craft and their results were delicious. This was the most wonderful, simple and memorable sushi experience I've ever had in my life.

So fresh, it's still moving

It was very apparent that the fish came from the market and had all been caught earlier that morning. We opted for the omakase option because what else would you freaking eat there? The fatty tuna, otoro was displayed right in front of me in the case and had tons of visible marbling. It was soft, rich, buttery and delicious with plenty of flavor and zero fishiness which was a contrast to a lot of tuna in the US which actually a lot leaner and lacks a lot of flavor. Our second piece was a simple piece of balanced tamago.

Borderline illegal-looking uni
The flounder had a swarth of lime juice over it which gave it a lovely bright taste and the yellowtail was sumptuous; our chef told us that the fish was from Hokkaido, a northern island of Japan with icy waters famous for the best fish. Then came the uni, which was unlike any uni I'd ever tasted. It was unctuous, smooth and almost bright tasting with a hint of sweet acidity instead of pungency usually found in uni. It melted in your mouth sweetly. We had a lovely, savory horse mackerel that was dotted with marinated green onions.

A row of red clam
Then, the chefs grabbed large red clams out of a bucket and we could see that the clams were still alive! As the chefs deftly cut them apart, they joked, "See? It's still alive! Be careful or it will bite your face." And they served that piece of nigiri to us on the wooden sushi board, still twitching. I've never eaten sushi that was still moving before or red clam like that before; clam is typically tougher and chewier than what we had.We had tasty red snapper that was redder and smoother than any I'd ever had and then salmon roe. Our chef said roe was usually frozen and is only fresh a few months out of the year but ours was fresh! The roe was softer than what I was used to but still burst and tickle as you bite into them - only juicier and smoother tasting. Nick's favorite was our next piece: Spanish mackerel with green onion which was a complex balance of sweet and savory. We finished the first round with a sauced piece of delicate and rich anago. We got to pick our final piece of nigiri: Nick chose to do a repeat of the Spanish mackerel while I completed my nigiri with fresh and crunchy abalone.

Everything we ate was carefully made and presented to us with a delicious mouthful of perfectly balanced rice and fish. Even the miso soup had bits of fish in it in a broth which hinted of the sea. Japanese people have a pursuit for perfection and craftsmanship that speaks volume to the food they make - part art, part architecture and completely wonderful.

We might have waited in line for an extraordinarily long time but we had a perfect meal, and a fun experience with the two new friends we had made, made better by the congenial and warm sushi chefs.

Best. Sushi. Ever. 
Excited to finally get to sit down for our sushi!
Below are more photographs of our memorable meal:

Our chef hard at work
Miso soup
Red snapper

Horse mackerel art
Red clam - still moving
Yellowtail from Hokkaido
Salmon roe - little surprises
Spanish mackerel
Anago/sea eel
Extra piece of Spanish mackerel
I hope you enjoyed our sushi adventures and here's to hoping you get to experience this sort of careful craftsmanship soon! We'll have ramen and udon blogs to follow.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Revel Dumpling Making (and eating)

Enjoying the sunshine before the class
If you read our blog, you know we are a little obsessed with Revel and have done two of their wonderful cooking classes.

Then, in a strike of good luck, two spots opening up in their most coveted dumpling making class so Nick and I got bumped up the list. Cooking class regulars. Boo yeah.

This class covered making different dumpling wrappers, fillings and different ways of preparing the dumplings. We split up into groups of four and tackled three dumplings:
an Indian-inspired chick pea and cumin ricotta dumpling that was pan-seared, a boiled shrimp dumpling with flavors or a Vietnamese summer roll and a fried pork dumpling with Korean gochujang sauce. Dumplings are surprisingly easy to make; making the homemade wrapper is just like rolling out pasta or noodle dough.

Recipes are below. Here is a photo journey of our amazing and delicious class:

Chef Rachel & the crew instructing us
Our mise, complete with recipe. BYO knife.
Our teammates portioning out little ricotta dumplings
Chef Rachel checks on our dumplings

Nick and I wrap dumplings

I mixed pork with the gochujang
Add chives and garlic
And there is some porky filling
Seared ricotta dumplings - I would have preferred more sear

We got hungry

Wrapped up pork dumplings - aren't they pretty?

Fried pork dumplings. The giant ones were ones Nick had made
Recipes! Courtesy of Revel & their cooking class awesomeness.

Note: roll out the dough into long sheets with a pasta maker. Then you can cut it up in any way you'd like - add little lumps of filling, cover it with the top of the pasta sheet or cut your own little squares and then add the filling. 

Chick Pea Ricotta Dumpling

  • 1 pt ricotta (strained, should be dry and crumbly)
  • 1 pt chick peas, chopped in food processor
  • 3 tbsp roasted lemon pulp
  • 3 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
  • 3 tbsp parsley, chopped
  • salt & pepper
Mix all ingredients together

  • 2 qt AP flour
  • 3 cups hot water
  • 1 tbsp salt
  • 3 tbsp cumin, toasted and ground
Mix all dry ingredients together first, then add water.
Knead until the dough is smooth.

Spicy Pork Dumpling

  • 3 cups ground pork
  • 1 cup garlic chives, chopped
  • 3 tbsp Korean sweet chili paste: gochujang
  • 3 tbsp mirin
  • 1 tbsp soy sauce
  • 1 tbsp garlic, chopped fine
  • 1 tbsp ginger, chopped fine
  • 1 tbsp Korean chili powder
Mix all ingredients together


  • 2 qt AP flour
  • 1/2 cup garlic chive puree
  • 2 1/2 cup hot water
  • 1 tbsp salt
Mix all dry ingredients together first, then add water.
Knead until the dough is smooth.

Shrimp and rice noodle dumpling
  • 1 pt shrimp, chopped in food processor
  • 1 pt rice noodles, soaked in water, then chopped
  • 1 tbsp ginger, chopped fine
  • 3 tbsp cilantro
  • 3 tbsp Vietnamese fish sauce
  • 1 tsp coriander, ground
Mix ingredients together

  • 2 qt AP flour
  • 3 cups hot water
  • 1 cup ginger
  • 1 tbsp ginger powder
  • 1 tbsp salt
Blend the ginger with hot water and strain. Mix all dry ingredients together, first, then add the wet ingredients. Knead dough until the dough becomes smooth.

Again, we prepared each dumpling differently - we made round pan-fried dumplings with the chickpea dumplings, pinched wonton boiled dumplings with the shrimp ones and deep-fried triangular dumplings with the pork dumplings.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Wrap-up: Seattle Restaurant Week - Fall '12

After a long Sound+Bites hiatus, I'm back to blogging! I don't have much an excuse. This is it. It's a nice diversion, but I've missed food blogging, so here we are.

Look who's back?
Ann and I finished up another Seattle Restaurant Week bonanza last Tuesday; our 5th together (slow-clap). We make five reservations at restaurants that we haven't been to yet (or haven't been to in a long time) and then invite our friends to join us, binge-eat, and meet new people.

This season, we hit up new restaurants Belle Clementine (Ballard) and Rione XIII (Cap Hill), the not-as-new Cicchetti (Eastlake) and Art of the Table (Fremont), and perennial standby Poppy (Cap Hill). 

And a programming note: I'm over doing the full-on review of each dish at each restaurant. It's nit-picky and meandering, and isn't fun to write. So we're going to change things up. 

The Out of the Gate Award (best starter course): Tie! Art of the Table and Poppy.
Poppy's Thali
This one was pretty close, so we'll cheat a bit and award it to both restaurants. Art of the Table (AotT) served up a really smoky and savory salad featuring treviso. Treviso was the de rigueur ingredient this fall: a winter radicchio named after a town in Northern Italy. It's a more mellow salad base, especially when grilled, and you should definitely look for it this winter. 

Poppy featured a delicate salad of oil-poached albacore with avocado and fennel that didn't overwhelm the palate while being totally satisfying, which can be difficult with starter salads.

False Start Award (worst starter course): Rione XIII 
Rione XIII's starter
A pretty uninspired charcuterie plate for two? Olives, some tuna, carrots, romanesco, a rabbit & pork terrine and prosciutto. I understand that they're going for Roman street food, but I have an Ethan Stowell cookbook, and there's plenty of starter recipes that would have been superior for a restaurant that just opened two months ago and is looking to establish some new regulars. 

My Main Man Award (best main course): Art of the Table
I seriously enjoyed the grilled pork loin with smoked bok choy, pepper jam, and pickled ramp vinagrette. AotT really impressed, going from a northern Italian starter to an Asian-inspired main without it being awkward or ham-handed. 

Why You Do Me Like That Award (worst main course): Cicchetti
That sauce tastes familiar..
A potato ravioli in tomato cinnamon ragu. It tasted like SpaghettiO's sauce. I'm not one for hyperbole, but it seriously was like SpaghettiOs. Just really underwhelming.

Yes! Yes! Yes! Yes! Award (best ending course): Poppy
Really great desserts for both Ann and myself. Chocolate truffle torte with jasmine sauce and sesame brittle for me. Hot date cake with banana ice cream and butterscotch. Poppy never fails, so if you visit, save room for dessert. I will say Belle Clementine's buttermilk cake with homemade preserves was also very good, but didn't beat out Jerry Traunfeld's genius. 
Belle Clementine's cake

That'll Do Pig Award (worst ending course): Cicchetti
Marcona almond brownies were pretty much standard fare for a church bake sale. They can, and should, do better than that.

Sotally Tober Award (best drink): Art of the Table
The "Winter is Coming" -Woodinvile rye, fernet, Cocchi di Torino, lemon and chili bitters, with lemon twist. Holy crap, I would have ordered seven of these if I didn't have to drive. Make this drink, now.

Is the Chicken Local? Award (best service): Belle Clementine
Belle Clementine's uber local salad
Really accommodating service that was willing to work with dietary restrictions while doing a family-style serving. The chef even came out and talked to all of us about the meal, describing how he walked 1 block to the Ballard market to purchase most of the ingredients we'd be eating that night.

Best Dished (overall best restaurant): Art of the Table over Poppy in a close one!
Besides an awkward seating arrangement at their large table, not one problem with the meal. Friendly staff, delicious food and drink, and intimate setting. We highly recommend AotT to anyone looking for a cozy late evening date night. In a close second, Poppy still delivers a premium dining experience that I'd rate in the top 10 in all of Seattle. We also think Belle Clementine made a nice rookie appearance, if you enjoy family-style, communal table dining experiences.

Worst Dished (overall worst restaurant): Cicchetti narrowly over (or under) Rione XIII
Surprising failures, considering their pedigree. It's even more disappointing considering we had wonderful company at both restaurants. Cicchetti's starter of Moroccan-spiced chicken wings and Rione's dessert of maple panna cotta with hazelnut brittle were the only saving graces for each. Rione's cacio e peppe, a simple Roman street dish, was way too heavy and over-portioned. But the potato ravioli at Cicchetti was arguable the worst pasta I've had this side of the Spaghetti Factory. The dessert was boring too. Complete faceplant by Cicchetti.

Great company, so-so nosh joint

Rione's tasty Maple Panna Cotta

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Vietnamese Soup for the Soul

We were on a warm weather streak in Seattle and it's been one of the sunniest and loveliest autumns in recent memory. However, there is a little chill in the brisk autumn air and the rain has started as the leaves slowly change to a vibrant hue - and what better to warm you up than some soup?

I had blogged about the mystery behind phở, the most well-known Vietnamese soup. But wait - there's more! Vietnam is renowned for a vast variety of tasty and tummy-warming soups that are perfect for crisp fall days.

Bún bò Huế

Home cooked bún bò Huế
Variety is the spice of life and this earthy soup is spicy, tangy and all-around amazing. This is probably the second most well-known Vietnamese soup for good reason. This dish originates from Vietnam's former imperial capital in the centrally located Huế where finicky kings used to demand elaborate multiple course meals where they could demonstrate their wealth, power and sophistication through tons of fancy food. This central region is also known for using more chili paste and featuring spicier foods than the north or the south. A lot of the most well-known Huế food is complicated imperial court food and are gastronomical works of art that are difficult for most cooks to replicate - except perhaps bún bò Huế.

This soup contains a thicker, rounder rice noodle that's about the girth of spaghetti and prepared with beef broth. The spice from the soup comes from lots of lemongrass, spicy chili paste or oils. It may traditionally be prepared with shrimp paste, oxtail, beef shank, pig knuckles and pig blood although not many people prepare it with pig blood anymore. Some people swear by adding pineapple to the broth to tenderize the beef and all a little sweetness and acid to the stock. As is common with Vietnamese soups, it's served with lime wedges and plenty of herbs and veggies like cilantro, green onions, raw sliced white onions, red cabbage, sprouts, etc.

The depth and complexity of this broth gives it an amazing earthy and well-rounded flavor and Vietnamese people tend to closely guard their recipes for this soup but if you'd like to make it at home, try this recipe out. This soup won't be available at your neighborhood phở joint, but is popular enough to be featured at most Vietnamese restaurants with large menus including Tamarind Tree in Seattle. Here's a recipe & video.

Bún riêu

This soup is one of my favorite soups but made for those who like a little bit of sour in their soup since it features a tomato broth. While there are a few different varieties of this soup depending on the protein that is featured, the most popular is bún riêu cua or the crab version. This dish would normally use a whole ground up crab - shell and all- but most people and restaurants don't do this anymore. The soup features sort of a loose crab cake with pork and ground shrimp, tomatoes, tofu in a tart broth with rice vermicelli noodles and plenty of fresh herbs and veggies. I've seen this on restaurant menus infrequently so here is a recipe to check out if your local Vietnamese joint doesn't have this delicious dish hailing from Northern Vietnam.

Bún thang

I have never seen this on a menu in a restaurant and have no idea why since this is a lovely delicate noodle soup that phở lovers would enjoy. Some recipes online call it "Hanoi Chicken Soup" which seems a bit like a misnomer but it's awesome regardless. This northern dish is a milder, lighter chicken and ham/pork soup with shredded egg crepe and is really easy to make. Recipe here.

Canh chua

This is a Vietnamese style hot and sour soup which is tangier than the Chinese version, with a clear, tamarind broth and most often served with rice. It's similar to a Thai tom yum soup and is from the Mekong River Delta region of Southern Vietnam where sweeter flavors are more abundant as well as swampier vegetables (like okra). This is a refreshing soup that is really easy to make and has a lot of variations depending on what protein you'd like included but it most commonly has tomatoes, pineapple, sprouts and okra. Here is a recipe


Feeling a little sick? Vietnamese people don't serve you chicken soup; we serve you a congee or rice porridge since it's simple to make and easy to eat when it's hard keeping anything down. This doesn't need to be completely flavorless or boring however; it can be a comforting and flavorful dish when paired with a good protein or veggies as our fave spot Revel often does. When my mom senses that my brother and I are getting sick, she whips up a batch with tons of ginger.

If you're staying in on a Sunday to watch some football and curl up in a blanket on the couch, consider making a pot of Vietnamese soup instead of the usual pot of chili or chowder. Enjoy autumn snuggling weather! 

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Noshes in Orlando

The Microsoft Exchange (MEC) conference is in Orlando in a week and @PaulRobichaux suggested I compile a list of places to eat when we're there.

I don't know if a ton of people consider Orlando to be a culinary mecca but I am told there is a lot of great food in Orlando aside from amusement park ice cream, churros and cardboard-y pizza.

Thanks for folks including Holly, Isabelle and @clairedwillett who helped provide me with some recommendations. We'll see post-MEC how these spots are!
  • The Ravenous Pig  - I had the most recommendations for this gastropub so it's worth checking out just because of that.
  • Luma on Park - a locally inspired wine and food spot. The wine selection looks massive.
  • Bull and Bear Orlando - the place to go if you want a "fancy schmancy knock your socks off" steakhouse according to my pal Izzy.
  • 4 Rivers Smokehouse - a Texas-style BBQ joint. Note how I specified the BBQ style since I have pals from various places known for BBQ and I don't want those Carolina/Kansas City/Memphis/Alabama friends knocking this place for its questionable BBQ origin.
  • Press 101 - A sandwich and wine bar.
  • Pom Pom's Tea House and Sandwicheria - exactly what it sounds like but it seems charming.
  • Hanamazuki - a hole in the wall ramen spot, which usually are the best kind.
  • Hawker's - Asian fusion that is based on Asian street food... at least I'm guessing from the name. I love Asian street food although it's often disappointing outside of Asia.
  • Briar Patch - a casual brunch/lunch spot. The mashed potato omelette and the pistachio ice cream come highly recommended.
  • Dexter's - casual lunch or dinner spot. Start with sweet potato chips with spicy dipping sauce.
  • Wildside BBQ - a BBQ joint with alligator but the BBQ doesn't seem to be very focused with both Texan and St. Louis-style BBQ offerings.
  • Red Fox Lounge - A spot for drinks and ambiance. Apparently a couple named Mark and Lorna sing for you there?
  • Raglan Road - a traditional Irish pub built in Ireland and dropped into Orlando.
  • The Beaches and Cream Soda Shop at Disney's Beach Club Resort - It's supposed to be cute but it won't be so cute after you eat their 'Kitchen Sink Sundae' which has 8 scoops of ice cream, all of the toppings they have and a whole can of whipped cream served in a kitchen sink.
  • Three Broomsticks - Ok, so I am a Harry Potter nut but you muggles might enjoy Butterbeer, Cornish Pasty and a pint of Hog's Head Brew (Scottish Ale) before you geek out on wizarding gear.
Enjoy folks! Got other Orlando restaurant suggestions? Comment back or tweet me @AnnInTheCloud.

Friday, August 24, 2012

Our New Favorite Joint in the Hood...

Spatzle with fried egg, mushrooms & chorizo cabbage
You may have noticed that Nick and I frequent a particular restaurant a lot. And Revel is amazing and probably will be our favorite place for a while.

However, we've got a new little neighborhood joint that we adore and is in contention for our favorite spot - and nothing we've eaten there has been disappointing. In fact, everything we've eaten is anything short of absolutely delicious and plate-lick worthy.

Lloyd Martin

Just wanted to throw this restaurant's name out there since it stands on its own. It's in the tiny spot at the top of QA that used to be Bricco. The place only has a bar and 6-7 small tables which keeps it intimate; its kitchen is also super small but whatever those guys make is going to be a perfect little plate that is lovingly made and perfectly executed.

I recommend the 64 degree egg and shrimp and grits. My daring statement is that it's the best shrimp and grits in town - beating out Toulouse Petit. 

Hit it up. We recommend it. Don't just take our word for it.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Hot Weather, Cool Food

Seattle summers are gorgeous but Seattlelites need to complain about something so instead of just enjoying the cloudless azure skies and 80-90 degree afternoons on the water, we complain that it's too hot. However, not consistently hot enough to have air conditioning.

Quit your whining Seattle. Pour yourself a lemonade and eat some cool food.

Nick is checking out the market goods in Vietnam
Vietnam is always hot and I was aghast that people over there wore long sleeved button ups and trousers in 95 degree weather with a gazillion percent humidity like it's no big deal. How do you spot the tourist? Someone who is wearing a tank top, shorts, flip flops and is sweating puddles. But Vietnamese people eat some delicious and amazing food that is easy to make outside on a BBQ and is refreshing for these warm Seattle evenings and dining al fresco.

The Vietnamese Salad: Gỏi

Gỏi in Hoi An
Gỏi is more of a slaw than a western salad perhaps, but we Vietnamese love our light, crisp and fresh tasting mandolin-sliced veggies thrown together with a light dressing. There are tons of different varieties often named for what protein is served with the veggies. These are easy to make as long as you have some time to wash and slice vegetables. I've linked to recipes although I have yet to try them so I don't know if these recipes are great. An important part of Vietnamese cooking is that you don't necessarily need a list of exact ingredients; use what you have in your kitchen pantry and substitute! You can use cucumber in lieu of daikon or try some mint and parsley if you're missing cilantro. Try different things and see what tastes good.
  • Gỏi ngó sen (Lotus): Lotus stems served with julienned veggies and shrimp or pork
  • Goi tôm (Shrimp): Julienned carrots, cucumbers, daikon and crunchy things topped with shrimp
  • Goi gà (Chicken): A cabbage and chicken salad
  • Goi đu đủ (Papaya): A salad with green papaya served with slices of jerky and a vinegar-y nước mắm pha
I'll cook with my grandma this week or next and make one of these so I can write down a tried and true recipe.

Summer Rolls

Small rolls as part of a multi-course meal in Hoi An
These seem to be most popular at Thai restaurants in Seattle but summer rolls wrapped in rice paper are delicious mini burritos of awesome. If you're throwing a dinner party, you can do a 'summer roll-making party and save yourself some cooking since it requires prep only. The most popular roll is gỏi cuốn although I'm partial to bi cuốn. Either way, set out plates of fillings, a few deep plates or dishes of warm water to wet the rice paper wrappers in and allow your guests to fill their rolls with whatever they choose. The filling bar can include:
  • 8''-9'' inch rice paper round wrappers (bánh tráng)
  • Bean thread noodles (clear or cellophane noodles)
  • Rice noodles (referred to as bún, not to be confused with thicker and flatter phở noodles)
  • Shrimp/prawns which you can slice in half lengthwise
  • Fresh thai basil leaves
  • Cilantro
  • Mint
  • Daikon sprouts
  • Cucumbers sliced into  matchstick-sized pieces (the hothouse seedless English variety works well)
  • Julienned pickled carrots
  • Green and red lettuce leaves
  • Slices of fried firm tofu
  • Slices of seared pork tenderloin
  • Chives
  • Chopped peanuts
Cooking class on the rooftop deck of our Ha Long Bay cruise.
Set up some peanut-hoisin dipping sauce and some nước cham for people to dip their rolls in. A lot of restaurants like adding an extra crunch to their rolls now and will add a long piece of a deep fried rolled up sliver of either egg roll wrapper or a thin rolled up piece of deep fried bean curd lengthwise. Do what you will! You can follow a recipe and make the rolls in advance or try a make-your-own party. Then, you don't have to deal with picky friends who hate cilantro or pals who refuse to eat sprouts or whatever.

Barbecue - Vietnamese Style! 

Street meat in Hanoi. Fanning it is just advertising
Even my Texan pals can agree that Vietnamese-style barbecue is completely delicious! If you go to Vietnam, you smell the spicy-sweet aroma of grilled street meat nearly everywhere you go on little hibachi grills; you can get a full grilled meal or salad indoors at sit-down restaurants.

To beat the Seattle heat, you can grill up toppings in the backyard on a hot summer day and serve it with cold rice noodles (bún again) along with nước cham, a squeeze of lime and the assorted greens: sprouts, mint, cilantro, lettuce, green onions and matchstick-sliced cucumbers. Herbs are a big part of a refreshing Vietnamese diet so you'll see green sprinkled generously on everything.

Bun chả cá in Hanoi, cooking in oil
I love skewers like skewered grilled pork (nem nướng) or Hue regional sugarcane prawns (chạo tôm) which uses a stick of sugarcane for the skewer and allows you to suck on a sweet piece of sugarcane as you bite into the shrimp. If you've been trout or halibut fishing, bun chả cá Thăng Long or La Vong is an herbacious, fragrant and refreshing favorite of mine; it's fish that's either grilled or pan friend with tumeric and served with heaps of fresh dill so it's a great farmers market-type of dish. Nick and I were fortunate enough to have gotten to eat this meal at one of the famous monikered place in Hanoi and it was amazingly tasty. However, it's also a super-expensive dish because of its popularity in Vietnam (six or seven bucks a person if I recall - and that was pricey) but you can make it at home just as easily.

Most of the kebabs are easy to make but you can make marinated beef, pork chops, pork ribs, pork meatballs or saute some tofu. A more difficult but supremely delicious barbecue option is grilled beef in la lot leaves or bò lá lót.

Bun chả cá in my bowl
These dishes are all relatively simple to make on a summer evening but provide a great complexity of flavors and textures so you're not just having a boring salad or one-note barbecue. Here are some recipes I found online - please share if these work out for you or else comment and link to a recipe you love more.

Iced coffee in an Aussie expat bar in Hanoi.
Vietnamese Iced Coffee (cà phê sữa đá)

Vietnamese coffee is well-known because it's absolutely fabulous and another French-influenced fusion product. If you need an afternoon pick-me-up or if you're already dying of heat exhaustion in the morning, this will hit the spot.

You can brew it with actual Vietnamese coffee with a French drip-filter but save some time and use some French roast espresso mixed with sweetened condensed milk and pour it over ice. I've been drinking Vietnamese coffee hot or over ice pretty much my entire life. (When I was younger, my mom only gave me a little bit of coffee and mixed it generously with normal milk so I don't think it's coffee that stunted my growth).

Tiger Beer!
Apparently French colonists introduced coffee to Vietnam, which grows remarkably well there and now Vietnam is a top coffee producer. Because the Vietnamese typically used cows as beasts of burden rather than as milk and beef-producers, there was a shortage of fresh milk so the French couldn't have their cafe au laits. Instead, they used sweetened, condensed milk and thus, this amazingly sweet and refreshing addition. Of course, you can also cool off Vietnamese-style with some bia or beer:

Happy eating! When the weather gets cold, I'll give you a rundown of my favorite Vietnamese noodle soups since there are regional varieties that will warm you up, keep your toasty for hours and make your belly very happy.