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n w o t a i s A An Epicurean Exploration of



i SPRING 2017



Savor a full-pound Alaskan King Crab cluster served with crab fried rice. Every Monday night for just $50, all summer long!

Here’s to hos pitality.

HOUSTON i 5350 Westheimer SUMMER 713 783 7270


We certainly think so. We’re proud to offer premium Certified Angus Beef ® brand products sourced from right here in the Lone Star State. Every cut must meet the same 10 exacting standards for marbling, texture, juiciness and flavor the brand has always required. Those standards are more selective than USDA Choice and Prime,* and, it’s raised by ranchers under Texas skies.

1 SUMMER 2017









Refresh with our






“The Oceanaire” Specialty Martini



Giving energy a whole new feeling. We teamed up with McGonigel’s Mucky Duck for our small business Ambassador Program because of their dedication to quality and open-arm approach to people. Owners Rusty and Teresa Andrews selected the Reliant Business Power Plus plan to help maintain their budget and keep things cool for the busy supper club that puts live music in the limelight.

Reliant helps us set the stage with wow factor — whether it’s powering our kitchen, setting the mood in the dining area or lighting up the stage.

Rusty Andrews co-owner, Mucky Duck

Together we’re powerful. 1.866.660.4900 | 3 Reliant is a registered service mark of Reliant Energy Retail Holdings, LLC. Reliant Energy Retail SUM M E RServices, 2 0 1 7 LLC (PUCT Certificate #10007). © 2016 Reliant Energy Retail Holdings, LLC. All rights reserved. 506650




Teresa Byrne-Dodge CREATIVE DIRECTOR &




Taylor Byrne Dodge

Becca Wright



Sarah Bronson, Eric Gerber Dragana Arežina Harris John Nechman, Mai Pham Carl Rosa, Ellie Sharp Michael Shum Robin Barr Sussman Edward Wong

Melody Yip


Dragana Arežina Harris Chris Hsu Kevin McGowan Devyn Park Mai Pham, Ellie Sharp Cindy Vattathil


n w o t a i s A

An Epicurean Exploration of

713-529-5500 SUBSCRIPTIONS

Joan Byrne 713-529-5500 BOOKKEEPER

Darla Wishart



i SPRING 2017


ABOUT THE COVER ARTIST Kevin McGowan is a long-time contributor to My Table magazine, and this is his seventh cover. Visit to see more of his work.


DETAILS My Table magazine is published by Lazywood Press ( A one-year subscription is $30. Some back issues are available, $12 each. CUSTOMER SERVICE Our website lets you change the address on your

account or order a subscription. If you are missing an issue, receive duplicate issues or need to temporarily suspend your subscription, email LETTERS For the quickest response, contact the editor via email at My Table: Houston’s Dining Magazine (USPS #011972, ISSN #1076-8076). Issue No. 138 (Summer 2017). Published by Lazywood Press at 1733 Harold, Houston, TX 77098. Established January 11, 1994. All rights reserved. Material may not be reproduced by any means whatsoever without written permission. The opinions expressed by My Table’s writers do not necessarily reflect those of the publisher or Lazywood Press. PERIODICALS Postage paid at Houston, TX. POSTMASTER: Send address changes to My Table, 1733 Harold Houston, TX 77098. 713-529-5500

SideDish is an email newsletter published by My Table and is packed with restaurant news, wine reviews, recipes, events, give-aways and everything else that celebrates the Houston food world. Sign up today for your free SideDish subscription at

4 SUMMER 2017




















beauty and the


M-W 11am-11pm, TH-F 11am-12am Sat 12pm-12am, Sun 5pm-10pm

5 SUMMER 2017

1131-14 Uptown Park Blvd. Houston, TX 77056 713-871-1200




36 42

By Teresa Byrne-Dodge


Get to know a few of My Table's contributors featured in this issue



What's going on in the Houston restaurant world?


GUIDE TO CHINATOWN An overview of the eight kinds of Chinese food you’ll find on or near Bellaire Boulevard By Michael Shum Illustration by Chris Hsu


Industry pros share their Asiatown favorites By the My Table staff



KNEAD TO KNOW Explore the sweet goodies that Asiatown has to offer Text and photos by Melody Yip


Asiatown's icy treats Text and photos by Melody Yip


Our Asiatown grocery market treasures By the My Table staff Market photography by Becca Wright Product photography by Kevin McGowan


Learn to make steamed dumplings from an expert Text and photos by Dragana Arežina Harris


Ten suggestions for movies that pair well with Chinese food By Eric Gerber Illustration by Cindy Vattathil

We rate five Chinatown restaurants where you can 54 MEET THE MEDICINE MAN Hoi Fung of Fung's Kitchen gives us a lesson on order soup dumplings 6 Chinese medicinal ingredients Text and photos by Melody Yip SUMMER 2017 Text and photos by Mai Pham






How to make reishi mushroom tea By Edward Wong Photography by Becca Wright

Ramen in Common founder Carl Rosa shares his two favorite Asiatown ramen shops By Carl Rosa Photography by Becca Wright



A short primer on Korean food, local Korean restaurants and a favorite family recipe By John Nechman Photography by Becca Wright

Here are basic drink pairing guidelines for Asian genres and classic dishes, as well as a round-up of the best wine and beer menus in Asiatown. You will also find a list of Asian restaurants to BYOB. By Robin Barr Sussman Photography by Becca Wright


BEYOND There is so much more to Vietnamese food than banh mi and pho. And you can find most of it in what is now the Little Saigon area of Asiatown Text and photos by Mai Pham


Enjoy four cocktail recipes featuring Asian spirits from Houston bartenders By Taylor Byrne Dodge Photography by Becca Wright


VIETNAMESE Get to know Kim Ngo of Thien Thanh Text and photos by Mai Pham


A look at Filipino karaoke bar Pasayahan sa Nayon By Sarah Bronson Illustration by Devyn Park


Consider this a starting point for where to go and how to enjoy one of the most filling – and fulfilling 112 INDEX – meals in Houston’s Asiatown A directory of the restaurants and shops featured in 7 Text and photos Ellie Sharp this issue SUMMER 2017




FINAL STOP: ASIATOWN Did you know that Houston has one of the country’s largest Asiatowns?

an inadequate description. The tollway acts almost as the frontier with Chinatown to the east and “Little Saigon” ILLUSTRATION BY CHRIS HSU to the west. In addition, the heavy influence of Taiwanese, Korean, Malaysian, Filipino and Japanese businesses warrants a moreinclusive name.

Unlike in San Francisco, New York or Boston, Houston’s Asiatown is not a charming and walkable district of winding streets and historic architecture. Like much of Houston, our Asiatown is a series of strip centers, with way too many cars on the road, and a string of mostly unremarkable storefronts. It runs along or near Bellaire Boulevard for some 10 miles, beginning in Sharpstown and extending now to Highway 6 and beyond.

We’ve known our way around Asiatown in a casual way for years. But we wanted to know more. It’s rare for us to have the luxury to dive deep and focus My Table on a single subject. This time we left no wok unturned. We asked friends we knew to be especially knowledgeable about Asiatown to lend us a hand. (Some of these savvy folks are spotlighted on the opposite page.) But many more people took time to send us lists, meet us for beignets and provide introductions. Thank you, all, for your input and guidance in producing a very special edition of My Table.

When we launched My Table 23 years ago, there were a mere handful of places on or around Bellaire Boulevard owned, operated and patronized by AsianAmericans. Today the southwest part of the city is a fascinating and ever-evolving cultural phenomenon. Some Houstonians call this the International District or the Bellaire Asian District; some have even floated “Bellasia.” Many simply call it Chinatown; we always did, too. But the growth of the Vietnamese community west of the Sam Houston Tollway makes “Chinatown”

Teresa Byrne-Dodge, editor and publisher

K e v i n M c G owa n Photography print & web commercial photography

8 SUMMER 2017



John Nechman

Michael Shum

John Nechman is a founding partner and immigration lawyer at Katine and Nechman LLP and an adjunct professor at South Texas College of Law Houston. Born in Korea, he has lived in 12 countries and traveled to more than 100, many with his Colombian-born husband Ricardo. He has lived in Houston most of his life and writes frequently on the Houston food scene.

Born and raised in Malaysia, Shum moved to Houston in the 1990s. He has been in the insurance and financial industry for more than 15 years, but his advocacy is sharing his love of food. “I’m passionate about empowering people to venture into Chinatown and explore for themselves the rich, eclectic and abundant offerings of authentic regional Chinese cuisine. To me, food is the best way to get people together, break bread and enjoy fellowship.”

Kevin McGowan

Eric Gerber

Kevin McGowan is a self-taught photographer who began at an ad agency in the 1980s. “My career has been a succession of assignments with wonderful, talented, generous people who have shared, mentored and patiently helped me along my path,” he says. He began doing magazine work early on, which in turn led to a number of disciplines, including portraiture, products, architecture and, of course, food. To see more of McGowan’s work, visit

Gerber worked at the Houston Post for two decades as book editor, film critic and columnist, then served as senior producer and executive editor for Microsoft Sidewalk and CitySearch websites, respectively. His freelance work has appeared in Texas Monthly, Esquire, TV Guide and on MSNBC. His favorite culinary adjective is … digestible. Gerber is communication director at the University of Houston.

Mai Pham

One of the most active food and travel journalists in Houston today, Mai Pham holds a degree in English with Honors from UCLA and currently freelances for My Table, Houston Chronicle, Houstonia, Texas Highways, Houston Press, Houston Modern Luxury and Forbes Travel Guide. Follow her on Twitter, Instagram and Snapchat @Femme_Foodie.

Carl Rosa

Carl Rosa is the founder and leader of the country’s largest sushi-based group – the Sushi Club of Houston – and hosts sushi classes and demos around the country. He is also the founder of Ramen in Common, a Japanese ramen enthusiast group with more than 2,000 members. He offers guided tours to Japan several times per year – since 2005, he has visited Japan nearly 60 times.

9 SUMMER 2017 SUMMER 2017





Co-owners JT Reed, Leslie Nguyen and Vinnie Capizzi opened their first Bosscat concept in Newport Beach in 2014 but always intended to expand outside of California. The Houston location debuted in February. The most notable feature is the enclosed whiskey room that stores 260-plus bottles of whiskey. Matt Sharp is bar director, and in addition to seasonal specialty cocktails, Bosscat offers a rotating selection of barrel-aged cocktails. The menu includes pork belly poutine, bourbon chicken flatbread, pulled pork hushpuppies, macaroni ‘n’ cheese and parmesan-crusted meatloaf cubes. Chef is Peter Petro.

The sibling to Pearland’s King’s Biergarten finally opened its Heights location in May. Father-son duo Hans and Philipp Sitter launched the German-American restaurant/beer garden in Pearland in 2011. The Sitters, originally from Austria, brought with them cookbooks and family recipes and created a concept that has received national press. At the new BierHaus, you’re greeted by a 30-foot biergarten mural with a few nods to Texas – see if you can spot the celebrities during your first visit. Walk down the entry hall past the grab-and-go fridges and order at the giant beer barrel. Then choose your seat inside or outside in the 9,000 square-feet beer garden. From there, a server will take care of any additional food and beverage needs throughout the rest of your meal.

4310 Westheimer at Mid Lane, 281-501-1187,


1112 Shepherd Dr. just north of Washington Ave., 832-804-6006,

2044 East T.C. Jester near Ella Blvd., 281-990-3042,


Triniti Restaurant, where Ryan Hildebrand was executive 4400 Bellaire Blvd. inside the Loop in Evelyn’s Park, chef for five years, closed at the beginning of the year, 832-831-6944, but he had announced the FM Kitchen and Bar concept The city of Bellaire has a brand new park – Evelyn’s Park (originally FM Burger) long before. The space, which – where Teas Nursery once stood. And within the park is opened in May, doesn’t feel like a hole-in-the-wall burger this restaurant from Jamie Zelko and her partner Dalia joint – it’s fresh and modern. Outside on the patio, Zelko. Grab-and-go dishes are created from organic, there are picnic tables with umbrellas, a stage for live local ingredients, including herbs from Jamie’s on-site music, a ping-pong table and a few lawn games. The FM herb garden as at their award-winning Zelko Bistro (alas, burger features a four-ounce patty served with cheese, now closed). The highly anticipated restaurant serves lettuce, tomato, onion and their signature “Shhh” sauce breakfast, lunch, dinner and snacks to park patrons and (a mayo-ketchup concoction). We can see these burgers 10will prepare a custom picnic basket to enjoy in the beer SUMMER 2017 winning a following akin to that of Shake Shack. garden. Catering is also available.


5045 Westheimer at The Galleria, 713-357-7588,



2241 Richmond Avenue bet. Greenbriar & Kirby, 713-529-3100,

The old Blue Fish House building has been cleaned up, opened up, revamped and made as cute as it can be. We love the combination of dainty white curtains hemmed with Battenberg lace hanging at windows with metal burglar bars. The wood floors and tables and clear glass hanging lights with Edison bulbs don’t say “Thai,” nor do the oh-so-comfy upholstered orange chairs. But the colorful menu graphics have a youthful Asian styling. Speaking of the menu, take a look and be awed. Many items will seem familiar, but there’s plenty on it that we don’t see much of here in Houston. The restaurant’s name “Rim Tanon” means “roadside,” and the tagline is “Modern Thai Street Food.” Chef Nunnapat Triwatkhunakon’s plating is as original as the food is tasty.

The Chinese dim sum spot from the international Hakkasan Group, is now open in the standalone “Jewel Box” luxury retail building located just steps outside of The Galleria. It helps to fill the gap in an area of our city’s culinary landscape that isn’t rich with options – fine Chinese dining. The dim sum/teahouse/nightclub concept launched in Soho, London, in 2004, and it only took the restaurant a year to receive its first Michelin star. Houston is home to the restaurant chain’s second US location. (The first opened in Waikiki, Hawaii.) Expect dim sum of many kinds, soups, seafood, poultry and meat, tofu, vegetables, rice, noodles and an astonishing high-end dessert menu and retail pastry shop. YAUATCHA'S TROPICAL DOME DESSERT


191 Heights Blvd. just south of I-10, 832-831-9820,

Cherry Pie Hospitality – they also have State Fare, Pi Pizza, Lee’s Fried Chicken & Donuts and Petite Sweets – launched its newest concept in late April. The menu showcases a raw bar with seafood cocktails to seafood towers, as well as grilled seafood and seafood sandwiches. Chef is Armando Ramirez; he works with corporate chef Jim Mills, GM Leonora Varvoutis and beverage director Laurie Harvey. (There are 23 sparkling wines on the menu, thank you very much.) The dining room’s coastal feel is courtesy of partner Lee Ellis and Design Hound from Austin, who used a dark gray-and-white palette touched with gold and lots of azur blue.


noteworthy closings ANEJO, 1180 Uptown Park Blvd. ARTHUR AVE, 1111 Studewood BERNADINE’S, 1801-B N. Shepherd HUNKY DORY, 1801 N. Shepherd LEIBMAN’S WINE & FINE FOODS, 14529 Memorial Dr. CORNER TABLE, 2736 Virginia GLASS WALL, 933 Studewood

JERRY BUILT HOMEGROWN, all locations LITTLE LIBERTY, 2365 Rice Blvd. NELORE CHURRASCARIA, 4412 Montrose Blvd. RED OX, 811 Collingsworth MICHAELANGELO’S, 307 Westheimer SHADE, 250 W. 19th St. SULLIVAN’S STEAKHOUSE, 4608 Westheimer 11 SUMMER 2017




table talk

fter 20 years with the Brennan’s family of restaurants, DANNY TRACE hung up his toque and took a few months for some R&R before signing on as executive chef at JIM CRANE’s upscale Italian restaurant, POTENTE. Executive chef MICHAEL PARKER, who is the director of operations at Crane’s Floridian Gold Club, helped launch the restaurant and was traveling between Florida and Texas for months leading up to Trace joining the team. About the same time, Brennan’s of Houston tapped chef JOE CERVANTEZ as executive chef. Cervantez had worked in the Brennan’s kitchen with Trace as sous chef from 2010 to 2014 before leaving to assist RONNIE KILLEN at KILLEN’S STEAKHOUSE as executive chef. In April we spoke with Killen about Cervantez leaving to return to Brennan’s, and the soft-spoken meat master said he had his blessing. Replacing Cervantez at Killen’s Steakhouse is STEVE HAUG who previously worked in the kitchens at DEL FRISCO’S and PESKA SEAFOOD CULTURE. Peska, meanwhile, has re-branded itself as PESKA SEAFOOD AND PRIME STEAKS. Haug replaced Peska’s former child prodigy chef OMAR PERENEY, who has joined CHRIS TRIPOLI’s A LA CARTE FOODSERVICE CONSULTING GROUP. So who is lead at Peska? CHRIS LOFTIS, who left his post at the brand-new THE PEARL restaurant inside the SAM HOUSTON HOTEL. We’d draw you a visual, but it’s still very confusing.

Meanwhile, chef JONATHAN JONES (you remember him from BEAVER’S and his role as culinary director of EL BIG BAD) has joined CANE ROSSO as executive chef for the South Texas locations, which include the Montrose and Heights locations, and is collaborating on the menu with MATT WOMACK (formerly at UCHI and PROHIBITION SUPPER CLUB). CHRIS FRANKEL, who was the talent behind SPARE KEY, has joined as beverage director. After four years at TONY’S, chef de

cuisine KATE McLEAN has departed. She has been replaced by AUSTIN WAITER who had previously worked as sous chef. Long-time VIC & ANTHONY’S chef CARLOS RODRIGUEZ has been promoted to lead research and development chef for LANDRY’S restaurant group. PAT McCARLEY, who served as vice president of CORDÚA restaurants for 17 years, has retired from the restaurant world and is headed into real estate. JOHN McALEER and the entire team tipped their hat to general manager TOMMY SCHILLACI on May 31 when he retired after nearly 30 years at the BUFFALO GRILLE. EVAN TURNER,

Greek wine geek and advocate, announced he had resigned from his post at HELEN, the Rice Village restaurant, as well as its new sister location in The Heights. It wasn’t clear exactly what caused the Iron Sommelier to walk out, but he told the Houston Chronicle, “There will be days I will probably regret it, but deep down inside it’s something I had to do.” Ten days later, it was confirmed that Turner had returned to the Helen Greek restaurants. In May, CLAIRE SMITH quietly closed SHADE, her Heights eatery that was one of the first upscale dining restaurants to open in the neighborhood, and renovated for weeks before launching ALICE BLUE. The new concept will have a (yes, blue) modern interior, and the menu is headed by KENT DOMAS who was previously at DOWN HOUSE and BERNADINE’S. And speaking of Bernadine’s, both it and corporate sibling HUNKY DORY, which are involved in a messy bankruptcy case leading up to the closure of other TREADSACK restaurants FOREIGN CORRESPONDENTS and CANARD, have closed. RICHARD KNIGHT, who was part of the team behind FEAST and the culinary face of Hunky Dory, left the family of restaurants in January and announced that he had plans up his sleeve to continue feeding the city with his wife,




CARRIE JEAN KNIGHT. In late May, Bernadine’s closed and executive chef GRAHAM LABORDE was snatched

right up by Killen’s Steakhouse.

FAT BUTTER CONCEPTS owner GREG GORDON announced in December that the 19-year old Briargrove restaurant LA VISTA would be closing and relocating in 2017. More recently Gordon secured a spot for his next project in the Lazybrook/Timbergrove neighborhood between Loop 610 and T.C. Jester. The concept will showcase La Vista favorites and also new takes on the classic pizzas from the long-time menu. There will also be more dining space, more parking and a full bar. PEPPER TWINS has

applied for a liquor permit for a soon-to-open third location at 3915 Kirby near the Southwest Fwy., where CAFE JAPON did business for nearly 20 years. We spotted a wine permit application on the West Gray location’s door as well. B&B BUTCHERS’ restaurateur BENJAMIN BERG has announced he will open a second concept, THE STAR, in a luxury apartment development downtown at 1111 Rusk.


the New Orleans steakhouse, will open a Houston location at the space that was previously TRINITI at 2815 S. Shepherd later this year. NOLA wiener chain DAT DOG announced plans to open 25 restaurants in the Houston area beginning this year. LOPEZ MEXICAN RESTAURANT, which has spent the last 39 years as a single, stand-alone restaurant, will finally open a second location in Richmond at 7227 West Grand Parkway South. JONATHAN’S THE RUB has

again announced a second location in Memorial, this time just east of the Sam Houston Tollway facing City Centre. The development will feature boutique retail space, twoand three-story homes and neighboring restaurant DISH SOCIETY. Restaurateur BRYAN CASWELL (of REEF, EL REAL and LITTLE BIGS) and wife JENNIFER announced their next two projects: OXBOW 7, a restaurant inside of downtown hotel LE MÉRIDIEN (1121 Walker), which is currently being renovated, set to open by end of July, and a roof-top hotel bar the couple plans to design and operate. Look also for a renovation of REEF, 10 years after its opening.

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The Chinese diaspora has been Houston’s gain. Here in this city – and in particular here in the Chinatown section of our sprawling Asiatown – we enjoy hundreds of Chinese food outlets. To get you oriented, we have an overview of the eight kinds of Chinese food you’ll find on or near Bellaire Boulevard. But it doesn’t end there. Read on for guides to Chinatown bakeries, soup dumplings, grocery stores and more.

15 SUMMER 2017

By Michael Shum • Illustration by Chris Hsu




Sichuan cuisine has been the main catalyst in raising Houstonians’ awareness of authentic regional Chinese cuisine. The early success of Mala Sichuan Bistro encouraged many foodies to venture to Chinatown and opened an avenue to trying Chinese food that is not the customary Americanized version. Sichuan cuisine is immediately recognizable by that spicy and numbing ingredient that is used liberally in most of the dishes – Sichuan peppercorn. Many great quality Sichuan restaurants have emerged since Mala Sichuan first launched and have made the market for this cuisine very competitive.

Foods & Flavors Sichuan peppercorns, five-spice powder (fennel, peppercorns, anise seed or star anise, cinnamon and clove), chiles and chile paste, tofu, all kinds of seafood and meat, hot pots, dandan noodles

Try the food at: SZECHUAN HOUSE


9252 Bellaire Blvd., Ste. C

9348 Bellaire Blvd.

This establishment stands as one of Chinatown’s most authentic Sichuan restaurants and one that does not compromise on their spiciness. Try the roasted whole fish with all the fixings. It’s not for the faint of heart or palate.

The old guard of Sichuan cuisine in Houston now has two locations. (The second, newer Mala is in Montrose.) Many non-Asian Houstonians have been introduced to the numbing “mala” quality of Sichuan peppercorns here. Although competition is fierce nowadays, Mala Sichuan still holds its own. Simple eggplant in spicy garlic sauce is a classic in the Houston Sichuan food scene.


9114 Bellaire Blvd.

Their specialty is “Wood Bucket Fish” from Sichuan, CHENGDU TASTE and it is available locally only at this restaurant. It’s made 9896 Bellaire Blvd., A tableside by placing fish fillets on sizzling hot black rocks This newly opened spot used to be Banana Leaf II, so inside a wood bucket. After they’ve cooked for a few the decoration inside still retains a tropical theme. It’s a moments, the chef arrives to pour hot broth and vegeta- franchise Sichuan restaurant that originated in California bles (e.g. various mushrooms, tomatoes, peppers, ginger) and has drawn a big crowd since its opening. You will into the bucket. It’s topped with a lid to cook for a few have a good fix of mala flavors from the numbing pep16 minutes. This unusual feast will easily feed four people. percorn, and a good sweat to go with a delicious meal. SUMMER 2017


Fun fact: Throughout the United States, most Chinese-American restaurants that use the word “Hunan” in their name do not actually offer Hunan cuisine. However, many authentic Hunan restaurants that have opened in recent years in Chinatown are doing well and producing another unique Chinese regional cuisine for local diners to experience. Although Hunan and Sichuan cuisine can be similar and share some of the same characteristics, such as the spicy and savory components, Hunan-style cuisine uses less of the numbing peppercorns typical of Sichuan. Hunan food is often sourer (from vinegar or citrus) and hotter (from chiles).

Foods & Flavors White rice and rice noodles, al dente vegetables, pork, fermented foods, chile oil, smoked foods

Try the food at: HUNAN BISTRO


This is a top Hunan restaurant that demonstrates authentic Hunan cuisine in Houston. The braised pork belly with preserved mustard greens wins fans with meat so tender that it practically dissolves on the tongue, and the pickled mustard greens complement it well. Hot and Spicy Small Fish – so crunchy, savory and spicy – is meant to be eaten whole, bones and all.

“The Grease Scraps of Fat Chili King” is a unique dish that will intrigue more adventurous eaters. It is basically pieces of crunchy cracklings (like chicharrón), stir-fried with diced bell peppers and green onions. These little dynamites of deep-fried fat taste surprisingly clean and ungreasy and, combined with the sauce’s spicy and savory flavors, are easy to wolf down with steamed white rice.

9889 Bellaire Blvd., Ste. D-254 in the Dun Huang Plaza

9390 Bellaire Blvd.


With Shandong’s long coastline, it’s not surprising that seafood is of primary importance. Diners also relish delicacies like pig blood and intestines. The cooking style emphasizes the preservation of the ingredients in taste, color and cut. Shandong chefs go for a “quick fry” technique called bao, where ingredients are tossed in a wok filled with extremely hot oil for a short spurt of time. The result is marvelous and less oily food.

Foods & Flavors Vinegars and salt, peanuts, soybean products, both wheat and rice noodles, cabbage, seaweed. Raw meat is often tossed in flour so it forms a crust while frying.

Try the food at: LU XIANG VILLAGE 6650-C Corporate Dr.

More a carry-out cafe than a restaurant, this tiny spot specializes in Shandong-style food, which is also known as Lu cuisine. Come here for steamed red bean buns, pork buns, spiced meat, chicken legs, pig’s ears and more. Also serves Chinese breakfast. 17 SUMMER 2017






The Uyghur (pronounced wee-gur) people live in Xinjiang, an autonomous region located in China's far northwest. It has often been in the news, as the region has a history of discord between China’s government and this ethnic minority. The Uyghur culture is very different from mainstream Chinese – the people are Muslim, though they speak Mandarin – so their food naturally adds another exciting variety into the already diverse Chinese cuisine. Xinjiang food is heavily influenced by Central and South Asia, like Afghanistan, Pakistan and Turkey, yet it still reflects many characteristics of Chinese food.

Foods & Flavors Halal lamb and chicken, chewy laghman noodles, house-made yogurt, rice pilafs



9126 Bellaire Blvd. in the Welcome Supermarket Plaza

9888 Bellaire Blvd. Ste. 168 in the H Mart Plaza

This little restaurant is nicely decorated with artifacts of the Uyghur culture. Tawa kawap – braised lamb with special Uyghur sauce served on grilled naan-style bread – is a memorable dish here. Try also the mur gosh korimisi, which is crispy bits of stir-fried lamb and wood ear mushrooms. Laghman – thick hand-pulled noodles topped with stir-fried meat and vegetables – is another hearty and satisfying dish.

Their version of polo, which has lamb shank slowly wok-roasted until fall-off-the-bone tender, is accompanied by aromatic rice that soaks up all the flavors from the meat juices infused in the cooking process. It’s almost like the Xinjiang version of the famous Indian dish lamb biryani. Big Plate Chicken uses chicken pieces – skin and bone included – stir-fried with spices, then served on hand-pulled noodles.

18 SUMMER 2017



Hong Kong



Hong Kong was a British colony for 99 years, and its food reflects the influence of the British Empire. For example, milk tea is probably the most popular beverage among Hong Kong people, while sandwiches and toast are also daily food staples. Hong Kong-style cuisine is available in Houston more in a cafe or bistro setting, but there is one popular restaurant with a full menu, properly outfitted with white tablecloths, to cater to a more formal dining experience.

Foods & Flavors Various chow fun (wide rice noodle) dishes, roast duck, wontons, char siu (barbecued pork), egg tarts, dim sum and milk tea

Try the food at: HOUSE OF BOWLS

6650 Corporate Dr., Ste. F

House of Bowls is best known for their variety of wok-fried noodles, like dry beef chow fun and shrimp chow fun with egg sauce. Their fried chicken wings are also beloved, with scallion or salt and chili pepper. (Order the wings first, as they take about 15 minutes to prepare.) Get their dessert toast and milk tea or YinYeung (milk tea and coffee) to finish off a nice meal.





Expand your refreshment horizons with our huge selection of wines, spirits and beers, all at lower prices. There’s no cooler way to sip away the summer!


9108 Bellaire Blvd. Ste. A in the Welcome Supermarket Plaza

Hong Kong Cafe is famous for their Hai Nam Chicken Rice, which consists of an entire chicken poached and cut in pieces, then served with aromatic oily rice cooked in chicken broth, garlic and ginger. Their version of Hong Kong-style roast duck with crispy skin is well prepared here and served with more meat than the usual Peking Duck, which focuses mainly on the crispy skin with minimally rendered fat. HONG KONG FOOD STREET

9750 Bellaire Blvd., Ste. 100

This proper Hong Kong-style restaurant has an extensive menu that includes exemplar congee (like a rice porridge, but better than that sounds). It also serves very good Hong Kong-style barbecued meat. The BBQ Sampler is a good starting dish and is comprised of barbecued pork belly with crispy skin, roast duck and char siu (barbecued pork).



Shanghai Shanghai is a port city in China with billions of dollars of foreign commerce passing through the city. That traffic has made the local food an amalgamation of many different cuisines. Consequently there is not really a de facto Shanghainese cuisine; it’s a little of many things. A hint of sweetness is often noted in many dishes. Buns and dumplings also play a big part as staple foods. There are several area restaurants that have the word Shanghai in their name, but only one reigns supreme.

Foods & Flavors Xiao long bao (soup dumplings), steamed, braised, roasted, stir-fried or smoked seafood (e.g. crabs, eels, sea cucumber, fin fish), fried and steamed stuffed buns

Try the food at: ONE DRAGON 9310 Bellaire Blvd.

One Dragon’s traditionally trained chef/owner was a famous chef in Shanghai who worked at renowned restaurant corporations. He helped a few Houston restaurants become popular by his mastery at making xiao long bao (what we call “soup dumplings”) before he opened his own small restaurant. The world-class soup dumplings here are delicate and delicious, with flavorful soup and exquisite meat fillings, all encased in a thin skin that holds everything together. What a wonderful opportunity it is for Houstonians to access the amazing xiao long bao and authentic Shanghai cuisine right here in town.


There is a respectable population of Taiwanese in Houston, but few Taiwanese restaurants seem able to stay in business for long. The good news is that we have many of them to choose from. The cuisine draws many influences from China’s middle and southern provinces, most especially Fujian (Hokkien). Most of our local Taiwanese restaurants are more cafe and bistro-like, offering a wide variety of noodle soups, dumplings, potstickers and rice plates.

Foods & Flavors

The most common foodstuffs are seafood, pork, chicken, rice and soy. Subtropical fruits (e.g. papayas, starfruit, citrus) are used, as are an array of seasonings, including sesame oil, fermented black beans, pickled radish, chiles and cilantro (aka Chinese parsley). The Taiwanese enjoy lots of substantial snacks, known as xiaochi, as well as fruity boba drinks and shaved ice.

Try the food at: TAINAN BISTRO



Gather a few friends and order beef noodle soup, katsu chicken, fish rice plate, dumplings and potstickers at this newly opened Taiwanese restaurant. It has one of the best values for the quality and quantity of food provided. Staffers are eager to help and accommodate.

One of the longest-standing and successful Taiwanese cafes in Houston, people come here for their beef noodle soup and katsu pork or chicken set meal. They also carry the popular shaved ice dessert, where you can choose crazy-different 20 toppings of fruit S U M Mand E R 2 0jellies. 17

This place is popular for people who want to get a set meal of two vegetables and two meats selection with either rice or noodles. There are more than enough choices available daily, and all those clean and fresh options are available at a super value of $5.50.

9306 Bellaire Blvd. in the JusGo Market plaza



9252 Bellaire Blvd., Ste. A, and others

9600 Bellaire Blvd., Ste. 121 in the Dynasty Plaza



Guangdong There are many superb Guangdong or Cantonese-style restaurants in Houston, especially in Chinatown. Cantonese cuisine prides itself on maintaining the original and natural flavors of the meat, seafood and vegetables used in a dish. Therefore, a minimalist approach – like stir-frying and steaming – is mostly employed for this effect. Freshness of the ingredients is crucial, and the magic of a fantastic dish can be distinguished by the skill of an experienced chef, especially that coveted wok hei or “breath of the wok.”

Foods & Flavors Fresh and live seafood (steamed whole fish), sweet sauces, dim sum, tofu, vegetarian options, generally mild flavors

Try the food at: ARCO SEAFOOD

9896 Bellaire Blvd. in the H Mart plaza

This is, arguably, the best dim sum in Houston, despite the absence of pushcarts. Shrimp dumplings rival or are even better than those found in Vancouver, one of the most densely populated cities of Cantonese people in North America. Arco offers great quality and a variety of dim sum at very reasonable prices.


10796 Bellaire Blvd., Ste. C

There are two things Crown Seafood does very well. Definitely go for the lobsters, prepared nearly any way you like. (The XO sautéed or House Special is a great option.) There are many places that do very good Peking duck, and this is one of them. The crisp skin of their well-roasted ducks is excellent, and then there is a second course made from the rest of the duck that you choose.


9889 Bellaire Blvd. Ste. 301 in the Dun Huang Plaza

Order the Golden Spare Ribs that have been marinated and then coated with salted egg yolk for an intense umami bomb. It’s a must-try unique dish. Also recommended: stir-fried green vegetables, walnut shrimp, salt-toasted squid and the dumplings.

Michael Shum works in the insurance and financial industry, but among 21 Houston foodies, he's known as the unofficial Mayor of Chinatown. He's passionate about empowering people to explore authenic Chinese food. SUMMER 2017

d e r e w s n A y e Th WE ASKED,


server, chef and owner of Cafe TH





More than 25 years Thien Thanh (11210 Bellaire Blvd.), Hai Cang (Harbor) Seafood Restaurant (11768 Bellaire Blvd.) and Nam Giao Restaurant & Bakery (6938 Wilcrest, Ste. C) BEST-KEPT SECRET IN ASIATOWN: Xin Jiang BBQ (9260 Bellaire Blvd.) FAVORITE COMFORT FOOD: Bun rieu [a fresh, sour Vietnamese soup, often with crab and tomato], all day everyday.

Lily Jang Real Estate Asian

Entire life Jasmine Asian Cuisine (9938 Bellaire Blvd.), Kim Son (10603 Bellaire Blvd.) and Kung Fu Tea (9889 Bellaire Blvd., Ste. 222)







Korean barbecue (kalbi)



bartender at Captain Foxheart’s Bad News Bar & Spirits Lodge Half Korean, half Vietnamese HOW LONG A HOUSTONIAN? 5 years ETHNIC HERITAGE:

in Kingwood

Pho! I grew up eating this dish with my family, so it always feels like comfort food for me. There are different styles of pho as well, so it’s always interesting to try all the different ways people make their broths and how it’s served. You can sort of guess the general area in Vietnam they might be from, or what kind of style they might prefer. FAVORITE COMFORT FOOD: Banh xeo was something I ate a lot growing up. You can find it at most Vietnamese restaurants as “crispy pancake” or “sizzling cake.” I don’t see bun rieu [a fresh, sour Vietnamese soup, often with crab and tomato] very often, but when I do I order it immediately.


owner of Hunan Garden Restaurant,







Entire life


• Confucius Seafood Restaurant (8880 Bellaire Blvd., Ste. J) for their lunch specials and the Jade Tofu with King Mushrooms dish • Xiong’s Cafe (9888 Bellaire Blvd., Ste. 150) for spicy beef noodle soup and fried dumplings • Crawfish & Noodles (11360 Bellaire Blvd., Ste. 990) for boiled crawfish and salt and pepper crab BEST-KEPT SECRET IN ASIATOWN? All the cheap, prepared food ready to go at San Dong Noodle House (9938 Bellaire Blvd). I love filling my fridge with snacks from there like steamed pork buns, fried buns stuffed with Chinese chives, sticky rice-covered meatballs, cucumber salad and soy sauce eggs. Cash only. IN THE BATTLE OF PHO VS RAMEN, WHO WINS?

Pho! I want pho all year round for any meal of the day. And Houston has great pho houses. The caliber 22 of ramen is not as high. SUMMER 2017 FAVORITE COMFORT FOOD: Fried chicken



cook at Aqui (opening soon)


Entire life FAVORITE ASIATOWN DESTINATIONS: Ever since high school, I’ve been going to a spot called Tapioca House (9104 Bellaire Blvd., Ste. B) for boba. Good boba is pretty easy to come by in Chinatown, but I really enjoy their small bites as well. Their Crispy Basil Chicken can be ordered on a spice scale from one to 10. It was the perfect snack to accompany some milk tea. Mala Sichuan (9348 Bellaire Blvd.) is by far my favorite Chinese place for that region of cuisine. The food is phenomenal and unique but the service is what really sets it apart as a restaurant in Chinatown. I’ve been going well before they were a big enough name to open up in Montrose or even have a big name beer/wine consultant. I’m glad to see that expansion has not affected their quality or authenticity. Tofu Village (9889 Bellaire Blvd.) has a typical Koreanstyle menu, but they specialize in a spicy tofu soup that is to die for. It comes with all the banchan or Korean accompaniments, a raw egg to crack into your soup and a whole fried yellow croaker. IN THE BATTLE OF PHO VS RAMEN, WHO WINS? That’s like comparing chicken noodle soup to beef stew. Pho is a springtime soup, light yet flavorful, with rice noodles and relatively light portions of meat. Ramen, however, is hearty. It typically has such a rich broth, egg noodles, pork belly, half a softboiled egg. Yeah, if I had to take a bullet for either dish, I’d make the dive for ramen. FAVORITE COMFORT FOOD: Really good fried rice. It doesn’t matter from what country, they all have a version I love. HOW LONG A HOUSTONIAN:


operating partner, The Burger Joint




attorney and partner, Katine & Nechman LLP; adjunct professor, South Texas College of Law; freelance writer Korean-European HOW LONG A HOUSTONIAN: 45 years ETHNIC HERITAGE:


Uyghur Bistro (9888 Bellaire Blvd., Ste. 168), Crawfish & Noodles (11360 Bellaire Blvd., Ste. 990) and HK Dim Sum (9889 Bellaire Blvd., Ste. 110) BEST-KEPT SECRET IN ASIATOWN: Minh Phat Pho (12320 Bellaire Blvd., Ste. A6) FAVORITE COMFORT FOOD: My mom’s kimchi jjigae, which is basically kimchi stew. It’s Korea’s beloved answer to chicken noodle soup.



bar manager at Anvil Bar &

Chinese, Taiwanese HOW LONG A HOUSTONIAN: Entire life ETHNIC HERITAGE:


San Dong Noodle House (9938 Bellaire Blvd.), House of Bowls (6650 Corporate Dr.) and Peking Cuisine (8332 Southwest Fwy.) BEST-KEPT SECRET IN ASIATOWN: The beef noodle soup at Xiong’s Cafe (9888 Bellaire Blvd.).

8 years

Fu Fu Cafe (9889 Bellaire Blvd.), Banana Leaf (9889 Bellaire Blvd., Ste. 311) and House of Bowls (6650 Corporate Dr., Ste. F) BEST-KEPT SECRET IN ASIATOWN: I don’t know if it’s much of a secret, but Juice Box (9889 Bellaire Blvd., Ste. 10) is awesome. FAVORITE COMFORT FOOD: Korean food FAVORITE ASIATOWN DESTINATIONS:


Chinese-style beef noodle soup would be the best. But out of these two, pho wins. FAVORITE COMFORT FOOD: Crawfish or Taiwanese fried chicken WINS?







assistant GM at Anvil Bar & Refuge




26 years

HK Dim Sum (9889 Bellaire Blvd.), Peking Cuisine (8332 Southwest Fwy.) and Crawfish Cafe (11209 Bellaire Blvd.) BEST-KEPT SECRET IN ASIATOWN: Thien Thanh Restaurant (11210 Bellaire Blvd.) IN THE BATTLE OF PHO VS RAMEN, WHO WINS? Ahh, ramen ... I know, I’m a traitor. FAVORITE COMFORT FOOD: French fries. I could eat them for days. FAVORITE ASIATOWN DESTINATIONS:

Top 100 Restaurants ‒ Alison Cook 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016 Houston’s 100 Best Restaurants “Instant Classics”

‒ Houstonia Magazine, 2016




bartender at Ninja Ramen

Japanese/mixed race Entire life FAVORITE ASIATOWN DESTINATIONS: San Dong Noodle House (9938 Bellaire Blvd.), Little Sheep Mongolian Hot Pot (8488 Bellaire Blvd.) and Nu Cafe (9889 Bellaire Blvd.) BEST-KEPT SECRET IN ASIATOWN: $20 foot massages FAVORITE COMFORT FOOD: Chazuke (a simple Japanese soup made by pouring green tea, dashi or hot water over cooked rice, sometimes garnished) ETHNIC HERITAGE:


Dogfriendly patio!


food writer




35 years Harbor Seafood Restaurant (11768 Bellaire Blvd.) HOW LONG A HOUSTONIAN:



Pho, of course, but only my mother’s. Otherwise, the ramen shops tend to do a better job than the pho shops in Houston. It’s a shame. FAVORITE COMFORT FOOD: Lotus-wrapped rice with Chinese sausage, ha cao [shrimp dumplings] and xiu mai [pork and shrimp dumplings] at HK Dim Sum (9889 Bellaire Blvd.). Dim sum and tea are a weekend morning tradition for me and my daughter. Tuesday through Saturday 11:30 am - 10:00 pm 3215 Westheimer, Houston, TX 77098 713.522.1934 •

24 SUMMER 2017


s g n i l p m u D p Sou Text and photos by Melody Yip

Xiao long bao is a kind of steamed bun thought to have originated in Nanxiang, near Shanghai. Commonly called “soup dumplings,” they are squat and round, made with a thin translucent dough that is swirled into a topknot that makes it easy for chopsticks to grasp. The “soup” part of the name refers to the hearty pork-based broth trapped inside the dumpling. A pork meatball hides inside as well. The meatball is made with pork aspic, and it is the melting aspic that turns into the soup when the dumplings are steamed. Xiao long bao are a staple favorite in Chinese cuisine and have also gained popularity in Taiwan through the restaurant chain Din Tai Fung (which now has some locations in the United States). Ready to try xiao long bao? Turn the page for five Chinatown restaurants where you can order soup dumplings. A rating of five spoons is best.

25 SUMMER 2017




9896 Bellaire Blvd., Ste. B, in the H Mart Plaza, 713-270-9996

Golden Dumpling House’s version is kind of a tease. Their xiao long bao include ground shrimp in their meatballs, and the kitchen assembles super-sized dumplings. But they have a doughy texture that detracts from the meat. Also, very little soup exists inside each dumpling, so the whole wrapper-broth-meatball balance is off. The doughiness is somewhat redeemed by the meatball’s home-style flavor. Price: $7 for 10 dumplings

how to eat soup dumplings There’s been a lot of chatter on the internet about the correct way to eat xiao long bao. Here’s how I was taught to do it: • Use your chopsticks to grab the dumpling “by the hair” – the topknot, where the dough is thickest. • Bite the topknot open and rest the dumpling in your spoon. Slurp out the soup. • Alternatively, you can pour out the broth into your spoon or bowl first, then drink it by itself. Just don’t waste the soup, as it’s the best part. • Eat the rest of the dumpling for the full experience. SARAH PLACE'S DUMPLINGS

SARAH PLACE 9968 Bellaire Blvd. in the H Mart plaza, 713-995-0985

As at Golden Dumpling House, Sarah Place’s soup dumplings also seem extraordinarily massive in size. In this case, however, it’s the broth that shines. It’s decadent, with a bit of grease and fattiness, and there’s plenty in each dumpling. The meat tastes wonderfully tender, and the steamed dough sports thick topknots and properly saggy bottoms. Price: $6.99 for six dumplings

26 SUMMER 2017




9888 Bellaire Blvd., Ste. 150, 713-771-8448,

Sadly, these xiao long bao were disappointing. They looked like buns rather than dumplings, lacking any sagginess – which made handling them easy, but eating them rather dispiriting. The absence of soup and the tough meatballs created a challenge to find any redeeming qualities. Does it sound like a vaudeville joke to note they are, at least, a bargain? Price: $6.95 for eight dumplings

ONE DRAGON 9310 Bellaire Blvd., 713-995-6545

One Dragon is famous for the delicate, ultra-thin dough that gives their dumplings the classic, slightly wilted look. The savory pork broth inside is piping hot – almost too hot – and the small meatballs make one easy bite. These were the most challenging to eat because they are almost too flimsy to grasp. Soup inevitably leaks out with these babies, so be vigilant. Price: $6.99 for six dumplings


9889 Bellaire Blvd., Ste. E209, in the Dun Huang Plaza, 713-981-8838

Fu Fu’s skimps a bit on the quantity – four dumplings for $5.99. But the soup pleasantly surprised us with a ginger-centric kick. The broth is light-bodied, and plenty of meat fills out the dumpling’s body. While the wrapper veers towards thick, it’s not to the point that the dumpling resembles a doughy ball. Note that Fu Fu is open late, so enjoy an order of soup dumplings after a rowdy evening at the nearby karaoke. bar. Price: $5.99 for four dumplings 27 SUMMER 2017

Melody Yip is My Table's editorial assistant. She recently graduated from Rice University and is moving to Austin to work for Austin Stone Community Church’s Story Team.

Asiatown Bakeries that you knead to know Text and photos by Melody Yip

Along with the desserts you might expect to find in an Asian bakery – those made with tropical fruits, tapioca, gelatins, sweet and starchy tubers, matcha tea – you’ll note a strong Western influence, too. The same display cabinet featuring egg tarts, red bean puff pastries, pork floss buns and black sesame buns may also offer fresh-made madeleines, macarons, Swiss roll cakes and palmier cookies. Sometimes the offerings are a fanciful intersection of the sweets traditions: think blueberry cream bread or pastries shaped like unicorn horns filled with light fluffy cream. Many Asian bakeries are serve-yourself style, much like Mexican bakeries. Pick up one of the plastic trays and a pair of tongs, and then proceed to pick and choose from the shelves.

28 SUMMER 2017




9896 Bellaire Blvd., inside H Mart, 713-360-3220

Tucked inside H Mart, this Korean bakery features the best of both Eastern and Western worlds. You’ll find neat, richly-turned-out European desserts such as puff pastries and vibrant tarts, and you’ll also find comfort Asianstyle treats such as starchy pumpkin donuts and mocha cream breads filled with coffee jelly. Pick up a strawberry tart and a couple loaves of buttery milk bread to share with family and friends, and meander to H Mart’s enticing shelves to stock up on groceries, too.



9888 Bellaire Blvd., Ste. 138, in the H Mart Plaza, 713-777-8838

I Ping looks like a sketchy hovel from the outside with its tinted windows and small, cramped space, but their Taiwanese baked goods supply many grocery stores in Chinatown (such as Welcome and JusGo). They also manage to make everything from scratch. Their flower-shaped puff pastries ($2.25 each), painted with bright egg wash, are laced with dates or lotus for a dainty sweet flavor.


9889 Bellaire Blvd. in the Dun Huang Plaza, 832-410-1082

This darling, cozy bakery offers massive loaves of garlic cheese bread, coconut buns and innovative options like mango cheese bread and pandan sponge cake. Prices range from $1 to $6. You can get fluffy, Japanese-style cheesecakes (think angel food cake with a dense, cheesy quality) and Swiss rolls by the slice. If you’re looking for something fun and creative, try one of their taiyaki – fish-shaped waffles filled with red bean and matcha ice cream, then crowned with a kebab of marshmallows.

29 SUMMER 2017


9834 Bellaire Blvd. in the Dun Huang Plaza, 713-773-0658 (and other locations)

Six Ping represents one of Houston’s quintessential Asian bakeries with a wide array of breads – including some made to resemble goofy cartoon animals – that are sold wrapped in cellophane bags. Choices range from chocolate mousse buns to hearty soft breads studded with sliced hot dogs and green onion. Order an elegant, creamy cake for any occasion and choose from fillings of mousse, sponge cake or jelly. Unlike other local Asian bakeries, Six Ping has several locations within the city.

LF NEW OLYMPIC BAKERY 9256 Bellaire Blvd. in the JusGo Supermarket Plaza, 713-772-4361

This bakery has a legacy of 30 years of experience, and it shows in the quality found in the mooncakes (yue bing) and wife cakes (lau pau bang). You will find all kinds of mooncakes, some with the imprinted Chinese characters and matte crust, some with a round, flaky pastry look glazed with egg wash. Fillings include taro, lotus root and red bean. The wife cakes, which look like flat pastry disks, have sweet, light wintermelon paste tucked inside. Or pair your coffee with a crusty honey twist, a sweet cracker-cookie hybrid dotted with black sesame seeds.

30 SUMMER 2017


9889 Bellaire Blvd., Ste. 107, in the Dun Huang Plaza, 713-367-6616

Two words: pineapple buns. This family-owned establishment resembles a bakery straight out of the streets of Hong Kong. Sip a thick, warm concoction of Hong Kong-style milk tea from a flimsy Styrofoam cup between hefty bites of buttery bread. Make sure you catch all the golden sugar crumbs – that’s the best part. Try also the pork floss buns sporting tufts of pork sung (cotton candy-esque fluffy dried pork). They often sell out, so come early.


ECK BAKERY 6918 Wilcrest Dr., Ste. A, 281-933-6808

Eck (“Egg Custard King”) Bakery reigns as one of Chinatown’s staple destinations for Asian desserts and baked goods. Their reputation stems from serving legendary Hong Kong-style egg custard tarts by the single or the dozen ($1 per egg tart). Located in an unassuming strip mall on Wilcrest at Bellaire, Eck Bakery makes egg tarts with a flaky, mildly buttery pastry shell. Good egg tarts showcase a natural yellow hue and a shimmery glazed sheen on top, never overbaked or burnt. Eck Bakery’s version lives up to this standard. Take a bite from a fresh tart and the piping hot custard spills out with a sweet balance between egg and creamy flavors edged with vanilla. Even when eaten cold hours later, the custard holds its texture well.



9600 Bellaire Blvd., Ste. 109, in the Dynasty Plaza, 713-270-6525

Houston’s only vegetarian and vegan Asian bakery is located in the Dynasty Plaza. All imitation meats are made with soybean-based products, so you’ll find classic breads like pork floss buns and bacon loaves that resemble the meat versions identically. For vegans, the wife cakes and almond cookies are friendly options perfect for tea accompaniments. The almond cookies have a slight crunch and a nice vanilla aroma.

31 SUMMER 2017

Melody Yip also wrote the previous article on soup dumplings on page 25.

Frozen Over

Asiatown's icy treats Text and photos by Melody Yip CLASS 502'S ROLLED ICE CREAM

It can get hot in Asia. To cool off, people enjoy icy drinks and desserts. These treats are often fruit-centric and not overly sweet, so they are refreshing rather than decadent. Sounds like a great option in Houston, too

32 SUMMER 2017


9889 Bellaire Blvd., Ste. D220, 832-831-8152

With its kinda adorable schoolroom décor and old vintage movie posters – there’s even a Superman mural made entirely of Post-It notes that customers write on – Class 502 clearly values visuals along with edibles. Come here for an ice cream performance as guys behind the counter scrape, pound, smash and delicately roll ice cream into each paper cup. The rolled ice cream technique is a Thai import, and because it’s labor intensive a line of customers often forms. Toppings include little-kid favorites, such as Pocky sticks, animal crackers and Oreos.


9889 Bellaire Blvd., Ste. E207 in the Dun Huang Plaza, 979-450-4220


This place, a rare gem, serves Hong Kong-style desserts. There is a category of desserts dedicated to vanilla, another to mango and more. The base for these desserts include either sago pearls (similar to tapioca) or glutinous rice pellets (like mochi), a sauce or slush and toppings. One delicious option is the mango and sago dessert, served in a square orange dish and brimming with refreshing fruity flavors. Translucent little nibbles of sago float in a thick mango slush peppered with flakes of pomelo (related to the grapefruit) and crowned with a scoop of matcha ice cream. This dessert is perfect for Houston summer nights.




Bring On The


9188 Bellaire Blvd., 281-902-9298

Go Go Ice’s reputation stems from their fresh fruit smoothies – they use real produce, none of that powdered nonsense. The tapioca balls have a nice, tender, chewy consistency. The best part is the bang for your buck: a 20 oz. smoothie (with two fruits) is just $3.25 ($4 for three fruits). Pineapple, strawberry, durian, lychee and mango are just a few of the colorful options available.


34 SUMMER 2017




9889 Bellaire Blvd., Ste. 109 in the Dun Huang Plaza, 713-484-8085

This Taiwanese-style shaved ice destination presents their snow ice like mountainous bouquets of dessert. The ice, processed to a slightly chunky consistency, soaks in milk and ice cream – chocolate, mango, strawberry and more. Dig your spoon deep into the heart of the dessert and infuse flavor into the ice with scoops of toppings (strawberries, mango, lychee, kiwi, etc.) glazed in condensed milk.


10613 Bellaire Blvd., Ste. 150, 832-328-3900, and other location

Bambu, a national chain, offers a Vietnamese treat called chè, which is a dessert soup over ice. Order the Fruit Addict, and you’ll hold a large globe of ice perched on top of a jumble of exotic, tropical ingredients ranging from crunchy red tapioca (made from water chestnuts) to long strands of pandan jelly. (There’s also longan, palm seed, jackfruit and coconut milk in there.) Other chè options include smashed avocado, a coconut combo, green bean, red bean and longan fruit. Each has at least three components that marry a variety of textures and flavors meant to be scooped up or slurped up.


9889 Bellaire Blvd., Ste. 112A, in the Dun Huang Plaza, 713-771-7771, and other location

Nu Ice differs from Juice Box because it serves “snowflake”-style shaved ice. Large round blocks of condensed milk ice are specially shaved into delicate, thin folds as smooth and soft as sorbet. They fall on the plate like silk sheets piled high, and you can customize your dessert with toppings and drizzle. Besides shaved ice, try one of Nu Ice’s specialty drinks, which look like marbled swirls in slushie-like ice. (You can get it with boba, too.)

35 SUMMER 2017

Melody Yip also wrote the article on Asiatown bakeries on page 28.

s e r o c S t e Mark Known for some of the best produce prices and seafood selections in town, Asian supermarkets have cropped up all over Houston. Most, however, are clustered in the Sharpstown and Alief area, also known at Asiatown. Want to know what other treasures you’ll find? Keep reading and check out our haul. By the My Table staff

36 Market photography by Becca Wright



H mart

9896 Bellaire Blvd. bet. Corporate Dr. & Sam Houston Tollway Perhaps you believe that buying a bag of DRIED CHILES (99 cents) is a great idea from an economic perspective, but you just don’t need several hundred dried chile pods. Sure you do. Add them to your homemade pickles. Grind them in a spice grinder and use as a rub for shrimp or beef. Make your own mole. Mix whole pods and pulverized pods with olive oil and use as a finishing oil for pizza, a marinade for chicken or a base for stir-fry. We bought this DUMPLING PRESS ($2.49) for contributor Dragana Harris since she was researching how to make dumplings (page 40). As it turns out, she doesn’t take cheap shortcuts: Her dumplings are all hand-pleated. We wanted these CHILDREN’S TRAINING CHOPSTICKS ($4.99) just because they’re so darn kawaii.* The texture of MOCHI is polarizing: You either love the way your teeth sink into the gummy dough, or you hate it. If you’re a fan (or just curious) grab a package of strawberry mochi ($3.49). It’s super-sweet, but a piece with a cup of tea is nice. Think of PORK SUNG (also known as pork floss, $2.99) as a form of Chinese bacon bits. Sprinkle a few shreds of the dried pork into your plain morning oatmeal or congee (see our congee article on or stuff pork sung into peppers or mushrooms along with the filling you’d typically use. Got the munchies? Assemble a grilled cheese sandwich, and make it even better by adding pork sung between slices of cheese.

*Kawaii means “lovable,” “cute” or “adorable” and has become a prominent aspect of Japanese popular culture, entertainment, clothing, food, toys, personal appearance, behavior and mannerisms. Or so says


Product photography by Kevin McGowan




Viet hoa

8300 Sam Houston Pkwy. at Beechnut Cellophane noodles, bean threads, glass noodles, MUNG BEAN VERMICELLI … what’s in a name? The pink fishnet bag contains eight separate bundles of fine noodles ($1.39). Soak briefly to soften, then add to salads, soups or sautés. Or, for crisp noodles, drop a bundle into a skillet of hot oil and watch them puff up in, oh, about one second. Made in Korea, GOCHUJANG ($4.19) is one of the basic condiments/ flavorings in Korean cooking (see John Nechman’s Korean Kitchen Cupboard on page 61). It’s made of chiles, sticky rice, fermented soybeans and salt. These MIXED FRUIT CHIPS ($2.49) are the fruit world’s answer to Terra chips. Ingredients include jackfruit, sweet potato, taro, banana and pineapple, along with a bit of corn oil and sulfite for processing. The most expensive purchase of our shopping trip was a box of BLACK LINGZHI, or reishi, mushrooms ($12.99) purchased for making a soothing tea. See Edward Wong’s Rest, Relax, Reishi on page 59. Made in the USA and resembling convenience store Slim Jim meat sticks, CANTONESE-STYLE SAUSAGES ($4.59) are the funky and slightly sweet sausage that we love to find in our fried rice. Tip: Cut on the diagonal and cook in skillet first to render out some of the fat.


9280 Bellaire Blvd. just west of Ranchester Dr. Not for dumplings only, a BAMBOO STEAMER ($9.99) is a great tool for preparing an ultra-low-fat meal. Use it to steam vegetables and a piece of fish or chicken breast. Up the flavor by replacing the water with beer, wine, dashi or broth. The highest and best use for ANAHEIM-STYLE GREEN CHILES ($1.49 per pound)? New Mexico-style green chile pork stew. And this is a great price. You can’t make tom kha gai, the classic Thai-style chicken and coconut milk soup, without LEMONGRASS ($1.19 per pound). It’s also become a popular ingredient in cocktails: See Kristine Nguyen’s recipe for an Atatawa Twist on page 108. A Korean YELLOW PICKLED RADISH ($3.69) is a formidable thing. This one was more than a foot long. It’s actually a daikon radish that is made yellow during the pickling process. Danmuji, as it’s called in Korean, is a component in kimbap (Korean-style seaweed rice rolls, similar to sushi). A sweet treat first introduced in 1966, POCKY ($1.99) come in many different 38 flavors. The dipped biscuit sticks are said to be named for the onomatopoeic sound they make when snapped in two. SUMMER 2017


hong kong market 11205 Bellaire Blvd. just west of Wilcrest

Not quite Costco-sized, maybe, but this is a big tub of COFFEE JELLY ($6.29). Add some to your homemade cafe sua da (Vietnamese iced coffee, see below) for extra texture. Or you might want to try your hand at making a caramel coffee jelly frappuccino: Blend together 2 espresso shots, 4 ice cubes, 8 ounces milk and 3 tablespoons caramel syrup. In a tall glass, pour in half the frappuccino, and then add a tablespoon of coffee jelly. Pour in the rest of the frappuccino and top with another spoonful of coffee jelly. Want to go all out? Drizzle more caramel on top. That’s two ways to caffeinate yourself and chill out this summer. This VIETNAMESE COFFEE DRIP FILTER ($1.99) and TRUNG NGUYEN COFFEE ($6.99) could be all you need to make the perfect cup of joe. (Just add sweetened condensed milk and ice for cafe sua da.) Save up to 50 percent by buying them in any of Houston’s Asian supermarkets instead of on Several less-common KITKAT flavors like matcha and strawberry are $4.98 and sold in bags of individually wrapped miniatures. This makes a great peace offering for that person in your office who loves KitKat bars and keeps having their stapler stolen. These are the cutest little pocked-sized CHOYA PLUM WINE servings, ever ($8.49). They are especially handy if you’re making cocktails and don’t want to open a large bottle for just six ounces. (See Akiko Hagio’s 39recipe for The Golden Plum on page 107.) And you know what they say: If it fits in your pocket, it fits in your purse. SUMMER 2017 SUMMER 2017


Dumplings all wrapped up in

Text and photos by Dragana AreĹžina Harris Recipe by Henry Shi

40 SUMMER 2017


early every culture on Earth has some form of dough stuffed with a sweet or savory filling as its comfort food, whether it is Italian ravioli, Polish pierogi, Turkic manti, Latin American empanadas or Indian samosas. In China, it’s jiaozi – crescent-shaped dumplings of evenly crimped wrappers stuffed with meat, seafood and/or vegetables.

For a great dumpling recipe, I turned to Houston Chowhounds founder and restaurant owner Jenny Wang at Hunan Garden Restaurant. With two locations and serving the Rosenberg and Kingwood communities for 30 and 29 years respectively, Hunan Garden’s kitchens have perfected the art of the dumpling, including the fried version commonly known as potstickers. At the Kingwood location, kitchen manager Rodrigo Lopez, with nearly 26 years of service, showed me the technique for scratch-made dumplings. He works from a recipe developed by general manager Henry Shi. The dumplings are made two to three times a week, and the result is much superior to store-bought dumplings. The wrapper is made using only two ingredients – flour and hot water. The pork filling is flavored with a generous amount of aromatic fresh ginger and piquant scallions.

is more important than beauty to prevent the dumplings from falling apart. While I attempted Lopez’s pleating method in the restaurant, when testing the recipe at home, I reverted to a simpler method and set the dough on my countertop while I pleated and pinched away. Don’t stress over visual irregularities and imperfection – your dumplings will be delicious regardless. Speed and coordination come with practice. Dumplings freeze well and there’s no need to thaw them before cooking, which makes them ideal for quick snacks and light meals. See notes on freezing in the recipe below.

Plan ahead. Lopez advises making the dough and the filling the night before you plan to assemble the dumplings. The dough will have “rested” sufficiently, allowing the gluten in the flour to relax and stretch easily when rolled out, and the meat will be cold and easy to scoop. Have plenty of extra flour nearby as you work to prevent the wrappers from sticking to your hands, the counter and your rolling pin. Pleating takes a little practice. We’ve all admired the uniformity of restaurant dumplings, and although perfect pleats are visually appealing, a tight seal at the edges

Jiaozi were originally served during Chinese New Year’s feasts in Asia. They are a symbol of wealth, and, according to legend, the more you eat the wealthier you will be in the coming year. Nowadays, dumplings are served throughout the year, and in this country they have become a favorite starter course.

Note: Many Chinese restaurants use stackable stainless steel steamers (available at Asian markets or online), but bamboo steamers are a less-expensive alternative. Dumpling steamers have large slits to allow steam and heat to circulate when cooking the dumplings. An ordinary steamer basket would also work in a pinch. Whichever steamer you choose, line it with something to prevent the dumplings from sticking. Napa cabbage leaves work well because they are thin and pliant, but disposable steamer liners made of hole-punched parchment have recently come on the market. If you have parchment at home, you can easily make your own liners by folding and clipping it.

Flip the page to learn how to make pork dumplings 41


Pork Dumplings Recipe courtesy of Henry Shi of Hunan Garden Restaurant in Kingwood WRAPPERS

5 cups (20 oz.) allpurpose flour, plus more for dusting and rolling 1¼ to 1⅓ cups (10 to 11 oz.) hot water

Measure flour into a large bowl. Drizzle about half of the water over flour and mix with a wooden spoon until you get a ragged/shredded dough. Add the rest of the water, little by little, until the dough is stiff but still on the dry side (depending on the ambient humidity, you may not use all the water). Working with one hand, quickly knead the dough until it becomes one mass. If the dough is sticky, add more flour and knead again until smooth. Dust dough generously with flour on all sides and wrap it in plastic wrap. Refrigerate dough for at least 2 hours, but preferably overnight. METHOD: (1)

(2) To

make the dumpling wrappers, dust your workspace liberally with flour. Cut the dough in half. Using both hands, roll each half into a long strip, about 1½ to 2 inches thick. (3) Cut each strip into 18 pieces for large dumplings, and 24 pieces for smaller dumplings. Dust pieces of dough with flour and using your hands, shuffle the pieces around so they are completely covered in flour. Now take a piece of dough and flatten it into a disc using the heel of your hand. (5) With a rolling pin in one hand, roll the disc from its edge towards the center and back, turning the disc a few degrees with your other hand. Repeat rolling and turning all the way around until the disc is about 4 to 5 inches in diameter. It won’t be perfectly round and that’s okay. It will be thinner around the edges and slightly thicker in the middle. Repeat with the rest of the dough. Dust wrappers generously with flour and stack them as you go. Cover with a towel to keep them soft and pliable. (4)

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1 2




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2 lb. ground pork 1 egg 2½ Tbsp. fresh ginger, finely chopped 1 cup chopped scallions, green parts included ¼ cup soy sauce ¼ cup oyster sauce 7 Tbsp. rice cooking wine 6 Tbsp. sesame oil ½ cup pork stock (can substitute with chicken stock) 5 tsp. sugar ½ tsp. white pepper

Place all ingredients in a medium bowl and combine well using your hands. Cover and refrigerate for at least 2 hours or preferably overnight. METHOD:

TO FILL AND SHAPE THE DUMPLINGS METHOD #1: Generously dust a sheet pan with flour. Scoop about 2 tablespoons (about 1 to 1½ ounces) of filling and place it on one wrapper, creating a somewhat oval shape, leaving edges of the dough clear. Rodrigo cups each wrapper in his left hand and pinches one long end together closest to his right hand to begin crimping.

Using his left thumb, he gently pushes the edge near the pinched end from the outside towards the opposite edge. His thumb allows him to press a pleat into the dough with his right hand, sealing the edges at the same time. He repeats this maneuver until he reaches the other end and pinches the dumpling closed. By crimping one edge he creates a crescent shape.

METHOD #2: If you have trouble with method #1 of filling the dumplings, simply place the wrapper on the counter, fill it, pinch the middle and pleat inwards on both sides until the dumpling is formed.

Arrange dumplings snugly on floured pan. Cook dumplings immediately, chill uncovered for up to four hours and cook the same day or freeze for future meals. To freeze dumplings, place sheet pan with dumplings (uncovered) in freezer for about 2 hours. When dumplings are hard, place in freezer bags, seal and return them to the freezer. Use within three months. Makes 36 to 48 dumplings.


Line a steamer basket with Napa cabbage leaves. The leaves will prevent the dumplings from sticking to the pan. Arrange about 6 dumplings on the cabbage, leaving

a little space between each. Steam fresh dumplings for 16 to 18 minutes and frozen dumplings for 20 minutes. Serve immediately with dumpling sauce.

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Fill and shape the dumplings method #1

method #2

Steam the dumplings

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Rodrigo Lopez


Steam fresh dumplings first as directed above. Heat 2 tablespoons vegetable oil in a non-stick pan over medium-high heat. Carefully place steamed dumplings in pan, bottom side down. Cook for 3 to 4 minutes or until the bottom is nicely browned. Serve with dumpling sauce. To make potstickers with frozen dumplings, heat about 2 tablespoons vegetable oil in a non-stick pan over medium heat. Carefully add dumplings to pan, leaving a little space around each dumpling (don’t overcrowd

the pan). Allow the dumplings to cook for about 2 to 3 minutes or until the bottoms are nicely browned. With the lid ready, very carefully add enough warm water to the pan so that the level is about one third to halfway up the sides of the dumplings. Immediately cover the pan to trap the steam. Turn the heat down to low and allow the dumplings to steam for about 10 to 12 minutes. Remove lid and allow the remaining liquid to evaporate and the bottoms of the dumplings to crisp. Serve immediately with dumpling sauce.


4 Tbsp. sugar 6 Tbsp. white vinegar 2 Tbsp. rice wine vinegar ½ cup soy sauce 1 Tbsp. oyster sauce 1 Tbsp. finely chopped ginger (or more to taste) 1 small clove garlic, finely chopped 1 Tbsp. sesame oil 1 cup plus 2 Tbsp. water ⅛ to ¼ tsp. white pepper

Combine all ingredients. Serve sauce on the side with dumplings. Makes about 2 cups. METHOD:

Dragana Arežina Harris is a life-long food, wine and travel enthusiast. She blogs about food at and dabbles in chocolate at

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47 SUMMER 2017

Reel Chinese Food

By Eric Gerber Illustrations by Cindy Vattathil

48 SUMMER 2017


ou just brought home some of your favorite Chinese takeout … yes, those shumai dumplings they make just right and the wonton soup with extra wontons and those great dan dan noodles and the pork buns with the special X.O. sauce on the side and …

And wait a minute. Sounds great, but what are you going to watch? A wonderful meal like that, you don’t want to settle for flipping on the tube and staring at whatever electrons happen to be sliding across the screen or undertaking one of those marathon click-arounds in search of Something Good that only produces Law and Order reruns, Australian Rules Football matches, Five Pundits Shouting at Each Other or the 27th screening (this week) of Maid in Manhattan. No, you need to plan ahead. Hey, you were smart enough to set that nice Gewürztraminer aside for this special meal. Shouldn’t you do the same for your viewing options? We can help. Here are 10 suggestions for movies that pair well with Chinese food. Some actually involve Chinese food. Some are from or about China. And a couple simply have some sort of cultural connection with Chinese food. They’re all feature-length movies, but if I were going to add TV, it’d be the classic Seinfeld episode “The Chinese Restaurant” about waiting interminably for a table. So, search them out on your streaming services or DVR them from cable and keep them handy the next time you’re ready to chow down on some serious chow mein.



What does this sweet This superb neo-film noir American reminiscence with Jack Nicholson as a have to do with the Chinese perplexed gumshoe serves food aesthetic? Not much, up Los Angeles’ Chinatown as young Ralphie, circa as an intriguing metaphor 1950s, pines away for a Red for ambiguity. The bigoted Ryder BB gun (which his cliché about the inscrutamother adamantly opposes, bility of Asians is rehabilwarning “You’ll shoot your itated here and projected eye out!”) while his dimbeyond the boundaries of bulb dad remains enrapthe LA neighborhood, even tured with his bawdy new beyond the boundaries of lamp in the shape of a lifea particular race in this size, bestockinged womwell-made mystery. As John Huston’s villainous mogul an’s leg. But what A Christmas Story does provide is a tells Nicholson’s Jake Gittes, “You may think you know memorable scene that addresses a crucial element in our what you’re dealing with, but, believe me, you don’t.” We Chinese food mythos – dining at a Chinese restaurant don’t either, not until the pieces fall into place in a brutal on Christmas. While this mysterious custom is usually and unexpected conclusion. A colleague tries to comfort associated with the Jewish community, Ralphie’s family the thoroughly shaken sleuth, reminding him, “It’s Chidoes it after marauding neighborhood dogs devour their natown, Jake” – which has become synonymous for the holiday turkey. But both the Jews and Ralphie’s clan dark, calamitous aspects of human nature. choose Chinese restaurants for a Christmas meal for the 49 same reason: They’re open. Mystery solved. SUMMER 2017





Oh, yum. Pass the monkey brains, please … and are you going to finish the rest of that elephant trunk? Think Three Stooges-meets-Enter the Dragon with a side order of Iron Chef in this Hong Kong romp about two feuding cooking schools in a culinary competition that recreates the legendary Manchu Han Imperial Feast. The original meal, ordered by Emperor Kangxi and served in the Forbidden City, was presented as six banquets stretching across three days with more than 300 dishes offered. The movie is as much about slapstick humor and martial arts action as it is celebrating the joys of bear paw with sturgeon and bird’s nest soup.

Nominated for 10 Academy Awards, this amazing martial arts adventure made in Beijing and directed by Ang Lee set a new standard for the slightly shabby genre Variety once dubbed “chop socky” movies. Lusciously photographed with a sweeping musical score and featuring jaw-dropping sequences in which the combatants seemed to levitate and soar convincingly through the air as they fought, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon is both operatic and comic book-ish in tone. The lyrical title refers to a Chinese expression that says, in effect, always be mindful that any place or situation may have powerful elements that have gone unobserved. Like Sichuan peppercorns.



Another admirable Ang Lee effort, this family-based story, set in contemporary Taiwan, focuses on a well-seasoned chef and his relationship with his three unmarried daughters. Each Sunday, they gather at his home, where he cooks a sumptuous dinner – and gets a report on the ups and downs of their lives. As the minimalist title – what else is there in life? – suggests, cuisine plays a significant role in the film, whether it’s scenes of the celebrated chef overseeing the activities in his hectic restaurant or of his loving preparation of the Sunday repast for his daughters. The film’s opening sequence offers a dazzling, shot-by-shot display of his culinary work that rivals any cooking show on TV today.

Sure, you can say you got this animated treat for “the kids” to watch, but you know you love it, too. This was the first version of the story about a paunchy panda who becomes a martial arts master, spawning sequels and a TV spin-off. The always-bouncy Jack Black voices Po, the schlubby young panda who works in the family’s noodle shop while daydreaming of becoming a kung fu champion. When the community is threatened by a malevolent snow leopard, Po hones his skills and becomes quite the warrior, lumpy and bloated as he is. The only thing he is more passionate about than mastering his kung fu is indulging his massive appetite. So, go ahead and enjoy that extra egg roll in his honor.

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This was the first feature by a Western film company that was authorized by the People’s Republic of China to film in the royal Forbidden City in Beijing. Italian master Bernardo Bertolucci took full advantage of that opportunity to craft this alternately sweeping and intimate account of Puyi, who became the final emperor of imperial China as a youth in 1908. By 1945, as WWII was concluding, he had been captured by the Soviet Army and eventually turned over to the new People’s Republic of China as a war criminal. By turns glorious and melancholy, The Last Emperor won nine Oscars (including Best Picture). It is long – approaching three hours – and earns every minute of screen time.

Here’s one for the locavores. Longtime Houstonians and arts aficionados should recognize the name Li Cunxin, the talented young man who rose from an obscure Chinese village to become an international sensation as an acclaimed ballet dancer. This feature film drama based on his autobiography chronicles how he first came to Texas in a cultural exchange program in the 1970s at the invitation of Ben Stevenson, fell in love with an American dancer (and an American lifestyle!) and eventually defected from China, becoming a principal dancer for Houston Ballet for 16 years.

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Yes, Cheech & Chong. Yes, really. Just as A Christmas Story touches on the Chinese food on Christmas Day mythology, this dopey comedy reflects another significant cultural element – namely, the stereotype of Chinese restaurants as the preferred haunts of late-night stoners with the munchies. There is an extended sequence in Nice Dreams that stands as the Citizen Kane of such scenes, with Cheech and Chong – who’s mistaken for Jerry Garcia – sharing a table with a zonked girlfriend and a cocaine-fueled geek (Pee-wee Herman). All four end up collapsing beneath the table to indulge in vast quantities of nose candy as an endless parade of oblivious waiters come and go. This is a great reminder that some people like to order “moo goo gai pan” because it’s just so much fun to say.

Okay, everyone knows the food in Chinese restaurants in America seldom resembles the original version you’d find in China. In fact, some dishes have been totally fabricated. Case in point: General Tso’s chicken. It’s all over menus here – and nowhere in China. This sly documentary examines how this popular, though mostly contrived, dish came about. If you’re shrugging your shoulders and saying, “Tso what?” the film also steps back to offer a broader perspective, providing an intriguing glimpse into the evolution of Chinese-American cooking in general. It’s fascinating, but maybe you don’t need to know that much. Next they’ll be trying to tell us fortune cookies aren’t really Chinese.

Eric Gerber is the director of communications at the University of Houston. He regularly writes restaurant reviews for My Table.

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In Houston, buying and selling property reaches its zenith in neighborhoods like River Oaks, West University, Tanglewood and the Villages, where homes are often stunning … with prices to match. It is the most intensive level of residential real estate. And it’s an area that requires a greater range of skills than ever before. We are the chain that links your property, advertising, sales promotion, persuasion, negotiation and successful closure. Oh, and we will help you buy a new home, too.

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Meet the

Medicine Man Text and photos by Mai Pham


rowing up in an Asian household, I never paid much attention to Chinese medicine. But it was always around.

When my dad got sick, his sisters sent him bottles of ginseng root suspended in an amber liquid. One year, he started taking round black pellets resembling whole peppercorns. The pellets came in a square salmon-colored tin with Chinese characters on it. My parents called it thap toan dai bo, which my mom told me means “Perfect 10 Super Tonic” in Vietnamese. Like ginseng, it was supposed to boost health and help him gain weight and strength. But again, I never really took notice of those things until recently, when one of my best friends fell gravely ill.

Around the same time that my friend got better, I happened to be on assignment at Fung’s Kitchen, located on the Southwest Freeway near Fondren, when chef/owner Hoi Fung brought out brown ceramic tea pots filled with a steamed ginseng and black chicken soup. “For good health,” he said, as everyone at our table clinked teacups in cheers. I took a sip and tasted rich, fragrant chicken broth with a mildly sweet, herbaceous root flavor. Impossibly, as I sipped more and more of the broth, it was if my inner chi came into focus. I felt revitalized and more energetic. The concept of food as medicine is not a new one. Hippocrates is credited with saying “Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food.” Chinese food as medicine, I found, is interwoven into the very fabric of Chinese cuisine and intersects with traditional Chinese medicine practices dating back thousands of years. Dishes are created specifically so that the cooks can utilize ingredients that have beneficial health effects. Chef Fung has been offering these tried-and-true Chinese-food-as-medicine dishes at Fung’s Kitchen for the last 27 years.

Without revealing anything too private, what I can say is this: My friend went to the best doctors at UCLA. They put him on high doses of Western drugs that were supposed to help his condition, but didn’t. And it was only when he turned to a Chinese medicine specialist – someone who came highly recommended and who had been a practicing doctor in China – that he got his illness under control. His doctors at UCLA were amazed. As for me, it signaled the beginning of a He gave me a lesson on some of the Chinese medicinal 54 fascination with a practice that dates back thousands ingredients that are used in Cantonese cooking, which I S U M M E R 2017 of years. share with you here.

To boost energy and improve overall feeling of well-being: Ginseng root is an Asian powerhouse herbal remedy. A small pale yellow root about four inches long, it has thin branches that extend from the heart of the root. It is used in Asian cultures to boost energy and alertness and is available as a fresh root, preserved in an elixir and in dried form. Ginseng has also been shown to lower blood sugar in diabetics, reduce stress, promote relaxation and more.


There are two main forms of medicinal ginseng – the American Panax quinquefolius and Asian Panax ginseng. The Asian version is supposed to be more potent, but both versions are used to treat a variety of ailments. At Fung’s Kitchen, Fung makes a traditional black chicken and American ginseng soup. The soup is steamed for four hours to slowly extract the essence of the ginseng into the broth. Black chicken is used because it has a high level of amino acids. The black chicken and ginseng soup is a traditional Chinese soup used to help treat colds and boost general wellness. WHAT TO ORDER:

ginseng soup

Black chicken and

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To aid in cold/flu recovery and help liver function: The Chinese use every part of the turtle to treat a wide variety of ailments. When cooked as a soup, it is said to help with liver function and also have some cancer-prevention benefits. Like the black chicken ginseng soup, Fung’s softshell turtle soup is placed in a double boiler and simmered for four hours with Chinese herbs to yield a rich, if slightly gamey-tasting soup. WHAT TO ORDER:

To treat joint pain and impotence and fight cancer: A highly prized Chinese delicacy with wellknown traditional Chinese medicine effects, the sea cucumber is high in cartilage and a substance known as chondroitin sulfate, which sometimes helps arthritis. Its oils are thought to have anti-inflammatory properties, and several studies suggest sea cucumber can kill cancer cells. At Fung’s, the sea cucumber is soaked for 10 hours then braised in abalone sauce to attain optimal texture, which is reminiscent of a soft tendon.

Chef Fung cutting the sea cucumber

Sea cucumber with abalone sauce and snow pea leaf WHAT TO ORDER:

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Turtle soup

To improve vision: Incorporate wolfberries (also known as goji berries) into your diet. The wolfberry is a reddish-orange berry indigenous to China. It is known for its antioxidant properties and is considered a type of superfood. Rich in a carotenoid known as zeaxanthin, wolfberries are said to improve vision. Other reported health benefits include diabetes control, anti-cancer properties, liver protection and skin protection. Dried wolfberries can be purchased in Asian markets and at Chinese medicine shops, as well as online, and can be boiled to make a tea. At Fung’s Kitchen, the chef adds wolfberries wherever it makes sense to do so, including into his double-boiled soups, a sea bass and white fungus dish, and the wolfberry gelatin. Wolfberry “jello” available on the dim sum menu and sea bass with white fungus and wolfberry WHAT TO ORDER:




BBQ BLUE CRABS marinaTED in homemade creole bbq sauce & deep fried BOILED BLUE CRABS SeRVED WITH 2 NEW POTATOES, CORN & LEMON GARLIC BUTTER 57 SUMMER 2017


To aid in postpartum healing: A tradition that can be traced back to rural China, the Chinese believe that for one month postpartum, new mothers should rest and eat specific foods. One of these foods, known as geung cho, is pig’s feet, boiled egg and sweet black vinegar ginger stew. Cooked slowly for two hours, the proteins and collagen from the pig’s feet are extracted by the sweet black vinegar. Nancy Fung, chef Fung’s wife, explains that the nutrient-rich black vinegar aids in the recovery of the body. “Giving birth is very body destructive," she says. “When you push really hard, blood vessels get inflamed. Eating this helps new mothers heal more quickly.” WHAT TO ORDER: Pig’s

vinegar and ginger

To fight atherosclerosis, lower cholesterol and fight cancer:

feet with black

To help with blood flow:

The key ingredient is snow fungus. In her book Chinese Food For Life Care, author Hua Yang writes that, “Snow fungus is rich in B vitamins, vitamin E, protein, carbohydrates, calcium, potassium, magnesium and phosphorous.” Further, she says, “It is also reported to be an immune system stimulant that helps fight against infections … Other benefits for specific health conditions also include atherosclerosis, high cholesterol and cancer. Research has shown that snow fungus extracts kill cervical cancer cells, so they have an anti-tumor function.”

Lingzhi mushrooms, also known as reishi mushrooms, have been consumed by the Chinese for more than 2,000 years. Fung cooks lingzhi with black chicken and goji berries into a healthful soup as well. The lingzhi gives the soup a bitter aftertaste. (For more about lingzhi/reishi mushrooms, see Rest, Relax, Reishi to the right.) WHAT TO ORDER:

double-boiled soup

Lingzhi and black chicken

*Information contained in this article is for general reference only and does not constitute professional medical advice.

Fung serves a sea bass preparation that is very popular among his customers. To make it, sea bass filets are steamed and served in a mild clear gravy with snow fungus and wolfberries (goji). WHAT TO ORDER:

Mai Pham is a Houston-based freelance food and travel writer. Follow Mai @femme_foodie on Twitter, Instagram and Snapchat for delicious finds around Houston and wherever her travels take her.

58 SUMMER 2017

Rest, Relax, Reishi * An earlier version of this article originally appeared on in Edward Wong’s post, How to Make Healthy, Delicious Reishi Tea. Reishi mushrooms – also known as lingzhi mushrooms – have been used by Asian physicians, herbalists and naturopaths for their immune-boosting effect for at least 2,000 years. The mushrooms, however, are inedible, even when fresh. They have a tough spongy core that is tough, wood-like and indigestible. Fortunately, a tea or tisane made from reishi will provide all of the mushroom’s benefits without having to chew something that tastes like a wine cork. A tea made from reishi mushrooms is calming and enhances one’s ability to focus. Drinking the tea will give you a relaxed feeling. It can relieve asthma and also strengthen the immune system. Ongoing research has even suggested the mushroom may have certain anti-cancer properties. (This research, however, is not conclusive.)


There are many varieties and colors of reishis. They grow wild all over the world and are also cultivated. The most commonly prescribed reishi are the red and black varieties. The red are extremely bitter – they often are consumed as an extract in capsule form – while the black variety is easier on the palate and useful for making tea. Most large Asian grocery stores carry both the black and red reishi, as do Chinese herb shops. Typically you will find it dried and cut into long slices. You can also buy reishi tea bags on and elsewhere. Because of its calming effect, bedtime is a good time to drink reishi tea, but not a requirement. I sometimes serve reishi tea when we do tai chi at the studio or to patients at my acupuncture office.

How to Make Reishi Tea The best way to make reishi tea is to steep the dried mushrooms in hot water for two hours. I have found a coffeemaker is an easy way to do this. Instead of putting the mushrooms in the strainer/filter where you would typically add the ground coffee, put the reishi directly in the glass carafe with the water. Let it steep for at least two hours with the coffeemaker on. The heat creates a convection in the water that gently extracts the chemicals in the mushrooms. Another way to do it is add the dry mushrooms to a pot of boiling water, cover and turn down the flame. Let the tea gently simmer for 30 minutes to two hours. Before serving, remove the reishi.

Either way, the resulting tea will smell and taste a little musty; some people will detect a mild bitter taste from the extracted alkaloids. The longer it is steeped, the stronger the tea. To make it more flavorful, you can add other herbs to the reishi during the steeping. To make a sweettasting reishi tea, for example, combine with crushed luo han guo (Siraitia grosvenorii fruit, long used to make sweet and cool Chinese beverages) and da zao (dried jujube fruit, sometimes called Chinese date). The luo han guo is extremely sweet, so add it sparingly to the tea. You can also improve the taste of reishi tea with honey and ginger or by combining it with other teas or even a fresh juice.

Edward Wong is a licensed acupuncturist and tai chi instructor in Houston who also practices traditional Chinese medicine. His acupuncture website is

59 59 SUMMER 2017 SUMMER 2017


Seoulful Side By John Nechman Photography by Becca Wright

Houston’s Korean community has surged and shrunk according to the dictates of the local economy. Thought to be as high as 30,000 in the 1980s, the population is now closer to 20,000 but again growing rapidly, with most businesses located in Spring Branch near the nexus of Long Point and Gessner. A growing number of businesses have sprouted in the massive Asiatown along Bellaire Boulevard, and despite several off-and-on efforts to develop a full “Koreatown” in Spring Branch, Houston’s Korean population and its commerce have shifted noticeably southwest. Korean food has become wildly popular worldwide, but it’s been slower to catch on in Houston. Korean restaurants here tend to be sedate, serving respectable versions of traditional dishes, not the edgy Kor-ropean fusion of David Chang’s Momofuku empire or the vivacious spirits and still-squirming octopus tentacles served at riotous 24-hour soju barbecue joints and beer taverns in New York City and L.A.’s K-Town. As more Houstonians discover this exciting cuisine and experience why party-loving Koreans are called the “Irish of Asia,” Houston will gain more of the Korean hallyu (wave) captivating diners and drinkers from Seoul to Sydney. Here is a short primer on Korean food, some of my favorite local Korean restaurants and a recipe from my mom.

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Essential Elements for the

Korean Kitchen Cupboard All available at Korean grocery stores


the Korean company Sempio. Jin or joseon ganjang (traditional sweeter dark soy sauce) is for stir-fries, sauces and marinades. Guk ganjang (saltier and lighter) is for soup. DOENJANG (fermented bean paste). This is a base for soups and sauces. GOCHUJANG (fermented red pepper paste). Also used in soups and sauces, gochujang has a sweet taste, similar to sriracha.


oil) is used to stir-fry, cook eggs, marinate meats and make salad dressings. Look for the Ottogi brand. SESAME SEEDS are GOCHUKARU is

used as a garnish.

hot pepper powder.

KIM is

dried seaweed, toasted in chamgireum and sprinkled with salt – something like a healthful square black Korean tortilla from the sea. KIMCHI is

fermented food, usually vegetables, and obligatory at any meal. Kkagdugi (cubed radish), baechu (Chinese cabbage), chonggak (ponytail radish) and oi sobagi (cucumber) are typical.

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dishes served with all meals. These may include several types of kimchi, dubu jorim (simmered tofu), namul (salads), fish cakes, potato salad (some of the best you’ve ever had) and my favorite, myeolchi bokkeum (tiny whole dried chewy anchovies). Eat as much as you wish; you can expect unlimited refills.

JJIGAE stew. Kimchi


assorted vegetables, egg and meat, stirred with chamgireum and gochujang, and best served in a hot stone pot (dolseot).



MANDU Korean

pancakes. Try ones made with kimchi and green onions. Another type of pancake is a pajeon. Haemul pajeon is made with squid, octopus, mussels, shrimp and vegetables fried in rice flour batter and served with a chamgireum-doenjang sauce. BULGOGI Marinated

beef, usually cooked on a grill within the table. Try as a ssam (see to the right). GALBI Marinated

short ribs, usually cooked on a grill within the table (also great as a ssam). JAJANGMYEON Noodles

cooked in black soybean paste with meat and veggies. Koreans obsess over this. JAPCHAE Glass

noodles stir-fried with vegetables and meat. This is my favorite Korean dish. (See my mom’s recipe on page 66.)

jjigae is Korea’s answer to chicken soup, made from old kimchi and any leftover meats (my mom makes a superlative version with Spam). Sundubu jjigae is a spicy stew of tofu, vegetables, meat and seafood served in a hot stone pot (dolseot). rolled in kim with meat or fish, spinach, danmuji (yellow pickled radish) and slivers of omelet, then sliced and served with jin ganjang. dumplings. Eat them fried (yaki), boiled (mul), in a soup (mandu guk) or Astrodome-sized (wang), dipped in a mix of jin ganjang, vinegar, buchu (Korean chives) and gochukaru. NAENGMYEON Long

thin noodles, and the perfect summer dish. Try mul naengmyeon (chewy cold noodles with cucumber and pears in a wasabi-fueled beef broth – usually chilled with ice cubes) and bibim naengmyeon (like bibimbap, but made with chewy cold noodles). SSAM Wraps.

If you order grilled meats and don’t receive a large plate of lettuce, ask for sangchu ssam, as well as raw garlic and gochujang. Fill the lettuce leaves with meat, rice, garlic and gochujang, and enjoy. Do this with any grilled meat or fish. (Long-simmered mackerel is particularly tasty this way.)


Beer. Typical Korean brands are OB and Hite.


milky-looking fermented rice wine with six to eight percent alcohol, available in some Korean restaurants. Makgeolli jips (bars) are popping up all over, though sadly not yet in Houston. Korea’s most popular spirit, it’s usually made from rice, wheat or barley and traditionally consumed neat. Flavored sojus have become enormously popular. My favorite is Andong, but beware: This is the powerful mother of all sojus. SOJU

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Dining-Out Notes & Tips English spelling of Korean words is tricky. “K” is often “G,” “P” is often “B” and “J” may be “Ch.” A single “t” may be a double “tt” (usually pronounced almost like a “d”), and a single “k” may be a double “kk” (pronounced almost like a hard “g”). The “eo” in many words, such as Seoul, is not a flat “o” but it’s definitely not ee-oh. It’s not an easy sound to replicate, but if you stay with a flat “o,” you’ll be fine. Korean meals should be a mix of colors, tastes, smells and textures that reflect um (Korean for yin: greens, fruits, pungent, cold), yang (roots, meats, spicy, fried) and the primary colors of nature (red, green, yellow, white, black) and their many blends. In order to have all these on one table, you need a lot of banchan.


Korean side dishes


Noodles cooked in black soybean paste

Korean pancakes

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Dining-Out Notes & Tips In addition to banchan, almost all meals come with boricha (Korean barley tea that is served cold in summer, warm in winter), soup (often a broth) and rice. Some places serve japgokbap (purple rice) – it’s fabulous. Desserts are uncommon, often complimentary fresh fruit. Never pour your own drink. And when receiving booze from an elder person, hold the glass forward with both hands with your head bowed. Drink all in one shot and return the favor.


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There once was a Chinese/Korean place next door called Dumpling King, the undisputed king of mandu. Sadly, they closed, but Arirang has proudly carried on the local mandu mantle. The other reason to go is all-you-can-eat marinated meats (pork, galbi, bulgogi, chicken), cooked on a table grill – a steal at $19.95. GO HYANG JIB 5860 Ranchester (in Young’s Convenience Store)

It’s located inside a convenience store in a squalid strip center near Harwin. There are no signs – just go in, turn left and order from the friendly counter staff. It's one of the few places serving the traditional ox bone brisket soup seolleongtang. Another must is the kimchi fried rice – ask for it inside an omelet (a classic dish called omurice, particularly scrumptious with a smear of gochujang). H MART (grocery

store) 9896 Bellaire Blvd. A smaller, less-Korean version of the massive Super H Mart in Spring Branch and without much of a food court. It’s still the best place to shop on the Bellaire Strip. HAN KOOK KWAN 9140-B Bellaire Blvd.

Look for the English words “Korean Barbecue.” The servers, who speak more Mandarin than Korean, are friendly and astute. Order the japchae, hobakjeon (massive zucchini pancake), bulgogi and jajangmyeon. In addition to banchan, meals include a complimentary salad bar. JANG GUEM TOFU & BBQ HOUSE 9896 Bellaire Blvd.

The best sundubu jigae in town is just one reason Jang Guem is perpetually full, mostly with Koreans, but the servers are very helpful with wehgukin (non-Koreans). The banchan includes a perfect oi sobagi and potato salad as good as Grandma’s. LIM’S CHICKEN 10683 Bellaire Blvd.

This is the first American outpost of Lim’s, the originator of what we call Korean fried chicken, created in Seoul 40 years ago. It’s excellent, but the less costly version at Super H Mart’s Toreore in Spring Branch is still Houston’s best. LUCKY PALACE 8508 Bellaire Blvd.

The food is superb, but what makes LP particularly pleasant is the gracious, attentive service. They serve some of the best mandu and japchae in town, and don’t pass up the grilled meat combos on the back page of the menu. OHN 9630 Clarewood

The latest from Mike Tran, owner of Tiger Den, Mein and Night Market. Ohn is described as a "Korean dive bar" serving soju, makgeolli, maekju and Korean bar food. The vibe is smooth and Seoulful, and the flavors are brilliant. Arrive early if you don't want to wait – this could be a deal-changer for Asiatown and H-Town. TOFU VILLAGE 9889 Bellaire Blvd.

The tofu soups are better at Jang Guem Tofu House across the street, but the pajeon (pancakes), especially the haemul pajeon (seafood pancake), and the magnificent nakji bokeum (stir-fried baby octopus) are the best in town. 65 SUMMER 2017

Oma (Mom) Nechman’s “Easy” Japchae Japchae is my favorite Korean dish, and no one makes it better than my mom. Preparing this dish the correct way is arduous. But after decades of my begging her to make this every time I see her, she has perfected this recipe, which is much easier and every bit as tasty as classic versions. THE DAY (OR NIGHT) BEFORE, MARINATE THE MUSHROOMS AND MEAT:

2 tsp. jin ganjang 1 tsp. rice wine 1 Tbsp. chopped garlic 1 tsp. sugar ½ tsp. chamgireum dash of black pepper 6 dried shiitake mushrooms 5 oz. filet mignon cut into thin 2-inch strips (my mom sometimes substitutes flank or Spam, and it comes out great)

Combine jin ganjang, rice wine, garlic, sugar, chamgireum and black pepper. Set aside. Soak dried shiitake in lukewarm water for 3 hours. Drain mushrooms, saving back 2 Tbsp. of the juice for use tomorrow. Pour the marinade over the drained mushrooms and meat. Cover and let rest in the fridge overnight. METHOD:


Soak 10 oz. dry dangmyeon (Korean glass noodles) in lukewarm water for 3 hours. Drain and set aside. PREPARE THE NOODLES:



together 3 Tbsp. jin ganjang, 1½ Tbsp. sugar, 1 Tbsp. rice wine, 1 Tbsp. chamgireum, 1½ Tbsp. sesame seeds.

Boil 4 oz. fresh spinach for 45 seconds, then strain, press out excess water and chop into smaller pieces. Make a quick marinade of 1 tsp. jin ganjang and 1 tsp. chamgireum. Pour marinade over the spinach and cover in fridge while the noodles are soaking. PREPARE THE SPINACH:

Beat 2 eggs, 2 Tbsp. finely chopped Korean buchu (thin green chives), a dash of salt and a dash of ground white pepper. Cook the omelet mix over medium heat in 1 Tbsp. chamgireum. Cook into thin flat omelet. Remove from heat, fold and slice into thin strips. PREPARE THE OMELET:


2 Tbsp. vegetable oil 5 green onions, tops chopped into 1-inch slices 1 cup thinly sliced carrots ½ cup finely chopped green and red bell peppers 1 thinly sliced small onion 1 cup fresh wood ear mushrooms (mogi beoseot), cut bite-sized 2 Tbsp. juice from soaked shiitake mushrooms (reserved the night before) sesame seeds

Note: Do not overcook the vegetables! Heat 2 Tbsp. vegetable oil on medium high heat in a wok and stir-fry about 2 Tbsp. of the green onions for 30 seconds. Add marinated shiitake and beef and stir-fry for about 40 seconds. METHOD:

Add carrots, bell peppers, onion and wood ear mushrooms and stir-fry for another 2 minutes. Season lightly with salt and black pepper. Add dangmyeon to pan. Stir-fry for 1 minute until noodles are coated and transparent. Add 2 Tbsp. reserved shiitake mushroom juice. Stir-fry about 1 minute till noodles are transparent but not too soft. Add japchae sauce and spinach and stir-fry for another 2 minutes until the sauce is fully absorbed. Taste and add more jin ganjang or sugar as desired. Once noodles and vegetables are cooked, turn off heat. Stir in the rest of the green onions. Remove the japchae to a plate, sprinkle with sesame seeds, add another drizzle of chamgireum and layer strips of omelet on top before serving. Serves 4. 66 SUMMER 2017


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John Nechman is an attorney and partner with Houston’s Katine & Nechman L.L.P. and an adjunct professor at South Texas College of Law. His last article for My Table magazine was a guide to Houston coffee roasters and coffeehouses.


Viet-Nom Pho, banh mi & beyond Text and photos by Mai Pham

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bring on the banh mi This article is excerpted from The Bountiful Banh Mi, which originally appeared in My Table Issue No. 135, October-November 2016.


ravel writer David Farley, writing for the BBC in 2014, posited: “Is the banh mi the world’s best sandwich?” I’d like to think so, though, as a second-generation Vietnamese raised in the United States, I might be a bit biased. For me, it trumps the Louisiana po’boy, the traditional American club sandwich, the Philly cheesesteak and the Jewish hot pastrami – all sandwiches that I love … just not as much as I love a good banh mi. The crispy-crunch of the thin, crusty bread. The mix of meats – usually cha lua (likened to Vietnamese bologna or ham), thit do (red-rimmed, char-siuflavored pork belly), head cheese. The condiments – freshly made mayonnaise, French butter, pâté with a dash of Maggi sauce. The fresh vegetable toppings – shreds of tangy pickled carrot and daikon, ovals of heat-producing jalapeño, a spear of cucumber and a tuft of cilantro. All of it combines in a blend of flavors

and textures that enliven the palate. It’s the kind of sandwich you don’t get bored with, that you can eat multiple times a week. One of the greatest culinary legacies of French colonialism in Indochina, the banh mi is the result of two culinary worlds colliding. “Banh mi” literally translates into “bread of wheat,” referring to the baguette bread that the French introduced to Vietnam, where the diet was largely based on rice and rice products. The Vietnamese took that French bread, which the French traditionally ate with just a smear of butter or pâté, and turned it into a sandwich using local produce and proteins like pork, chicken and fish. Banh mi can be ordered at more than 50 cafes, sandwich shops and restaurants throughout Houston. Here are five in the Asiatown area.


11210 Bellaire Blvd. at Boone, 281-495-2528

The history of Nguyen Ngo French Cafe dates back to 1968, when Tuan Nguyen’s mother opened the original Nguyen Ngo (named after his father) sandwich shop in the French Quarter of Saigon. Her specialty was a sandwich filled with shredded, French-style ga rôti (rotisserie chicken). She operated the shop until the family fled Vietnam in 1975, leaving the business behind. Fast forward 20 years. Nguyen, who had been working in the computer industry in Canada, searched fruitlessly for the banh mi of his childhood. Unable to find it, he left his corporate job and relocated to Houston, opening Nguyen Ngo French Cafe in 2004 and introducing his mother’s famous sandwich to a new generation of Vietnamese. “Our banh mi ga is unique. The flavor is a mix of flavors between France and Vietnam,” says Nguyen, who says the secret is not only in the way that he seasons and roasts his chicken, but also in his housemade mayonnaise. “People come from all over the world to buy our sandwiches, often ordering dozens at a time to take home,” he says. WHAT TO ORDER: Start off with the banh mi ga (chicken), then experiment by adding proteins such as imported French ham (jambon) or pâté. Change up the traditional banh mi bread with a croissant for a more French-ified spin. WHAT THEY’RE KNOWN FOR:

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11209 Bellaire Blvd. at Boone, 281-988-5222

The busiest banh mi shop in the Hong Kong City Mall, Alpha Bakery & Deli is one of those places where you kind of need to know what you want before you walk in. There is no menu other than a piece of paper taped to the window that tells you how much the sandwiches cost. A true sandwich shop in the sense that this is the core of their business (many places have morphed into Vietnamese restaurants selling sandwiches), you order over the counter, watch as they make your sandwich and then pay cash at the register. A favorite of Houston Chronicle food critic Alison Cook, who put it on her Top 100 Restaurants in Houston list for 2014, Alpha Bakery & Deli makes its sandwiches with a Vietnamese palate in mind. The pickled vegetables pack a little more punch here than they do elsewhere, and the cold cuts and mayo – all made in house – taste homemade. The sandwiches are easy on the pocketbook, too, because whichever you choose – ga (chicken), thit nuong (grilled pork), thap cam (combo), xiu mai (meatballs) – are all priced at just $3. WHAT TO ORDER: We stopped by on several occasions and each time found the ladies behind the counter working on an assembly line of large to-go orders of the thap cam combo sandwich, which has everything in it: pork belly, Vietnamese ham, head cheese, pâté, mayo, pickled carrot and daikon, cilantro and jalapeño. A few drops of Maggi seasoning adds a savory flavor boost. WHAT THEY’RE KNOWN FOR:

Alpha Bakery's banh mi assembly line



6791 Wilcrest at Bellaire, 281-498-2880

Open for seven years now, Duy Sandwiches specializes in vegan and vegetarian banh mi. In fact, the restaurant started out selling sandwiches only, eventually expanding its menu to offer a full roster of vegetarian Vietnamese dishes such as bun rieu (tomato and crab rice vermicelli soup) and ca ri chay (vegetarian curry). The small, nondescript strip mall cafe is clean and incredibly inexpensive, with a large following among the vegetarian community. Duy Sandwiches offers a seven-item menu of vegan/vegetarian banh mi, all priced at $3.25 each. They also offer extensive food-to-go options, along with a very inexpensive three-item lunch special for $5. All of the dishes are prepared in-house using the owner’s personal recipes. WHAT TO ORDER: Start with the No.1 banh mi thit chay (vegetarian meat sandwich) stuffed with a vegetarian ham made of ground corn, soybean and peas and be amazed at how meaty it tastes! Another interesting banh mi to try is the vegetarian shredded pork or bi chay, which is crisp, with70 an almost nutty, toasted flavor to it that is quite excellent. SUMMER 2017 WHAT THEY’RE KNOWN FOR:


9300 Bellaire Blvd. at Ranchester, 713-777-9500,

Now with two locations – one in the heart of Chinatown on Bellaire Blvd., and one in Sugar Land – Don Cafe is easy to recognize and well known because it’s been around for so long. The Chinatown location sits in its own standalone building and can be easily spotted from the street. Ample free parking and a fast-casual seating area make this an ideal stop for a grab-n-go meal or sit-down lunch. A full menu of other Vietnamese dishes, ranging from noodle soups to rice plates are available as well. Traditional banh mi on the oblong roll filled with a generous amount of protein. In other words, one sandwich is definitely enough to make a good meal here. The majority of the banh mi are simply priced at $3.25. WHAT TO ORDER: The first item on the menu at Don Cafe is definitely their bestseller. Ringing in at $3.50 – 25 cents more than the other banh mi on the menu – the thit nuong (grilled pork) is tasty and chock-full of pork. WHAT THEY’RE KNOWN FOR:


10905 Bellaire Blvd. at Wilcrest, 281-564-1692

An old-school banh mi shop run by brother and sister duo Trung and Berdina Duong, Thim Hing’s roots date back to 1986, when their father Tam – who had owned a banh mi place in the Cho Lon district of Saigon before they came to the United States – set up shop on Bellaire and Cook and called it Thiem Hung. One of only a handful of banh mi shops open at the time, the business grew to three locations before they were sold in 1995. Subsequently, Duong opened a spin-off shop and changed the name to Thim Hing.


In lieu of the oblong bread rolls that are commonly used for banh mi, Thim Hing makes their sandwiches with just-toasted French baguette. The bread itself makes the sandwich – crispycrunchy on the outside, moist and pillowy white on the inside. You can order the banh mi in two sizes: small (8 inches) for $3, or large (12 inches) for $4. Fillings from dac biet (special with everything in it), to thit nuong (grilled pork), ga (chicken), xiu mai (meatballs), trung (eggs) and more. WHAT TO ORDER: The dac biet sandwich is probably the best bet for a first-timer, because it comes with an assortment of cold cuts and meatballs and is quite hearty in and of itself. However, the claim to fame here are the xiu mai meatball sandwiches. Just make sure to order them with a dollar or two of extra meat, because they tend to be very sparsely filled. 71 WHAT THEY’RE KNOWN FOR:





idely considered the national dish of Vietnam, pho is so ubiquitous in Houston that it’s nearly as easy to find as tacos and barbecue. While it’s true that you can get a good enough bowl of this aromatic beef noodle soup just about anywhere in the city, to find the best examples of this iconic Vietnamese dish, you need to head to Asiatown. Specifically, if you want to go where the Vietnamese people eat, you go to the stretch on Bellaire Boulevard between Beltway 8 and Highway 6 and look for the restaurants with names that start with the word pho. Here are our picks for the best of the moment.



10623 Bellaire Blvd., Ste. C198, at Wilcrest, 832-328-1866 PHO DIEN 2

11830 Bellaire Blvd., Ste. C, at Kirkwood, 281-495-9600,

The reigning spot for pho connoisseurs, Pho Dien has two locations. The original, located in the Saigon Houston shopping center at Bellaire and Wilcrest, is tiny and carpeted and always packed. If you come around lunchtime or on a weekend morning, expect to wait, as there are always lines out the door. The second location, just down the street on Bellaire Boulevard at Kirkwood, is much more spacious and is a better option for larger groups and those who don’t care to wait. Opened in 2011, Pho Dien quickly differentiated itself from more established pho houses by focusing on quality. The broth here is a real beef-bone broth, simmered for a minimum of 12 hours to yield a silky, deeply flavored liquid. The aromatics are also subtle rather than jarring, much more elegant than places that overdo the spices to mask the fact that the broth is watered down or laced with flavor-boosting MSG. If the broth is beautiful, so are the meat toppings. Old-school places give you thinly sliced eye of round when you order tai (rare beef ). At Pho Dien, they do something called tai uop, which is actually a marinated filet mignon. I recommend ordering the #1 dac biet (this is the special, which has all the cuts of meat in it) with the tai uop on the side. When you do so, the marinated beef comes in a small side dish and you cook it à la minute by dunking the rare meat into the steaming hot broth in your bowl.

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11778 Bellaire Blvd. at Kirkwood, 281-879-5899

Traditionally, there are only two accepted versions of pho in Vietnam. The more popular is the beef pho, or pho bo. The second, made with chicken, is called pho ga. Both versions are pho, though when Vietnamese people say “pho,” they are almost always referring to the beef version. When you want pho made with chicken, you ask for pho ga, or you go to a restaurant that specializes in chicken pho, like Pho Ga Dakao. Here, when you order the dac biet special, your bowl of chicken pho will come with a mix of dark and white meats, a quail egg and giblets. As with beef pho, if you don’t order the special, you can customize your bowl with a choice of dark meat, white meat, giblets (yes or no) and even noodles. There’s also a “dry” version of this noodle soup, in which the broth is served on the side; it’s called pho ga kho.



13030 Bellaire Blvd. at Synott (original location, open after 5 pm), 281-983-0599 11528 Bellaire Blvd. bet. Boone and S. Kirkwood (open 10 am to 9 pm), 281-617-7192

Like Pho Dien, Pho Ve Dem now has two locations. The original, which opened 10 years ago and is located on Bellaire near Synott, is one of the original late-night pho spots in the area, opening its doors from 5 pm until 1 am on most nights. The second location, which opened recently, opens early in the day and closes at 9 pm. Pho Ve Dem means "pho by night.” The owner says he simmers his broth for up to 18 hours, yielding a clear, fragrant, yet hearty broth that provides the basis for one of the most consistently good bowls of pho around. Recent additions of hand-cut filet mignon take this pho to the gourmet level. The duoi bo oxtails are also melt-off-the-bone tender. HAND-CUT FILET MIGNON PHO AT PHO VE DEM

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6968 Wilcrest, Ste. F, at Bellaire Blvd., 281-879-9899

Located in a strip mall on Wilcrest just around the corner from Pho Dien, Pho Duy is also one of the best spots for pho in Asiatown at the moment. The decor here is a little bit more contemporary, with black granite-topped tables and several spacious booths. Like Pho Dien, the broth here is rich and full of flavor, the kind that doesn’t need any hoisin or sriracha. Three things make this place stand out. First is the fact that their special bowl of Pho Duy dac biet comes with all the meat toppings, including a slice of duoi bo oxtail, for just 45 cents more than the regular large bowl. Second is the fact that their bo viên beef meatballs are some of the plumpest, juiciest meatballs you’ll find in the city. And third is that if you order the tai on the side, you not only get a side plate of the rare meat, but you also get a small bowl of broth to cook it in. Cooking the rare meat in the side bowl ensures that the broth in your main bowl doesn’t get cloudy.


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11900 Bellaire Blvd., Ste. D, at Kirkwood, 281-498-8899

There’s a Vietnamese appetizer made of thinly sliced veal with charred fat cap called tai be. A few years ago, in place of the thinly sliced, rare eye of round that used to be served at most pho places, a place called Pho Hung started serving their pho with tai be on the side. Though the original shop is no more (there’s a new restaurant in its place called Pho Tran), these days, when you want to order pho tai be, the place to go is a spinoff of the original called Pho A Hung By Night. Open from lunch until midnight on most nights, when you order pho tai be, you get a bowl with broth and noodles, a plate of veggies and a side plate of the pale pink, thinly sliced tai be, along with a ginger hoisin dipping sauce. To eat it, you dip the thin slices of veal into the sauce and then into steaming hot broth before taking a bite. Popular upgrades include the dac biet ngau bin be, which will give you more meat for an extra 75 cents, or the side order of bone marrow with quail egg. PHO DANH

11209 Bellaire Blvd., Ste. C-25, at Boone Road, inside Hong Kong City Mall, 281-879-9940

Pho Danh is one of those no-frills, old-school pho spots that you go back to because it’s easy to find, clean and fairly consistent. You won’t find the fancier cuts of meat on the menu here, but if you’re looking for a straight-forward beef pho with the usual meat choices – chin nac (brisket), gan (tendon), nam (flank), gau (fatty brisket), etc. – this is the place to go. It’s located in the far right corner of Hong Kong City Mall. PHO BINH BY NIGHT

12148 Bellaire Blvd., Ste. 101, and other locations,

Though there are Pho Binh’s all over the city – the most famous of which is the original Pho Binh Trailer on Beamer Road in Houston, which has been open since 1983 – they are not all alike. Pho Binh on Westheimer, for example, is a little more Americanized. Pho Binh Bellaire’s strength is not their beef pho, but their dry chicken noodle, or pho ga kho. Pho Binh By Night, which is usually open until midnight or later, is another option for late-night pho in Asiatown. The aromatics of the broth here tend to be stronger, but they offer both beef and chicken pho, and lately have become known as the place where you should order pho with a bowl of bone marrow on the side. 75 SUMMER 2017

Northern Vietnam

Central Vietnam

Southern Vietnam 76 SUMMER 2017


Banh Mi & Pho


s a food writer of Vietnamese descent, introducing people to the food of my homeland has always been a point of pride for me. On a recent visit to Huynh restaurant in Houston’s East Downtown area, for instance, I watched in delight when a friend who was not familiar with Vietnamese food took a bite of the banh uot thit nuong – rice cake rolls filled with grilled pork – and immediately pronounced it “tasty!” Banh uot thit nuong is not the typical introduction one might have to the pleasures of Vietnamese cuisine, however. Most people, when I ask them, “Are you familiar with Vietnamese food?” will answer something along the lines of “Well, I really like pho” or “I love those grilled pork banh mi sandwiches.” I get it. There are pho shops and banh mi shops everywhere in Houston. But there is so much more to Vietnamese food than banh mi and pho. And you can find most of it in what is now the Little Saigon area of Asiatown — concentrated along Bellaire Boulevard between Beltway 8 and Highway 6 and nearby on Beechnut. I hope to introduce you to many of these dishes in this article. First, a few words of context. Just like in Italy, where you’ll find regional differences in the cuisine when you travel from North to South, the characteristics of Vietnamese cuisine depend on the regionality of a specific dish. In general, Northern Vietnamese food tends to be saltier and more basic, with fewer frills. It is the birth-

place of pho and dishes such as banh cuon (rolled rice cakes), cha ca (turmeric fish with dill) and xoi lap xuong (sticky rice with Chinese sausage). Central Vietnam is the birthplace of bun bo Hue, a pork hock and beef noodle soup that is becoming increasingly well known in Houston. The cuisine is spicier, and there are lots of small cakes, or banh, within this genre cuisine. My favorite of them all is banh beo chen (round rice cakes cooked in small saucers, topped with dried shrimp and pork). Other banh to try include banh nam (flat steamed rice dumplings), banh quai vac (glutinous dumplings filled with shrimp), banh it ram (glutinous stuffed dumplings topped with a fried dumpling) and banh bot loc (chewy tapioca dumplings filled with shrimp and wrapped in a banana leaf ). Southern Vietnamese cooking is the cuisine most closely associated with what we find in Houston. There are lots of mon an choi (appetizers) and mon nhau (Vietnamese tapas). The dishes tend to be a lot sweeter and many are meant to be shared. Specialties such as bo 7 mon (beef seven ways) and com phan gia dinh (Vietnamese family meals) are Southern in origin. Now that you have a sense of where the food comes from, it’s time to eat. I’ve compiled a list of essential Vietnamese dishes and where to find them in Asiatown. Hopefully, it will inspire you to venture beyond banh mi and pho. Just remember to bring cash.

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When you want to try ...

Northern Vietnamese food Originating in the Red River Delta in Northeastern Vietnam, bun rieu is a noodle soup made with crab, tomato and thin rice vermicelli noodles. It is a wonderful dish with tons of umami and depth of flavor; it’s one of my favorite dishes to make and eat. Traditionally, it’s made with freshwater crab that is pounded into a paste. The juices from the crab form the basis of the broth, while the paste cooks to form a sort of curdled cake that floats on top. When crab is not available, dried shrimp is often used as a substitute and mixed with egg. Most of the restaurants in Houston use blue crab to make the dish. In addition to tomato, other soup toppings include fried tofu and blood cubes. You can also get versions of this dish with sea snails (bun rieu oc) or vegetarian (bun rieu chay). WHERE TO TRY BUN RIEU BUN VIET SON 6796 Synott Rd., 281-561-5800 RIEU CUA (serves bun rieu oc) 12319 Bellaire Blvd., 832-486-9478 VIET HUONG 11209 Bellaire Blvd., Ste. C3, 832-351-3655 SAN SAN TOFU (serves bun rieu chay) 6445 Wilcrest, 281-988-5666


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Bun cha Hanoi is a specialty from Hanoi that consists of chargrilled pork patties and chargrilled pork marinated in a diluted fish sauce, with rice vermicelli noodles and a big plate of vegetables on the side. There has been a lot of interest in this dish lately, not only because it is one of Hanoi’s most recognized dishes, but because Anthony Bourdain introduced President Barack Obama to the dish in the Hanoi episode of his TV program, Parts Unknown. Unfortunately, I haven’t found a really stellar example of this dish in Houston. However, if you want to try it, you can find acceptable versions at both Thien Thanh and Banh Cuon Hoa 2, listed under “banh cuon.”

Banh cuon (“rolled cake”) are steamed paper-thin rice-flour sheets that are rolled either with or without filling. The most popular kind is banh cuon nhan thit (rolled cake with meat), stuffed with a minced pork and wood ear mushroom filling. You can also get them plain (banh cuon thanh tri), with shrimp (banh cuon tom) or filled with grilled pork (banh cuon thit nuong). While you can order them at any number of Vietnamese restaurants, the best versions will be at specialty banh cuon houses. Enjoy them at brunch or lunch. WHERE TO TRY BANH CUON THIEN THANH 11210 Bellaire Blvd., 281-564-0419 BANH CUON HOA 2 11169 79 Beechnut, 281-495-9556 SUMMER 2017 SUMMER 2017


Bun Mang Vit Thanh Da

Bun mang vit is another noodle soup, this one made with bamboo shoots and duck. It’s usually served as a clear yellow consommé with strips of duck and bamboo floating in it. Traditionally, it is served with nuoc mam gung (ginger fish sauce). In Houston, you can order this dish with duck salad on the side. When you do so, you’ll get a big bowl of consommé with rice vermicelli and bamboo and a lightly seasoned side salad with duck and shredded cabbage. WHERE TO TRY BUN MANG VIT BUN MANG VIT THANH DA 11526 Bellaire Blvd., 281-495-9039 COM GA HOUSTON 11505 Bellaire Blvd., 832-230-0065

Cha ca is a famous Northern Vietnamese dish consisting of small slabs of white fish marinated in turmeric and galangal, topped with dill and served with rice vermicelli noodles, peanuts, crispy puffed rice paper and a diluted fish paste sauce known as mam ruoc. The most famous version, at Cha Ca La Vong in Hanoi, Vietnam, is served raw so that you can fry the fish at the table. The dish is often translated in English as “turmeric fish with dill” because of the key ingredients. In Houston, this dish is hard to come by, but in Asiatown, you can try it at Thien Thanh, listed under “banh cuon.” Outside of Asiatown, Chris Shepherd offers a play on this dish made with turmeric and yogurt at his restaurant, Underbelly. 80




When you want to try ...

CEntral Vietnamese food Bun bo Hue is a pork hock and beef noodle soup from the central Vietnamese region of Hue. To make it, pork hocks and beef bones are simmered for hours with ingredients like lemongrass, garlic, annatto seeds, shrimp paste and chili to create this hearty, flavor-bomb of a noodle soup. The noodles are a thick rice vermicelli noodle similar to Japanese udon. It is served with sliced pork hocks, sliced beef shank, beef sausage and blood cubes, with a side of shredded cabbage, lime and chili on the side. One of the most savory and complex-tasting noodle soups, bun bo Hue is a Vietnamese classic, something you’ll get hard cravings for once you try it. You can find several excellent bowls in Chinatown. WHERE TO TRY BUN BO HUE BUN BO HUE DUC CHUONG 11415 Bellaire Blvd., Ste. K, 832-351-2622 BUN BO HUE DUC CHUONG MIDNITE 12148 Bellaire Blvd., Ste. 124, 832-351-2644 BUN VIET SON 6796 Synott Rd.,281-561-5800


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Banh beo chen at Nam Giao

Banh beo chen are glutinous rice cakes that are steamed in small saucers. They are usually topped with shrimp, pork skin chicharrĂłn, onion and/or fried shallots and are typically delivered to the table on a tray, with anywhere from nine to 12 cakes, a small bowl of nuoc mam pha (diluted fish sauce) and a small spoon. To eat them, pick up one of the saucers and drizzle some nuoc mam pha on top. Using the spoon, cut around the edges of the cake to loosen it from the saucer, then either cut it in half or plop the entire cake in your mouth. Restaurants that serve banh beo chen will usually serve a myriad of other savory rice cakes (you can spot them because their names all start with banh) that are worth trying as well. WHERE TO TRY BANH BEO CHEN NAM GIAO 6938 Wilcrest, Ste. C, 281-568-4888 DONG BA 10815 Beechnut, Ste. 147, 281-498-6520

Mi quang is a popular noodle dish from the central region made of flat, wide turmeric yellow noodles in a scant pork and shrimp broth. The proportion of the broth makes it more of a sauce than a soup. Toppings include pork or pork belly, shrimp, peanuts and crisped puff rice paper sheets known as banh da. When done right, this dish displays beautiful umami and complexity in terms of textures and unique flavors. It’s good when you want a light lunch. WHERE TO TRY MI QUANG PHO DUY 6968 Wilcrest, Ste. F, 281-879-9899 BUN CHA CA DA NANG 12168 82 Bellaire Blvd., 281-741-9455 SUMMER 2017

When you want to try ...

southern Vietnamese food Bo 7 mon, or beef seven ways, is one of my father’s favorite things. It’s a set-course menu of seven different Vietnamese beef dishes that I’ve been eating since I was a teenager and the first restaurant of its type opened in Orange County, California. In Houston, the most famous restaurant for this Southern Vietnamese specialty is Saigon Pagolac. Your meal begins with bo nhung dam (beef carpaccio that you dip in boiling vinegar), followed by a beef sate dish that you grill over a sizzling plate at the table. Then you will get four beef dishes often served side by side on the plate. Three of them – bo la lot (grilled ground beef wrapped in betel leaves), bo nuong mo chai (grilled meatball wrapped in caul fat) and bo sate (beef rolls grilled with sate sauce) – are meant to be eaten as rice roll wraps. Fresh vegetables and dry rice papers with bowls of hot water are provided so that you can create your own wraps at the table. The fourth dish, cha dum, is meatball served with crispy shrimp chips, wherein you break off a piece of the chip and pile it high with meatball, before taking a bite. The two final dishes are a beef salad and beef alphabet soup. Ringing in at less than $20 per person, this is one of the tastiest and most inexpensive tasting menus in town. Other popular items that go with bo 7 mon include whole grilled fish, or ca nuong, which is usually ordered separately as a supplement to the seven courses. A spinoff version made with fish – ca 8 mon (fish eight ways) – is also served at Jasmine Asian Cuisine. WHERE TO TRY BO 7 MON SAIGON PAGOLAC 9600 Bellaire Blvd., Ste. 119, 713-988-6106 JASMINE ASIAN CUISINE 9938 Bellaire Blvd., 713-272-8188


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In Vietnam, the Southern Vietnamese have a reputation for going out and having fun. Hence, they spend a lot of time with friends at places that serve the Vietnamese equivalent of American bar food, known as mon nhau. There are crispy chicken wings at some of those places, to be sure, but more often than not, you’ll get a lot of items like oc len xao dua (sea snails in coconut sauce), ngeo hap (steamed clams with fish sauce) or crispy fried pig intestines, which are delicious with beer. WHERE TO TRY MON NHAU GIAU BAR N BITES 9889 Bellaire Blvd., e200, 713-988-8988 ONE HOT POT & GRILL 12148 Bellaire Blvd., Ste. 112, 281-564-4063 VIBE LOUNGE 6968 Wilcrest, 281-575-0440


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You can find restaurants that do com phan gia dinh, or Vietnamese family meal, at numerous restaurants in Asiatown. The family meal is made up of typical dishes that one would eat at home in Southern Vietnam, humble dishes that any home cook can make. The set price on the menus, which are usually offered for two, four, six and larger parties, are extremely affordable. This is the type of meal you have when you want home cooking but don’t want to lift a finger in the kitchen. The set menu always comes with a Vietnamese salad known as goi, a sour fish soup called canh chua made with either fish or shrimp, a caramelized fish-in-clay-pot dish known as ca kho to and a steamed chicken and ginger dish called ga hai nam. As the size of the party increases, more dish selections are offered, which can be something like dau hu nhoi (stuffed tofu) or chep chep xao ot (pepper sautÊed mussels). WHERE TO TRY COM PHAN GIA DINH THUAN KIEU COM TAM 10792 Bellaire Blvd., Ste. A, 281-988-8865 PHO NGON 10780 Bellaire Blvd., 281-564-8887 THANH DA QUAN 13090 Bellaire Blvd., 281-988-9089

Mai Pham is a Houston-based freelance food and travel writer. Follow Mai @femme_foodie on Twitter, Instagram and Snapchat for delicious finds around Houston and wherever her travels take her.

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e s e m a n t e i V f o n a r e Vet Kim ngo of thien thanh Asiatown's

Text and photos by Mai Pham

Banh cuon are rolled cakes made of paperthin sheets of steamed rice flour noodle. In Vietnam they are eaten the same way that crêpes are eaten in France. Traditionally a breakfast item, you can get them plain (banh cuon thanh tri) or filled with meat (banh cuon nhan thit). The traditional filling is minced pork and wood-ear mushroom, but there are usually options for other fillings, too, such as shrimp or chargrilled pork. In Houston, when we talk about where to go for banh cuon, the most famous restaurant is Thien Thanh. Located in a strip mall on Bellaire Boulevard at Boone Road, this mom-and-pop spot is the OG of Vietnamese restaurants in the area. When Kim Ngo opened Thien Thanh 23 years ago, there were undeveloped pastures across the street where people could hunt deer. There was no Hong Kong City Mall, which would open six years later, in 1999; no Nguyen Ngo French Cafe, which would open in 2004; no Lee’s Sandwiches, which debuted in 2006. In fact, Ngo was one of only two tenants in his building at the time.

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Today, drive down Bellaire Boulevard between Beltway 8 and Highway 6, and the area is booming with new, primarily Vietnamese-owned businesses. There are new places for banh cuon as well, like Banh Cuon Hoa. But step into Thien Thanh and not much has changed. Beyond adding a few snack items to the top of the menu, the restaurant serves the same core 14 items. Whereas prices have gone up around town, two people can still eat well here for around $20.

stop busy, answering phones, taking orders, greeting customers, checking people out and making sure that the restaurant is running smoothly. “See him?” he says fondly, gesturing towards a man paying for several to-go orders. “He’s been coming here since he was a kid. I know his entire family.” During the course of about an hour, several more long-time customers come into the restaurant.

Ngo, now 66 years old, is almost always behind the counter, taking orders and checking people out. He works from open to close six days a week, and he’s been doing it for the last 23 years.

“When this one started coming to my restaurant, his hair was black. Now it’s gray,” he says affectionately of another customer, pausing for a moment before saying proudly, “You see? My customers always come back to me. They never go anywhere else.”

On the afternoon of our interview, Ngo is upbeat and energetic. A devout Catholic, he lets his staff go to church during the break between lunch and dinner service on weekends. While they’re gone, he’s non-

Ngo’s immigrant story is a common one in Houston. Yet each of these stories has its own unique variation. Why Houston? Why a restaurant? We asked a few questions to learn more.




We barely had any money at the time. My wife and I I was in my mid-20s when I came to the United States. are both the eldest in our families. She had nine siblings My dad used to be in the army and had already passed younger than her that were relying on her. I had six away. My mother and my six brothers and sisters didn’t siblings. We were working two jobs at the time. I was want to leave Vietnam. Our family had connections, working construction and whatever else I could pick up. so I left Vietnam after the fall of Saigon in 1975. I had She was a hairdresser. To make extra money, her mom’s sponsors in New York City and went to college at friend saw our hardship, so she taught my wife how to make Albany State for an accounting degree. Do you know banh cuon to sell from home. After that, my wife came up how much jobs used to pay then? Minimum wage was with her own recipe, and we sold large batches to churches, about $3 an hour. I heard that they were paying to grocery stores. We did this for three years until we knew $8-plus an hour for people to paint here in Houston, we had enough of a following to open, and this was the only so during the summers, I would fly here to Houston location we could afford. We are lucky because people loved to work. I moved to Houston in 1983 and got a job 87our food and didn’t mind driving here. in a convenience store. That’s where I met my wife. SUMMER 2017

YOU’RE HERE FROM MORNING TO CLOSE SIX DAYS A WEEK. WHAT DO YOU DO ON YOUR DAY OFF? I come back here for about half the day. I used to exercise three times a week, but now I do it on Wednesdays. I like to read. I read about history, and I also read the Bible. Several years ago, I joined a Catholic group called the Cursillo Movement. I devote a lot of my time to all the good works that this group does. We help the homeless and do a lot of active charity work. Every Wednesday, from 7 pm to 9 pm, we meet and plan all of our activities.

DIDN’T YOU ONCE HAVE PLANS TO FRANCHISE YOUR RESTAURANT? Do you see those blueprints hanging on the wall? [He points to blueprints in the corner of the restaurant.] About 10 years ago, people wanted to give me a lot of money to franchise. We had plans to do it. But I chose my faith over expansion. If I franchised or opened more locations, there was no way that I could be as active as I am in the Cursillo Movement. Let me tell you what I say to people who ask me why I don’t try to expand: When you have a beautiful cake, and your stomach can only handle half of the cake, don’t try to eat everything. IF YOU COULD HAVE CHOSEN YOUR OWN CAREER, WHAT WOULD YOU HAVE BEEN? I was supposed to be a lawyer. I had finished my studies in Vietnam, but when I came here, I had to start over. That’s why I went to get a degree in accounting. If I could have had a choice, I would have been a lawyer.

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Mai Pham also wrote the article Viet-Nom: Pho, Banh Mi and Beyond on page 68.

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Drop it like it's

t o P t o H Text and photos by Ellie Sharp

It’s easy to understand why dining at a restaurant that features hot pot might be intimidating to the uninitiated. There is the awkward table with an open flame, boiling broth, platters of raw ingredients and special cooking utensils. Sometimes a language barrier can add confusion or anxiety. How do I order? What if I don’t like something? Do I eat straight from the pot or from the plate? Consider this a starting point for where to go and how to enjoy one of the most filling – and fulfilling – meals in Houston’s Asiatown.

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hot pot History As with most things, the exact invention of hot pot is lost in the mists of time, but many sources point to the Jin Dynasty in China over 1,000 years ago. The internet contains many references to resourceful Mongols using their helmets as cooking vessels and shields as cooking surfaces during their travels through northern China. The main food intended for the helmet hot pot was horse, sheep and cattle.

Over the years, regional styles have evolved to reflect local ingredients, such as seafood hot pot on the coast. Cooking broths are also variable and include the southern Chongqing (also called the Sichuan version), which is a dark-red chili-infused liquid with the distinctive buzzy tingle of Sichuan peppercorns. A lighter, more neutral broth is popular in northern regions like Beijing.

HOW IT WORKS As with other communal foods – think of fondue, for example – it can be tricky to know the proper way to eat without stepping on some etiquette toes. The most important point is, unless you are dining with the closest of friends or family, don’t eat food directly from the pot. Instead, place cooked food on your plate or in your bowl. Courtesy also dictates you refrain from placing chopsticks directly into your mouth; do your best to let only your lips touch the food. Because of the time involved with prepping, cooking and eating hot pot, the meal is reserved for lunch and dinner, not snacks. And while it’s not wrong to dine solo, the nature of hot pot typically dictates sharing with a group. It’s hard to say how many are too many, but large hot pots can easily serve six to eight people. On the quiet side, a hot pot for just the two of you can be downright romantic. Many restaurants offer hot pots in pre-chosen combinations, but there is nearly always an option to order items a la carte as well. Vegetables like watercress, bok choy, Taiwan spinach and Napa cabbage typically come standard, while rice and noodles may also be provided. Whole raw eggs are also common. Once the main order is placed, the server may ask

what kind of broth you prefer, or he or she will simply deliver a pot that is separated in the middle to allow a spicy version and a mild version. Chinese, Vietnamese, Mongolian and Japanese hot pots (among others) will each offer distinct flavor profiles. The pot is set on a gas burner, which may be in a recessed niche of the table, set level with the tabletop or be as simple as an electric hot pad. Once the broth is boiling, use chopsticks to drop in the meat or vegetable that you wish to cook and eat. The thinly sliced meats require only a very brief dunk to cook, so keep a watchful eye. Use the provided ladle or strainer to scoop up cooked food. Don’t forget about the fine rice noodles, either, which cook in mere seconds and turn to mush if you aren’t vigilant. Eggs can be broken and dropped in to cook in the broth, while some diners prefer to mix the raw yolk with chili sauce for dipping. If dining with close friends or family, chopsticks are an acceptable retrieval method, but when in doubt use the provided ladles or woven-wire “spiders” to scoop out the goods. Drop bites onto your plate or into a small bowl of chili or soy sauces. When the broth runs low simply ask your server for a refill and carry on. Sip on hot tea or whatever beverage you wish; there doesn’t appear to be any single traditional beverage.

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where to try a hot pot in asiatown SINH SINH


9788 Bellaire Blvd., 713-541-2888

9889 Bellaire Blvd., Ste. 105, 713-981-8818

Sinh Sinh offers a Chinese/Vietnamese hot pot with pork broth that comes plain or with a spicy kick. Order from four pre-chosen options including combination, lobster combination, seafood or Vietnamese fish soup. Cost: $26 to $47

Fu Fu Cafe is directly across the street from Sinh Sinh and features six combinations, including the splurge-worthy lobster-Dungeness crab-beef trio, Peking-style lamb and a unique whole marinated chicken pre-cut for ease of cooking. Cost: $33 to $90


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9888 Bellaire Blvd., Ste. 158, 713-995-9982

Lucky Pot is a little different and simplifies the process with four hot pots that are served already cooked and ready to eat. Choose from the Vietnamese fish soup, seafood pot, lobster combination or the spicy combination. We ordered the last, which included prawns, enoki and wood-ear mushrooms, beef, vegetables and fish balls in a thick and spicy broth spiked with Szechuan peppercorns. For those who care, consider that when we asked what was in the broth, the server showed us a packaged seasoning mix, meaning the cooks do not prepare the broth in-house like some places. Cost: $26 to $47

10603 Bellaire Blvd., 281-598-1777, and other locations,

At Kim Son the enormous buffet is available to all. However, choosing the hot pot requires a $2 surcharge for each person at the table. Grab a plate, fill it with whatever speaks to you – e.g. whole blue crab, small filets of fish, curls of beef or piles of veggies – and bring it back to your table. Note that hot pot is only available on Friday nights and all day Saturdays and Sundays. Cost: $17.95 per person for buffet, plus $2 per person for hot pot option

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9889 Bellaire Blvd., #319, 713-995-5428

This is a newer location that features a Japanese approach to hot pot. Here the diners each have a personal pot that is placed on an individual electric burner with adjustable heat levels. A newcomer-friendly menu is provided with simple numbered steps: Choose a soup base (original pork bone, spicy Szechuan, zesty tomato, Japanese dashi, pickled Napa cabbage, Korean kimchi or Indian curry), then select sauces, entrees and/or combinations as desired. A la carte options are also available. Cost: $10 weekday lunch specials, but otherwise average about $15 per broth/ sauce/entrĂŠe combination


8488 Bellaire Blvd., 713-771-1153, and other location,

Houston is home to two locations of Little Sheep Mongolian Hot Pot, which is an international hot pot chain founded in 1999 in Baotou, Inner Mangolia, China. (Today the company is owned by Yum! Brands.) The Houston locations offer two Mongolian-style broths: The original mild and milky broth and the spicy option with chiles, chile oil and peppercorns. Choose from proteins like kurobuta pork, lamb wontons, Angus beef, premium lamb shoulder and multiple seafood selections. Three kinds of noodles add heft along with two kinds of tofu and fresh vegetables like spinach, baby bok choy, pea sprouts, tong ho (chrysanthemum greens) and assorted mushrooms. Cost: All you can eat weekday lunch ($15.99) and dinner ($19.99) daily, excluding holidays. Lunch special, Monday though Friday, excluding holidays, starts at $9.95 before 2:30 pm.


8300 W. Sam Houston Pkwy. South, Ste. 180, 832-328-3888

Hot Pot City offers six hot pots from which to choose but adds variety with a menu that reads a little like a pizza list: tofu-mushroom, both Vietnamese and Thai sweet and sour, and meat lovers, plus assorted items available a la carte. Cost: $26 to $36

Ellie Sharp is a freelance food and lifestyle writer and photographer for various print and online publications. She has bylines with Eater Houston, Edible Houston, Houstonia and Houston Press, among others, and is the Zagat Houston editor. When she's not writing you can find her camping, hiking, crocheting and traveling.

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one stop,

o n e w T Ram ps o h S

By Carl Rosa Photography by Becca Wright 96 SUMMER 2017




Ramen is

a Japanese noodle soup that typically contains four fundamental elements – broth, noodles, egg and toppings. Debate lingers as to the origin of this dish. While some claim that the essence of ramen has its roots in China, others believe that real ramen (as we know it today), was developed in Japan during the 1950s. Today, ramen houses have sprouted everywhere, Houston included. Here are my two Asiatown favorites, located next door to each other:



9889 Bellaire Blvd., Ste. 234, in Dun Huang Plaza

9889 Bellaire Blvd., Ste. 230, in Dun Huang Plaza


Recommended SPICY MISO RAMEN The


age – often spelled karaage – is a Japanese cooking technique that focuses on chicken, usually deep fried in cooking oil. This ramen offers a lighter-than-average bowl of soup with a healthy, crispy dose of “fried chicken” as an additional experience. TOKYO-SHOYU RAMEN Soy

sauce is a popular ramen seasoning in central Japan; its use originates in Yokohama. Traditionally, it’s used to make a clear to brown broth featuring chicken, seafood and, occasionally, pork. Cafe Kubo’s Tokyo-shoyu ramen is a well-done example of this classic ramen – light, salty and full of flavor. TONKOTSU RAMEN In

this version of ramen, a boiled pork-bone broth, often referred to as “Hakata-style,” makes a luscious, fatty broth that is paired with long, straight noodles. If you’re new to ramen, this is a good introduction: a thick, creamy consistency wedded to a rich, pork flavor.

nutty-sweet broth, based on the fermented seasoning paste called miso (typically derived from soybeans), arrives brimming with spicy ground pork, corn, scallion, bamboo shoot, cabbage, mushroom and onion (plus the noodles, of course). The name includes “spicy,” but it’s not terribly. There’s also plain miso ramen, should you prefer something milder. TAN-TAN RAMEN Also

known as tantanmen, this Sichuan-inspired style of ramen starts with a concentrated sesame- and chile-spiked broth that is dark and reddish-orange. It is heavy and delicious, possessing an amalgamation of flavors, including spicy components such as chile oil, pork, scallions, mushrooms, cabbage and more. Order extra noodles on the side for additional dipping. It is a tasty and less-traditional way to enjoy ramen.

Carl Rosa is the founder of Ramen in Common, as well as the Sushi Club of Houston. He also owns

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Drinking Up Asiatown By Robin Barr Sussman Photography by Becca Wright

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ost Houstonians don’t head to Asiatown to imbibe, but if you want a great glass of wine or beer to elevate your Asian cuisine, it is possible to find good juice. However, it can be a tricky pairing due to all the complex spices and varying heat levels in the cuisine.


With the help of sommelier JUSTIN VANN (owner of PSA Wines and beverage director of PUBLIC SERVICES

SICHUAN “This cuisine has a narrow window for ideal pairings because of its volcanic intensity and the presence of Sichuan peppercorns. Beer is best, then off-dry white wine, then dry white wine. Reds are extremely clumsy with Sichuan cuisine with one notable exception: carbonic macerated red wines. Carbonic maceration makes a lighter, fruitier red. Sichuan food needs a red wine that structurally acts like a white wine. Beaujolais Nouveau is a good example, but there are better options. At Mala Sichuan Bistro, we’re pouring Broc Cellars Love Red. ‘Love’ is a carbonic blend of Grenache, Syrah and Mouvèdre from California, and it delivers ripe red fruit flavors that pair with even the rowdiest Sichuan dishes like mapo tofu and water-boiled beef.” For an Asian pairing primer, Vann helped us with some wine and pairings at Mala Sichuan Bistro where much of the fare is spicy with Sichuan peppercorn heat, but not everything on the menu is fiery hot – see the photos throughout the article for Mala food and drink pairings.

Mala Sichuan Pairing #1 DRY POT PRAWNS


we’ve culled some basic pairing guidelines for Asian genres and classic dishes. And, because most of these spots do not post drink menus online, we’ve done the legwork and provided a round-up of the best wine and beer menus in Asiatown. You will also find a list of great places to BYOB (bring your own bottle). From Sichuan to ramen, Viet-Cajun and Malaysian, count on something super to sip.

RAMEN (JAPANESE) “Ramen doesn’t have a one-size-fits-all pairing because of the huge breadth of styles. Hopefully it doesn’t blow anyone’s mind if I say lighter beer is an ideal pairing for ramen. A few other things to try for fun: • Fino and manzanilla sherry with tonkatsu • Semi-sweet sparkling wine or French sparkler pét-nat* with spicy ramen • Palo cortado sherry with tsukemen (“dipping ramen”) I’m not trying to push a sherry agenda, but sherry is one of the greatest pairings on the planet with soups.” *Pét-nat is short for pétillant naturel – literally, “naturally sparkling.” It’s a less-processed kind of sparkling wine, often sealed with a crown cap. CANTONESE “Milder dishes like Cantonese fare or dim sum work well with light, refreshing white wines like Northern Italian white wines and méthode champenoise sparkling wines. Actually, white Burgundy is magic with this fare. Make sure you’re picking balanced, milder white wines so that you don’t lose the nuance and freshness that this kind of cuisine exhibits.” VIETNAMESE “In general, red wines do not flatter Vietnamese food. Lighter reds are encouraged, like Pinot Noir and Gamay. German and Austrian wines work wonders, as do sparkling wines. Try clay pot catfish with Sercial Madeira, old ale or barley wine. Tempura crab is great with saison (a highly carbonated pale ale) or sparkling wine, while Vietnamese eggrolls come alive with Riesling, Vouvray, Grüner Veltliner or saison.”

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VIET-CAJUN “Viet-Cajun crawfish, like ramen, are best with beer. The lighter the beer, the better. But if you want to party, a pale ale or a wheat beer can be fun. Anything heavier, and you’re asking for a flavor train wreck in your mouth. Think of the crawfish. That’s why you’re there, so show them some respect.” SUSHI & SASHIMI “This is another cuisine where beer is the best thing to drink. The pairing shouldn’t be vying for your attention at a sushi restaurant. However, if you’re feeling zesty, softer styles of Champagne, sparkling wine and en rama fino sherry are very good untraditional pairings for sushi and sashimi.” MALAYSIAN “Malaysian food has rowdy bad-ass flavors like Sichuan food, but it’s more forgiving of intensity when paired with wine and beer. I am for the middle of the spectrum of intensity here. Medium-weight red wines can work slightly better here than whites.”

RED WINE AND ASIAN CUISINE There is good and bad news for red wine lovers, says Justin Vann. “There aren’t a lot of Asian cuisines that pair well with heavy red wine. (Actually, there aren’t a lot of cuisines on earth that pair well with heavy red wine.) It’s important to note, though, that Chinatown likes big red wine. So, enjoy your big reds when you feel like it, just avoid high-alcohol reds. High tannins and high acid can be great with, say, bo luc lac (shaking beef made with sirloin or rib eye), but high alcohol shuts down Asian food – and most other food.” Does that mean no Zinfandel? “I would never say Zinfandel couldn’t pair with Asian food. But a jacked-up 16.5 percent alcohol Zin will make even a natural foil like Korean beef bulgogi taste weird.” The bottom line is that the ideal reds for Asian cuisine are light-bodied, high-acid wines like red Burgundy and more quaffable expressions of Chianti and Rioja. “Gamay does a great job, too. Peking duck gets red Burgundy, end of story. If it’s not Burgundy, get as close to that style as possible.”

Mala Sichuan Pairing #2 CUMIN BEEF

– pair it with – SOT DE L'ANGE ROSÉ

100 SUMMER 2017

Mala Sichuan Pairing #3 STEAMED WHOLE TILAPIA

– pair it with – NIGL GRÜNER VELTLINER

Wine lovers in China drink mostly red wine. In fact, China is the world’s number one consumer of red wine. This is because the color red is good luck in China, while white signifies death. (source: Reuters News) 101 SUMMER 2017 SUMMER 2017


Mala Sichuan Pairing #4 GARLIC BACON CUCUMBER

– pair it with – TSINGTAO BEER

102 SUMMER 2017

the Best

Wine and Beer Lists in Asiatown There are only a handful of Chinatown restaurants with great wine lists, and we’ve discovered you’ll rarely find even a mention of serving alcohol on their websites. So dig in and uncork some new discoveries. FUNG’S KITCHEN


7320 Southwest Fwy., Ste. 115, 713-779-2288

9630 Clarewood Dr., Ste. A13, 713-923-7488

Known for its popular weekend dim sum, Hong Kongstyle fare and fresh seafood straight from the tanks, Fung’s also touts a good wine list, and the staff is friendly and knowledgeable about wine. Expect New Zealand Sauvignon Blancs, Veuve Clicquot and other Champagnes, Stags Leap Chardonnay and Carneros Pinots to go with lavish dishes like Peking duck, off menu wildgame dishes, Alaskan king crab, New Zealand green mussels and Maine lobster.

Mike Tran of Tiger Den and AKA Sushi fame pulls in crowds at this Cantonese comfort food oasis. Expect domestic, French and Asian beers, wine and sake with solid, somewhat affordable choices. Think elegant and crisp Jordan Chardonnay, Kung Fu Girl Riesling (Washington) and Oyster Bay Sauvignon Blanc (New Zealand) by the bottle. There’s Mirrasou Pinot Noir from Sonoma and high-end Silver Oak and Caymus Cabs in the $150 range. Sadly, the only by-the-glass options for red and white are Bota Box. Note: BYO is not offered.

MALA SICHUAN BISTRO 9348 Bellaire Blvd., 713-995-1889, and other location

CAFE 101

The wine and beer list created by sommelier Justin Vann is top notch but the management also allows BYOB with a $10 corkage fee. According to Vann, this cuisine has a small window of pairing opportunity because of the namesake peppercorn. Sparkling wine, white with residual sugar, dry whites and beer (IPA/saison/wheat) are reliable options. A few recommended pairings: spicy crispy chicken or beef with German Riesling or English cider; red oil dumplings/wontons with American brown ale; mapo tofu with California IPA, Belgian witbier or Champagne.

9889 Bellaire Blvd., Ste. 101, 713-272-8828, and other location

This trendy Asian fusion cafe and bar for the young set sports a large cocktail menu highlighting exotic sake cocktails, Japanese and domestic beers and limited wines. This is not one of the best wine lists in Chinatown, but, fortunately, Pinot Grigio, Moscato, Sauvignon Blanc and sparkling sake (plus beer and tons of teas) would pair with most dishes. Look for Wine Down Wednesday with half-priced wine bottles and weekday specials on cocktails, along with sushi happy hour.



6816 Ranchester Dr., 713-771-1268, and other location

The aroma and presentation of the bountiful seafood dishes draw crowds on the weekends. Expect a handful of Asian beers and solid wine choices in each varietal available by the glass and bottle. For whites, the Edna Valley Sauvignon Blanc or German Clean Slate Riesling will click with many dishes. There are reds, but the only soft reds include Merlot and Chianti. If just drinking and not pairing, wine connoisseurs can get their fill of big reds with Napa Valley labels Rubicon, Shafer, Caymus Special and such in the $100 to $215 range.

9788 Bellaire Blvd., 713-541-2888

This popular spot – it stays open until 3 am on the weekends – has carried exciting wines for years and sports one of the largest wine lists in the area. It has breadth with myriad Champagnes, good Sauvignon Blancs, California rosé, Bordeaux blancs, Bordeaux rouge, Burgundy and Rhône rouge (and many by the glass). You can spot cases of Opus One, but some of the good stuff rotates on the list. Sommelier Justin Vann said he’s heard stories of the lavish parties guests sometimes throw with high-dollar Bordeaux, California cabs, etc.

103 SUMMER 2017


Asiatown Restaurants At these spots, you’ll enjoy great food, but there is no booze on the menu. So plan accordingly by bringing your favorite beer or wine. Some have wine glasses, but others do not. Call ahead or just pack up your favorite stemware.

HAI CANG HARBOR SEAFOOD 11768 Bellaire Blvd., 281-564-4288

At this seafood haven, BYO is allowed with an $8 corkage fee. Tote along a dry sparkling wine like Prosecco to sip with the Hunan-style crispy fish or the lobster with beer and black pepper. TIGER DEN 9889 Bellaire Blvd., Ste. D-230, 832-804-7755

Mike Tran’s original Chinatown venture serves a variety of good beer and sake selections. Beer actually tastes better than wine with the steaming Japanese ramen bowls. However, BYO wine is allowed with a $30 corkage fee per bottle.

like the five spice chicken. Hot Vietnamese egg rolls with cold romaine lettuce, herbs and dipping sauce pair nicely with Riesling, Vouvray and Grüner Veltliner. Corkage fee: $10 per bottle. CRAWFISH CAFE

11209 Bellaire Blvd. inside Hong Kong City Mall, Ste. C36, , 281-575-1746

The cafe serves beer and free BYO is allowed on liquor and wine only. Bring in chilled bubbly for something to soothe the tongue after these spicy plates of crawfish, calamari and Kickin’ Cajun boiled crawfish. CRAWFISH & NOODLES 11360 Bellaire Blvd, Ste. 990, 281-988-8098

Serves beer and allows free BYO on wine only.


11201 Bellaire Blvd inside Hong Kong City Mall, Ste. 2, 832-230-5858


The Vietnamese menu is broad with classic choices. Vann says the clay pot is a fun pairing challenge. German and Austrian wines work wonders with most dishes

There isn’t much competing spice on this traditional Shanghai menu, so tote along a big hoppy beer or a

9116 Bellaire Blvd., 713-988-7288

104 SUMMER 2017


full-bodied Sauvignon Blanc, unoaked Chardonnay, Pinot Noir or fruity Gamay to accompany your meal. No corkage fee for beer and wine.

12148 Bellaire Blvd, Ste. 101, 832-351-2464 and multiple locations

OCEAN PALACE 11215 Bellaire Blvd., 281-988-8898

This palatial dim sum spread offers a small beer, wine and Champagne list. Optionally, BYO wine is permitted at dinner with a $10 per bottle corkage fee. BANANA LEAF

Pho Binh is reputed to serve some of the best pho in Houston and is a late-night chef haunt, but don’t expect beer, wine or stemware. Great news: Each location allows free BYO. SARAH PLACE 9968 Bellaire Blvd., Ste. 160, 713-995-0985

A favorite for Malaysian fare, Banana Leaf, offers BYO with no corkage fee and no wine stemware. Note that Banana Leaf #2 at 9896 Bellaire Blvd. recently closed.

Roomy and serene with built-in fish tanks, this Shanghainese spot is fitting for large groups who order dish after dish. High-end wine is offered by the bottle only (no wine by the glass). BYOB for wine is allowed with no corkage fee.



9889 Bellaire Blvd., Ste. 311, 713-771-8118

9896 Bellaire Blvd., Ste. A, 832-538-1164

9600 Bellaire Blvd., Ste. 119, 713-988-6106

BYO beer or wine for free at this foodie favorite. Order a family-style meal with seven courses of beef or fish, or cook tableside using rice paper and herbs to make spring rolls or Vietnamese fajitas.

This new Los Angeles-based Sichuan eatery touted as “the best in America” by one food critic, does not serve alcohol but allows BYOB for wine or beer with no corkage fee.

Robin Barr Sussman regularly writes for My Table magazine. She is a freelance food writer with a culinary mission: great taste.

Tapas, Paella & Wine in Rice Village

2425 University Blvd. 713.522.9306

Chef/Sommelier Pedro Angel Garcia

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a i s A d e t i r i p S When you think of Asian booze, you can probably name one product right off the top of your head: sake. But there are so many more distilled and fermented Asian elixirs behind a well-stocked bar. For a small sample of what cocktail components hail from the world’s largest continent, read on.


This isn’t a salty gin and tonic, but you might have recollections of sea spray and beachside cocktails. The salt enhances the flavors of lemon and the botanicals in the gin, while sake pairs nicely with the creaminess.

By Taylor106 Byrne Dodge Photography by Becca Wright SUMM ER 20 17

1½ oz. Sipsmith London Dry Gin ¼ oz. sake ½ oz. Golden Falernum 2 dashes lemon bitters 2 dashes of “ocean tincture” (made by combining 1/8 teaspoon table salt with 1 Tablespoon water – use just 2 dashes of it) Fever Tree tonic water METHOD: In

a shaker, combine gin, sake, bitters and ocean tincture with ice and shake well. Strain and pour into vessel of your choice. Top up with tonic and stir lightly.


The Golden Plum utilizes one of Asia’s easiest-to-find spirits. China, Korea, Taiwan and Japan all produce plum wine, which is sometimes referred to as plum liqueur, as it is technically a cordial.

½ oz. Germain-Robin Heirloom Apple Brandy ¾ oz. plum wine (your choice) ¼ tsp. sandalwood tincture* sparkling wine, chilled METHOD: In

a mixing glass, combine apple brandy, plum wine and sandalwood tincture. Mix very well. Pour into a tulip glass and top with sparkling wine.

*Sandalwood Tincture In a jar, shake together sandalwood powder and water. Allow to steep for 12 hours. After 12 hours, strain mixture through cheesecloth, squeezing the liquid out of the cloth and catching the infused water in a small pot. Discard sandalwood powder. Over high heat, combine infused water and sugar, stirring well and bringing to a boil. When the consistency is thick and sticky, remove the pot from heat and transfer carefully into a 107 sterilized jar. Allow to cool, then refrigerate. METHOD:

2 Tbsp. sandalwood powder (find it on 1 cup water 1 cup sugar





The Atatawa Twist is named after Japanese indie band OOIOO’s song “Atatawa.” The twist is that the concoction comes out like a fluffy, light flip thanks to the egg white. In case you’re wondering what else you can do with the lemongrass syrup, we suggest adding a few drops to your regular gin and tonic or drizzle it into iced tea and over fresh fruit.

1½ oz. Mizu “Lemongrass” Shochu (a Japanese spirit, not to be confused with the Korean spirit, soju) ½ oz. rancio sec (a dry wine, something like a fino sherry) ½ oz. lemongrass syrup* ½ oz. fresh-squeezed lime juice 1 oz. coconut water 1 egg white Combine all ingredients in a shaker full of ice and shake well for 20 to 30 seconds. Alternatively, Kristine recommends putting all ingredients (no ice added) into a blender, allowing the mixture to blend completely. Serve in a prechilled glass. METHOD:

*lemongrass syrup On medium heat, combine water, sugar and chopped lemongrass in a small pot. Stir continuously for about 10 minutes or until sugar fully dissolves. Take pot off heat and allow to cool. Once cool, put remaining lemongrass stalks in a Mason jar, and 108 pour syrup over them. Refrigerate syrup. METHOD:


1 cup water 1 cup sugar 2 to 3 lemongrass stalk cores, finely chopped 2 to 3 lemongrass stalks, rinsed and cut into 6-inch lengths


This cocktail is a spin on sekoteng, a ginger, milk, tapioca pearl and peanut-based beverage common in Indonesia. Traditionally sekoteng is served hot and helps islanders stay warm on chilly nights in the mountain regions. Of course, Indonesia has one of the highest Muslim populations in the world, and real sekoteng doesn’t contain alcohol. In this version, Kristine uses Batavia arrack, a onceimportant Indonesian sugar-cane spirit that has experienced a recent comeback.

1 oz. Batavia arrack ¾ oz. amontillado sherry ¼ oz. fresh-squeezed lemon juice 1 oz. almond milk, unsweetened 1½ oz. ginger beer In a shaker, combine all ingredients except ginger beer and shake well with ice. Strain into a glass and top with ginger beer. METHOD:

Taylor Byrne Dodge is My Table's creative director and associate publisher.

109 SUMMER 2017 SUMMER 2017


Silog & Sentiment By Sarah Bronson • Illustration by Devyn Park

The pieces fell into place one by one. “We were having our get-together, singing karaoke,” says Consalacion dela Rosa Orda, or Connie, speaking of her friends Jose Marvin Cruz and Ivan Bombasi. “And then we just had an idea: Why don’t we put up our own place?” They all had experience in restaurants, and, more importantly, they wanted to share Filipino music with the city. That was the beginning of their passion project, Pasayahan sa Nayon. Filipinos have a special relationship with music. As someone who calls the Philippines motherland, I think the national fondness for resounding vibratos and stakes-raising key changes reveals a uniquely Filipino soft spot. They, we, are a people who inevitably bust out the karaoke system at big parties, who are always down for another refrain of “I Will Always Love You,” who trick out food trucks with sing-along technology. There ought

to be a place in Houston dedicated to sustaining and owning this aspect of who we are. With food, of course. Orda, the owner, describes herself as a music lover. A Manila native, she’s a former University of the Philippines Madrigal Singer – the group often referred to as the Madz – which is evident from her fine delivery of songs like “Bakit Pa,” a 90s hit. While karaoke alongside Filipino cuisine is not new among Houston restaurants, Orda says that as far as she knows, “We are the first one with this kind of concept, a combination of karaoke and dancing and live bands.” Cruz spends much of his time in the kitchen but will emerge to take a turn on the electric guitar. He also describes Pasayahan as filling a niche. It’s a lively place to go out to that is, for many, filled with faces like your own.

110 SUMMER 2017

Over recent months, Pasayahan has begun to carve out a name by word of mouth. The restaurant got its start last fall elsewhere in the Viet Hoa plaza and settled into its current spot this past spring. Weekdays here see light foot traffic; some patrons pass in and out with meals in carry-out bags, and others show up in gaggles and linger late, belting songs in Tagalog, or “Go the Distance” from Disney’s Hercules. But on a Saturday night, a social media post promoting a local band will conjure a crowd toting packs of beer and Western spouses. The musicians are the biggest draw right now. Different styles of music pass through, from jazz to rock covers to metal, the performers mostly Filipino. Bring cash for a cover charge of around $10. Those nights, you find Pasayahan not by sight – there’s no lighted sign – but by a bass beat that amplifies when the doors open at the far end of the plaza where a Filipino flag hangs behind the glass. Not by Yelp, but by Facebook blasts about the next band that’ll be there, or the ihaw ihaw for the weekend, meaning what’s on the grill. The menu shifts often – moco loco (hamburger steak over rice with brown gravy) and arroz caldo (rice soup, something like congee), said the chalkboard last weekend – so you might check online for any mention of your favorites before heading out. During a noisy performance, holler your order across the front counter, out of the dim but colorfully flashing open space into the lighted corner. There’s room for 100 to sit or for a dance floor to open, palm fronds and birds of paradise against the walls. Repeat your order into a cupped ear while the singer bellows a Journey song and a dancer pretends to lasso someone into the action. Ask about adobo kambing, or goat adobo, a specialty here. Adobo in the Philippine style most often uses chicken or pork, stewed with soy sauce, vinegar, peppercorns and bay leaves, with flavors of salt, biting sour and browned chicken skin predominating. But there’s something more musky and alive about the goat, in chunks gently cradling bone, that holds its own against and works through the savory juices, topped off with sautéed onion. If you can, absolutely get hold of some lechon kawali, a party favorite that never fails to grace Filipino gatherings that reach critical mass. Look for the deep

red crackling skin flush with glistening thick fat and wobble-tender pork. Douse with Mang Tomas allpurpose sauce. Hog as much for yourself as you can politely get away with. Someone accustomed to Filipino cuisine might not get worked up about the staple dish of pancit noodles, but the stuff here trounces most other versions I’ve had. Cruz simmers the chicken stock for hours before tossing the vermicelli in it. Notice the big pieces of onion as translucent as the noodles, except at the browned edges. Notice the pleasantly charred slices of Chinese sausage. Praise the generous, simple black pepper, which handin-hand with the stock achieves what the bouillon cubes commonly used in this dish only attempt. Despite the somewhat fickle chalkboard, all-day brekpas, or breakfast, prevails. There’s a full selection of silogs, or different meats plus garlic fried rice (sinangag) and over-easy egg (itlog). Longsilog features chunky, sweet longganisa sausage, similar to chorizo; tosilog features tocino, or slices of cured pork; and my favorite portmanteau, hotsilog, means there are hot dogs, often slit diagonally and fried. Smoothies are another constant, made with plenty of fresh fruit and a splash of cream. The karaoke setup at Pasayahan isn’t a specialized device, just a computer tablet open to YouTube on a music stand, with Cruz remotely and deftly pulling up your requests, but the sound system is powerful and the microphone recreates the perfect shower echo. Jam sessions happen not in isolated rooms but in the common area for all to hear. Reluctant as I am to depart from my lechon, it’s my turn at the microphone now. My mind goes blank. Then Cruz suggests a song by Heart, and I seize on it. Soon my voice morphs from amateur and uncertain to amateur and unrepentant. By the end of the song I want to do another. Maybe the ebb-and-flow nature of this spot doesn’t appeal to all. But I’m sticking around for that sensory moment when all those different pieces of a past home come crashing back together. PASAYAHAN SA NAYON

8388 W. Sam Houston Pkwy. S, Ste. 172, 713-670-4007, @pasayahansanayonhouston

Sarah Bronson, who spent her childhood in the Philippines, is an editor of academic manuscripts, essayist on everything, and intrepid folk dancer. Hit her up on @usewordsbetter. 111 SUMMER 2017 SUMMER 2017


index Afandim Restaurant (page 18) Alpha Bakery & Deli (page 70) Arco Seafood (page 21) Arirang Restaurant (page 65) Bambu (page 35) Banana Leaf (page 23, 105) Banh Cuon Hoa (page 87) Banh Cuon Hoa 2 (page 79) Bun Bo Hue Duc Chuong (page 81) Bun Cha Ca Da Nang (page 82) Bun Mang Vit Thanh Da (page 80) Bun Viet Son (page 78, 81) Cafe 101 (page 103) Cafe Kubo’s Sushi (page 97) Central China (page 17) Chengdu Taste (page 16, 105) Class 502 (page 33) Com Ga Houston (page 80) Confucius (page 22) Crawfish & Noodles (page 22, 23, 104) Crawfish Cafe (page 24, 104) Crown Seafood (page 21) Don Cafe & Sandwich (page 71) Dong Ba (page 82) Duy Sandwiches (page 70) East Wall (page 21) Eck Bakery (page 31) Fu Fu Cafe (page 23, 92) Fu Fu Restaurant (page 27) Fung’s Kitchen (page 54, 103) Giau Bar n Bites (page 84) Go Go Ice (page 34) Go Hyang Jib (page 65) Golden Dumpling House (page 26) H Mart (page 37, 65) Hai Cang Harbor Seafood (page 22, 24, 104) Han Kook Kwan (page 65) Hong Kong Cafe (page 19) Hong Kong Dim Sum (page 23, 24)

Hong Kong Food Market (page 39) Hong Kong Food Street (page 19) Hot Pot City (page 94) House of Bowls (page 19, 23) Hunan Bistro (page 17) Hunan Garden (page 41) I Ping Bakery (page 29) Ibun Bakery (page 31) Jang Guem Tofu & BBQ House (page 65) Jasmine Asian Cuisine (page 22, 83) Juice Box (page 23, 35) Jusgo Supermarket (page 38) Kamalan Bakery (page 29) Kim Son (page 22, 93) King Bakery (page 31) Kung Fu Tea (page 22) Lee’s Sandwiches (page 86) Lim’s Fried Chicken (page 65) Little Sheep Mongolian Hot Pot (page 24, 94) Lu Xiang Village (page 17) Lucky Palace (page 65) Lucky Pot (page 93) Mala Sichuan Bistro (page 16, 23, 103) Mein (page 103) Minh Phat Pho (page 23) Miss Dessert (page 33) Nam Giao (page 22, 82) New Olympic Bakery (page 30) Nguyen Ngo French Cafe (page 69, 86) Nu Cafe (page 24) Nu Ice & Drinks (page 35) Ocean Palace (page 105) Ohn (page 65) One Dragon (page 20, 27) One Hot Pot & Grill (page 84) Pasayahan sa Nayon (page 110) Peking Cuisine (page 23, 24) Pho A Hung By Night (page 75)

Pho Binh by Night (page 75, 105) Pho Danh (page 75) Pho Dien (page 72) Pho Dien 2 (page 72) Pho Duy (page 74, 82) Pho Ga Dakao (page 73) Pho Ngon (page 85) Pho Ve Dem (page 73) Que Huong Restaurant (page 104) Rieu Cua (page 78) Saigon Pagolac (page 83, 105) San Dong Noodle House (page 22, 23, 24) San San Tofu (page 78) Sarah Place (page 26, 105) Shabu House (page 94) Shanghai Restaurant (page 104) Sichuan Queen (page 16) Sinh Sinh (page 92, 103) Six Ping Bakery (page 30) Star Snow Ice & Teriyaki (page 20) Szechuan House (page 16) Tainan Bistro (page 20) Tan Tan Kitchen (page 103) Tapioca House (page 23) Thanh Da Quan (page 85) Thien Thanh (page 22, 24, 79, 86) Thim Hing (page 71) Thuan Kieu Com Tam (page 85) Tiger Den (page 97, 104) Tofu Village (page 23, 65) Tous Les Jours (page 29) Uyghur Bistro (page 18, 23) Vibe Lounge (page 84) Viet Hoa International Foods (page 38) Viet Huong (page 78) Xin Jiang BBQ (page 22) Xiong’s Cafe (page 22, 23, 27) Yellow River (page 20)

ad directory 44 Farms (back cover)

Giacomo’s Cibo e Vino (page 24)

À La Carte Foodservice Consulting Group (page 34) Arnaldo Richards’ Picos (page 89)

Kevin McGowan Photography (page 8)

Berkel (page 13)

Landry’s Signature Group (page 2) Louisiana Foods (page 30)

Cherry Pie Hospitality (page 47)

My Table (inside back cover)

El Meson (page 105)



Ragin Cajun (page 57)

Reliant, an NRG company (page 3) River Oaks Houston (page 53) Spec’s (page 19) Sysco Foods (page 1) Total Wine & More (page 95) Truluck’s (inside front cover) Uptown Sushi (page 5)

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