Every country takes the food of their immigrants and makes it their own. In Italy, it’s “Italianized” and mild. In America, it is supersized. But, as the US is a country of many immigrants, the food melds and blends seamlessly across menus.
Case in point, I recently went to Pho-Cue in Atlanta, Georgia. It is a hipster vibe-y place that could easily be in Oakland, California, or London, England. The staff have tattoos and shaved manbuns. The food is a mix of Vietnamese food, pan-Asian food, and American barbecue.
The barbecue was too strong for the pho soup but I like that they tried. The banh mi sandwiches were gigonormous.
The best thing were the pork belly “chips” — because why not take a fatty pork belly and deep fry it? It’s almost the American way.
After living in Rome, it was nice to get both pho and barbecue of high caliber.
Who knew that this would be a thing? But, just as TexMex is trending, so is Vietnamese food, just in a quiet way. The selection is not great here but this is what I have managed to find:
Thien Kim Roof Garden, Via Cassia 927: Located on the roof of a strip mall out to the north of Rome, way too far for me.
Banh Mi, Via Otillia 10: the only banh mi in town. They get their food products (beef jerky, bread rolls, etc.) from Thien Kim. The owner, Mara, is married to a Vietnamese man. The restaurant opened in October 2022, just two blocks from the Coliseum. They serve rice noodle bowls, banh mi sandwiches, summer rolls, papaya salad, and rice ravioli. Check them out. They are delicious. Also many vegetarian options.
Nunu, Via Varese 38/40: Good food. Not sure what their soup is like. Indoor and outdoor seating. Located near the train station.
Pho 1, Via Meruluna 115-116: I wanted to like this popular place. It was okay but the soup was not soul pleasing.
Mekong, Via Enea 56a: I have not been here. They are only open at night. The reviews show mixed reactions and the owners are aggressive online so I’m too afraid to eat here.
I know that it is the general convention that dishes, food, is best tasted at the source. I think that does some disservice to the diaspora and fusion food that has evolved over the millennia. That said, here is a list of food that I often crave. Actually, for many of the dishes, I prefer in their newer form. But, then again… some I prefer at the source.
Ceviche — I like the classic old fashioned version. The Peruvians love fusion. They are a fusion and so is their food. So now one can find “warm ceviche” and ceviche not made with fish.
Danish hotdog — I prefer them in Denmark. The actual hotdog is special, the ketchup is different, the dog is served with crunchy fried onions… New York pizza — also, one of those things. Some say that the New York pizza is like a Neopolitan pizza from Naples, Italy. We shall see… Hamburger — Some of the best I’ve had are in the United States. American beef and lack of gristle in the mix. Banh mi — I’ve had good ones outside of Vietnam. Pho — Also, good in the certain parts of the United States. Very bland in other places. Korean BBQ — If one sticks to the pork belly, then it’s fairly easy to get good Korean barbecue in many countries. I think that many people think that bulgogi should be made with a high grade of beef and grilled at the table. Traditionally, bulgogi was created to use bad cuts of meat that required marinating. Usually the slices are so thin that grilling at the table dries them out. Some places use good cuts of steak and then one can dip them in sesame seed oil and salt. This is a delicious way to eat barbecue. Chicken wings — Oddly, some of the best barbecue wings I’ve had were in a pizzeria in New Mexico. Dim sum — can be good in many places outside China.
Laksa — so far the best I’ve had, and even some of the mediocre, was in Singapore and Malaysia. What can I say?
Most of all, the food of other lands transports you to them.
After the gray skies of Lima, I feel like it’s blue skies here in Rome every day. But, of course, that’s not true. There are rainy days and I’ve had to use my umbrellas for the first time in years (it never rains in Lima). When it’s rainy out, I really like to slurp soup.
One of the delights of Peru was that I never had a bad bowl of soup. It seemed like everyone knew how to make “sopa criolla” or creole soup — basically a chicken noodle soup. The kind your Jewish mother used to make (as David Chang says).
While I like chicken soup, I love spicy Asian soups with spice and treasure trove of ingredients in my bowl. Some of my favorites are hot and sour soup, pho, and laksa. Pho always allows for lots of greens which I love in spicy soup. Laksa is a curry style soup with noodles and seafood, plus tofu cakes, and many other things.
In Singapore, I went to the most famous location for laksa. It was good. One day I went to a mall (it’s a country of malls), and found a “pick your own 100 ingredients” soup place. Heaven! While not on par with the famous place on the number 14 bus, even the laksa at the airport was good.
Here’s to happy virtual traveling and soon, slurping at the source!
Oddly enough, yes, but that’s not the important thing about this restaurant. Viet, located in San Borja, on Avenida Aviacion 2590, is a nice restaurant, whatever the food. It’s got a nice ambiance, it’s easy to find on Aviacion, and the staff are very friendly. The restaurant is open 12:30-11 Tuesday-Saturday and 12:30-4:30 on Sundays.
I’d say to those who have been to Vietnam or know Vietnamese food from the U.S., don’t use those standards (for good and bad). The owners are Chinese Peruvians who decided to open a Vietnamese place. Why not? The place has been in existence for three years and the owners are thinking of opening a new location in Miraflores. I hope that they do.
The pho (here they have a pho roll — as in the photo — so you can eat pho soup as a handroll) is not aromatic but it’s still a nice clean broth which can work wonders if you have a cold. That’s how I convinced a sick friend to join me. She got the chicken pho and added some Sriracha to make a chicken soup with kick!
I liked the service as the staff cut up food into shareable portions, recommended child-friendly berry ice tea, and made us feel tended to but not bothered. The tables are stocked with hand fans to cool down your soup or your face. There are coolie hats for selfies, and for those who care, I think I counted ten Asian looking people in there. Plus lots of families.
I’ll be back. I’m still missing a few items on the menu. The crepe, done here as an omelet on rice in a Korean earthenware pot, had coconut rice with mango and shrimp. I think this may have been the hit with my Peruvian guests. I liked the desserts including the sushi style mango sticky rice.
The one dish that I would have liked is papaya salad. I will have to try a Thai place for that, I guess.
Breakfast is one of my favorite meals (well, so are: brunch, elevenses, lunch, sobremesa, linner, high tea, supper, dinner, natmad “nightmeal”, and stumble-home-greasy-and-spicy-mouthful…). Some people consider eggs to be a vital part of a “breakfast” and others consider a piece of bread dipped in coffee to be the start to the day. In some countries, soup is it. In Vietnam, it’s pho (as in my photo from New Mexico, USA) and in Colombia, it’s a broth with rib meat and potatoes. In China and Thailand, the breakfast “oatmeal” is a rice porridge soup… I hereby advocate for more soup for breakfast!
Recently, some of my Bangladeshi friends visited the U.S… which made me think about iconic American foods to make them try while visiting D.C. The following are some of my recommendations.
1. Krispy Kreme: Who does not love a freshly fried yeast doughnut, hot and fresh from a sugar glaze waterfall?
2. Five Guys and Shake Shack: The last decade has seen the rise of the new hamburger restaurant which makes me happy. Freshly made with fresh French fries – it sounds simple but we, the consumers, put up with so much less for too long. Five Guys is a nationwide chain that started a few miles from D.C. and if you have peanut allergies, you must stay away…
3. All-American classic restaurants and bars: These are classic modern restaurants and bars in the “old boys’ club” style of dark wood, etc. — The Hamilton, The Lincoln, and also Old Ebbitt Grill, the Willard, and Ray’s the Steaks.
4. Ben’s Chili Bowl: Visitors like this historic place which has recently become a chain and it will soon be opening a branch at National Airport.
5. Honey Pig (noisy Korean BBQ restaurant), To Sok Jib (hole-in-the-wall Korean restaurant), and Bon Chon Chicken: Annandale, Virginia is a well known Korea-town but Bon Chon has just opened a branch in Clarendon. There is also Lighthouse Tofu which serves more than tofu and Oegadgib which serves all-you-can-eat Korean including shabu-shabu (shabu-shabu are the words you should say to time how long you swish your meat in the broth to cook it.).
6. Pho soup: Eden Center is a little Vietnam in Falls Church, Virginia, where the restaurants serve pho and other Vietnamese food.
7. Ravi Kabob: It’s a northern South Asian/Pakistani place that is “hole-in-the-wall” and serves delicious food. The most famous local chain is Moby Dick’s.
8. Edy’s Chicken or El Pollo Rico: It’s Peruvian style rotisserie chicken. Anthony Bourdain went to El Pollo Rico but I like that Edy’s serves yucca fries. There are also several other Peruvian style restaurants in the area where you can explore some of this world famous cuisine, although I’m still waiting for the celebrity chef level restaurants to open.
9. Ramen shops: This is a fairly new trend in American food, thanks in part to David Chang of Momofuku, and I like the trend. Yummy, homemade soup. It doesn’t seem like a big deal but it is.
10. El Salvadorean food: Try a fresh pupusa as the El Salvadorean population begins to emerge on the culinary scene (there are not that many Mexican places in this area but Jugalita is authentic).
Of course there are also many Ethiopian restaurants to try and loads of food carts serving all manner of new American foods (Korean kalbi taco, anyone?). Every new group of immigrants contributes a new flavor to American cuisine.
When tourists visit the U.S., many want to try Chipotle and other famous restaurants. I recommend using Yelp to find the locations. Speaking of American foods, there is, of course, pie, lobster, grits, collard greens, chicken and waffles, barbecue, etc. to be had here in D.C., but, maybe I’ll write about that another time. And not to forget, I’ve done some research and it looks like there is only one Colombian restaurant in the area… y claro, por supuesto, voy a visitarlo.