June 11, 2007

Cây Dừa [Santa Ana]

We were too tired to cook today so we ventured into Little Saigon looking for an old favorite that had moved down the street.

They say that scent is the strongest trigger of memory and if the smells from Cây Dừa werent vivid enough the first time around, they will certainly stick now. The smell of fish sauce in the air, the smell of dried shrimp on my clothes, and the smell of smoky hot pot in my hair...how those smells have lingered in my memory.

Though the restaurant is a good seven minutes farther from our house than it used to be, it has also adopted a ventilation system that is seven times superior. No shower required after dining.

This restaurant serves Central Vietnamese specialties, though it is most known for its Lẩu Mắm và Rau, which is a hot pot soup made with fermented fish stock and served with Vietnamese herbs, lettuce, and rice vermicelli.

Behold the lẩu mắm [left] and the rau [right].

If you thought nước mắm [fish sauce] was robust, lẩu mắm is a whole other breed of pungent. There is no reference point that I can give you to prepare your palette, though you might want to ease yourself into the savory flavors with Chả Cá Thanh Long, which are fish cakes served with a mắm-based sauced, which is no less potent than what you'd find in the soup. It is an acquired taste, so tread lightly and proceed with caution.

The lẩu mắm here has a soup base that is perfectly balanced and surprisingly light [because the fermented fish is so potent, soups are often too salty]. It is kept bubbling hot over a small flame and has shrimp, fish, and other types of seafood in it.

Construct your bowl by first adding the vermicelli, then soup w/seafood, and lastly, the greens on top. There is cabbage, lettuce, bean sprouts, mint leaves, a leaf that is spicy, and another one that has a flavor similar to Japanese shiso. Whether or not you choose to include herbs in your bowl is a matter of preference and I usually stick with only mint leaves. Your bowl should look something like this if you manage to be successful.

The order also comes with boiled fatty pork, cucumbers, and a
mắm-marinated salad of papayas.

We also ordered the Chả Giò Cua Tôm [shrimp&crab eggrolls], though they're probably better described as Imperial Rolls [chả giò Việt Nam]. What makes an egg roll different from an Imperial roll, you ask? The wrapper: Imperial rolls are wrapped with Vietnamese rice paper, which give them an uneven, almost breaded-looking texture. They are crispier than the smoother egg rolls, which are wrapped in Filipino rice paper. The ones at Cây Dừa were well done and served on a cute red crab-shaped plate. You also enjoy these with greens and vermicelli.

And the best part of Vietnamese food? It's dirt cheap and pretty healthy. Check out our three-person feast of fresh veggies, soup, and eggrolls.

Cây Dừa
3522 W 1st St
Santa Ana, CA 92703
(714) 839-7799


Pepsi Monster said...

Hey Pop Tart,

I'm really impressed by how much work you have in on your blog. I'm gone for a couple of days, turning around and see you put a huge amount of reviews of all these places.

Of course I have question.... did you gain a lot of weight? BWAAAAAHH. J/K!

Pop Tart said...

Surprisingly, I've managed to lose weight! I think that eating out out of necessity gets old pretty quickly and my appetite actually ends up shrinking. =D

And there are so many other food blogs out there to catch up on that I cant afford to lag behind!

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