July 4, 2007

Nam Phương [Westminster]

Growing up, I would often frequent Nam Phương for a midday snack of bột chiên, bò bía, gổi cuốn, and bì cuốn—all of which, are street foods sold from carts and stands in Vietnam. Upon revisiting, I found the bột chiên as good as ever, though the spring rolls were lackluster.

Bò bía, gối cuốn (pictured right), and bì cuốn are various types of spring rolls, which rely on two factors for success: 1) filling ratio and 2) wrapping precision. Unfortunately Nam Phương failed on both accounts. There was too much vermicelli, too little of everything else, slack in wrapping and not enough flavor contrast. The meats were lacking in both quantity and quality.

Vietnamese cooking is a cuisine of contrasts—dull flavors against bright, coarse textures against smooth, raw ingredients against cooked. Not only were the contrasts in Nam Phương’s spring rolls muted, there would have been nearly no flavor had it not been for the accompanying fish and peanut sauces. Only the bì cuốn are eaten with the fish sauce, while the other two should be enjoyed with the brown peanut sauce.

Bò bía are described on the menu as Chinese-style spring rolls and are filled with shrimp, egg, and Chinese sausage. Gổi cuốn are a combination of xá xíu (BBQ roast pork) and shrimp, while bì cuốn are filled with Vietnamese shredded pork, which is a mix of pork shoulder and skin. All are accompanied by vermicelli, lettuce, and herbs.

Bột chiên is similar to dim sum turnip cake, except that it’s made from flour and pan fried with eggs and green onions. There’s little flavor to the cakes themselves (unlike turnip cake, which is slightly sweet), so make sure you make ample use of the diluted soy sauce, which is thinned with vinegar and sugar for a subtle tanginess. The acidity from the vinegar counteracts the greasiness of pan frying and keeps the dish from getting too tired.

Nam Phương
15422 Brookhurst St
Westminster, CA 92683
(714) 775-0460

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