Song Huong Restaurant
1613 Nanaimo Street
Vancouver, BC V5L 4T9
Beef Seven Ways (or to use the wonderfully semiotic term: “Bo 7 Mon“) is a truly celebratory meal. In Vietnam, Bo 7 Mon is often served at weddings and any other special occasion where the overt display of largesse and bounty is important. The Vietnamese people’s love of beef is of course famous: Vietnam’s most loved contribution to our gastronomic scene – pho bo - revolves around beef. Bo 7 Mon is something all carnivorous aficionados of Vietnamese food will appreciate. The best examples of this experience can be found in and around the Los Angeles area…and of course, Vietnam.
Song Huong is one of the rare Vietnamese restaurants in Vancouver that offers Bo 7 Mon….actually, it could be the only one. The other two that I know about are now long gone. The last time I had this dish in Vancouver was at a restaurant which has now been annexed to become a part of Les Faux Bourgousie , the new, hip, and oddly located French restaurant on Kingsway.
Bo 7 Mon traditionally starts with Goi Bo a course of thinly sliced grilled beef served on top of shredded fresh vegetables. Then the meal progresses through a series of beef dishes which usually includes Bo La Lot, a Beef Sausage wrapped in La Lot leaf. The individual beefy items are wrapped, along with condiments, herbs and vermicelli, into a rice paper roll. Finally, you dip this little parcel into a selection of sauces prior to eating it. Other courses could include Beef Wrapped Scallion, Beef with Rice Crackers, Beef Satay, and whatever else the chef decides to present. The meal traditionally ends with a Chao Bo – a type of Vietnamese Beef Congee.
Each time I have had Bo 7 Mon, some of the beef dishes that comprised the meal varied significantly… but it always started with Goi Bo, it always included Bo La Lot and it always ended with the Chao Bo. Song Huong’s rendition of this meal is fairly typical in this sense.
Song Huong’s Goi Bo course is served on a mound of daikon, carrots, and cabbage. The cooks added crushed, toasted peanuts which added a nice crunch.
Three of the next courses came all at once as our waitress set a dish of three different types of grilled beef sausage: the Bo La Lot, another sausage which is strongly lemongrassy and yet another which is sweet and garlicky. This is where I believe Song Huong had taken a shortcut by serving three sausages instead of varying it up a little. I would have preferred just the Bo La Lot and two other types of beef dishes to provide more contrast and variety. Perhaps a Beef Wrapped in Scallion and Beef with Rice Cracker would have been perfect here. As it was served, I thought that the three dishes were far too similar in flavour and texture to be truly considered three seperate courses.
The next course is yet another dish made up of ground beef. I believe this one is supposed to simulate the commonly served course of Ground Beef Wrapped in Beef Caul (the fat surrounding the intestines). I would have loved to have a real version of this dish, but alas….
The next course, the Hotpot, consists of a tender Beef Carpaccio which you dip into a simmering broth. The beef has been drizzled with a garlicky vinaigrette prepared with Nuoc Nam, the pungent Vietnamese Fish Sauce.
The broth is a light concoction of water, Nuoc Nam, herbs, onions and spices. I like to cook my beef to just rare.
To begin assembly of a roll, you first reconstitute the dried rice paper by dipping it very briefly into a bowl of hot water. This quick bath will turn the brittle disk into a soft, pliant crepe. Leave it in the water too long and the rice paper will be too soft and will tear when you attempt to use it. Luckily, the waitress gives you more than enough of the dry rice paper so you can practice and perfect the timing of this water bath.
On the rice paper goes vermicelli, some herbs, the current course of beef….
One area that Song Huong differentiates itself from other Vietnamese restaurants in town is in the quality and variety of their herb plate – Rau Song in Vietnamese. Those who have eaten in Vietnam will be familiar with this sight: the big mound of wild herbs and leafy greens on a platter placed in the middle of your table at the start of your meal. Over the course of the meal – the diners incorporate the various herbs into the dishes in varying proportions to add flavour and to vary the experience.
To me, the Rau Song provides Vietnamese cuisine with much of its appeal: the food is at once intensely savory and crisply fresh….and it is highly interactive. Song Huong provides you with an abundant selection of unusual greens such as Rau Ram, Fish Mint, Spearmint, Vietnamese Balm, sliced Plantain, sliced Banana Heart, Vietnamese Pickled Scallions – along with the usual Mung Bean Sprouts, Lemongrass, Leaf Lettuce, Tomatos, Cucumbers and Purple Basil.
And finally the last course: Chao Bo…Vietnamese Beef Congee. The congee had a nice rich flavour and texture rivalling the best Cantonese congees in town. I can detect some spicy notes which probably means that the chef used some of the Pho stock. And the meal is now nicely rounded off.
Overall, it was a very satisfying experience, despite the shortcomings I had mentioned. It is a great deal for about $25 CAD – the meal could have easily fed three of four diners (…there were only two of us).
As an aside, I should mention that Song Huong is a very good Vietnamese restaurant. The proprietors are ethnically Hue – from central Vietnam – an region known for its distinctive cuisine. If you aren’t feeling so carnivorous, you can try their Pho or Bun Bo Hue.