Kingsway and Victoria Dr
It is heartening to see the signs of a maturing ethnic restaurant scene. To me, one of the first real indications of maturity is the emergence of regional cuisines within a dominant national cuisine. Vancouver has been experiencing this type of emergence in its Chinese scene for quite a while. Restaurants that serve Hunan, Sichuan, Hakka, amongst others having been coming out of the woodwork over the last decade. Much more recently we have been seeing regional Italian – wooing diners from the typical “red-sauce” joint.
Vietnamese regional cuisine isn’t very common here in Vancouver. Here, this cuisine has been defined (and caricatured) by pho joints. However, if you dig a little deeper, you will find these little places that serve regional specialties front and center in their menu. Truong Tranh is such a place. Here, pho takes a back seat to Northern specialties such as banh cuon, xoi, bun rieu cua, and bun oc.
Truong Tranh has a section of their menu reserved for xoi – Vietnamese sticky rice. My particular favorite dish here is their xoi thit – or — to use the more familiar Colonial name — Porc au Caramel. The pork (belly in this case) is tender, deliciously fatty (“unctuous” would be the ideal description here), and the sauce is an intensely flavoured concoction of fish sauce, black pepper, garlic, and caramel sauce – nuoc mau. This caramel sauce imparts a sweet and pleasant bitter undertone to the dish. It is a great accompaniment to the xoi.
Banh cuon is a common breakfast dish in Northern Vietnam. I reported about another restaurant — Trahn Xuan — that serves an authentic example of this dish. Like at Trahn Xuan, the banh cuon‘s rice wrapper is made fresh to order here. Most Vietnamese restaurants are content to serve this dish using store-bought Chinese-style rice rolls.
The banh cuon pictured here comes with cha lua (pork loaf) and pork floss (looking a lot like burlap). It always comes with an herb plate and nuoc cham.
Bun oc (fresh water snail soup) is a dish that is difficult to find in Vancouver (and in most cities in North America). The examples of this dish that you do find are often made with canned snails (Truong Tranh is no different). This particular example is strongly flavoured with pickled bamboo shoots – very tasty to those who are accustomed to it – but oddly medicinal to first timers.
There are so many Vietnamese restaurants out here in this city. I’m sure that there are a number that have surprisingly regional menus. I am hoping that these places are just the tip of the iceberg. This refrain rings familiar — Vietnamese is so much more than pho — (remember when we used to say Chinese restaurants are more than just chow mein and sweet and sour pork?).