Around Paris: 13th: Le Bambou

17 08 2010

Since moving to France, Nick and I have been having lots of fun with language.  We blatantly use and abuse franglais, translating and mistranslating with abandon.  One such misuse, which gets more play than one might expect, is bambooing.  (You see, because the French word for shampoo is shampooing, any word that ends in -oo now gets an -ooing.  It’s fun!  Ok, we’re huge dorks.  I don’t even know why I’m explaining this.  Now I’ve gone and started off with a huge digression.  It’s probably only going downhill from here.)

Le Bambou(ing) at night

So we headed down to the 13th for some Asian grub last weekend.  We really wanted to try Sukhothai, but alas, it was closed for congé annuel.  Fortunately, I had a backup, which I had telephoned in advance: Le Bambou.  Or as it immediately became known to Nick and me, Le Bambooing.  It’s a well-known and well-reviewed spot for casual Vietnamese cuisine.  When we arrived (following a rain-soaked Vélib’ ride from the Place d’Italie), there appeared to be a line out the door, but poking my head in the door and inquiring whether they had room for two proved to be beneficial – we were seated right away.

Of course, moments later we were unceremoniously asked to move, in order to make room for a four-top.  The French woman seated next to me asked if it was our first time there.  When I replied in the affirmative, she told me with a smile, “On vient pour ça, aussi.” (You come here for that, too.)  Which is to say, at Le Bambou, you are treated like family, in the most casual sense.  They don’t hesitate to make you switch seats or hustle you off your table to make room for more customers.  Elegant and refined it is not.  What it is, though, is speedy and tasty.

Plateau frit at Le Bambou

We started off with the fried assortment: four nems, four fried shrimp, and four wonton-like objects.  It was probably too much for two, but we were hungry, and it seemed like a good idea at the time.  My favorite were the fried shrimp, which will come as no surprise to my parents, who eventually had to stop ordering them when we went for Chinese food when I was a kid so I would eat something else.  Nick thought the nems were something special, and I agree that they were quite good, though I’m not sure they’re any better than those at Dong Huong, over in our neck of the woods.

Bo Bun at Le Bambou

Despite the rainy, pho-appropriate weather, I had to try the bo bun.  The classic Vietnamese dish of saucy beef with crunchy peanuts and vegetables over thin rice noodles has become one of my favorite foods.  And Le Bambou’s version was excellent.  The beef was bite-sized and tender, the noodles were abundant, and the vinegary sauce brought it all together beautifully.  Nearly every bite had a different taste sensation, depending on which elements made it into my chopsticks.  It was so flavorful that I wished I hadn’t made such a pig of myself on the appetizers, because in the end I couldn’t finish it.  (Luckily, the quick service has no qualms about taking food away.)

Beef and brisket pho at Le Bambou

Nick chose a bowl of pho with well-done beef and brisket (it was the brisket that got him) from the long list of soup options.  The broth was delicious, but the meat left something to be desired.  The pieces of beef and brisket were indistinguishable from each other (if , in fact, there were even two different cuts), and many had large, unappetizing hunks of fat attached.  Some people dig that, but I’m not one of them.

We had some trouble with the wine, as well.  We ordered a bottle of rosé along with our meal, but when our appetizer plate was half-eaten and we still hadn’t received it, we got worried.  We managed to flag down a waiter and reminded him about the wine.  Still nothing.  Thirsty, and concerned that we would be forced to chug the last of our wine if we finished eating before the bottle was done, we were trying to cancel it and ask for some water when yet another waiter insisted he would bring it.  They did apologize for the confusion, which frankly, surprised me a little.  But the good news was that the restaurant seemed to be clearing out, the door no longer filled with hungry potential diners eyeing tables.  So we got to linger over the last of our wine.

While I definitely enjoyed my meal at Le Bambou (Bambooing! Bambooing!), I am unconvinced that it was worth traveling all the way across town.  If you’re on the Left Bank and looking for Vietnamese, by all means go there, but if you’re closer to Belleville, don’t fret.  The Vietnamese up there is just as good.

 On this day in 2009: Tea for Two Tarts, the Second (one of the more stunning desserts I’ve made at home)

Originally published on Croque-Camille.


A Vietnamese Apéro

29 06 2009

I know I’ve been a bit of an internet hermit lately.  Chalk it up to three and a half weeks in the USA, never in the same place more than four days.  It went by in a blur of smoked pork (no less than five pork shoulders and two whole roast pigs), friends, and family.  So I apologize for the sparse posting of late, and I promise to get back on track now that I’m home in Paris.

Box containing magical shrimp chips

You may recall that June is the month for French colonial-inspired food here on Croque-Camille.  Aside from North Africa, Vietnam is one of the most influential former colonies in contemporary France, especially in the culinary arena.  Doubtlessly, the cuisine of Vietnam shows some distinct French influences.  I understand that the best baguettes in the world outside France are to be found in Vietnam and Vietnamese bakeries around the world.  (One of these days I’ll have to go test that hypothesis personally.)  It can also be argued that much of the Vietnamese culinary vocabulary derives from French.  I’ve participated in discussions on whether or not pho, the classic Vietnamese soup is named for pot-au-feu, the classic French one-pot meal; whether the Vietnamese word for beef, bo, could possibly have come from the French boeuf; or if the French pain may have inspired the Vietnamese banh (this one being the most likely as I am unsure of any bread-making tradition in Vietnam before the French arrived).  These discussions are rarely conclusive, but seeing as I am a language nerd, I enjoy them anyway.

The tasty opposite of Shrinky-Dinks

Having already lauded the merits of banh mi and pho, I thought I’d highlight one of my favorite easy apéro snacks: Beignets de Crevettes.  Or, as they’re known in our house, Shrimp Chips.  I buy the ones from Vietnam at the Asian market, which are made from manioc (aka cassava, yucca, or sometimes tapioca) – there are some imitation ones with filler like potato available in regular grocery stores, but I haven’t tried them.  Why, when the real thing is cheaper?  Anyway, look at these.  I never cease to be amazed by these things.  Above, I’m holding six in my hand (please ignore the pallid, pre-vacation skin) to give you an idea of their size before frying.  The way they puff up in the hot oil is a source of endless fascination for me.

Frying Shrimp Chips, elapsed time, maybe 10 seconds.

They seem to be made up of thousands of tiny air pockets, just waiting for the chance to expand.  In the oil, they fold and wriggle until they double or triple in size and flatten out into crispy, lightly golden chips.  I like to eat them in two or three bites, savoring the way the bubbles dissolve on my tongue.  They taste vaguely of shrimp, but mostly it’s the salty crunch I enjoy.

Golden fried shrimp chips

Just because I have to buy them at the Asian market, though, doesn’t mean that these are considered at all exotic in modern-day Paris.  The bar around the corner from my apartment serves them at happy hour, which is a welcome change from the more standard peanuts or pretzels.  Why these haven’t caught on in the United States, I have no idea.

Originally published on Croque-Camille.

Two Sandwiches

6 10 2008

Apologies for the dearth of posts lately.  I was having some problems with my internet access last week, which seem to have corrected themselves, although the TV signal is still missing.  (Not sure if these are related, but they are provided by the same company.)  Let me tell you, being without TV and internet can be very lonely.  Especially since Nick has been out of town, I just felt so cut off from the world.  So I have some extremely fun French customer service calls to make – the last time my phone service actually got cut off in the middle of the conversation.  Awesome.

But enough of my communication woes.  Since I’ve been cooking for one, there hasn’t been anything very exciting going on in my kitchen lately.  What is exciting is that I’ve been scoping out some cheap, quick eats that don’t involve cooking or doing dishes.  I’m talking about sandwiches.

I’d been meaning to check out Saigon Sandwich for quite a while, not knowing whether it was any good, but willing to spend two and a half euros to find out.  One afternoon, following a super fun visit to the Caisse Nationale d’Assurance Maladie (the healthcare division of social security) I found myself in the neighborhoodand decided it was time.  I sized up the menu posted outside, which has three options: Classique, Spéciale, and Poulet.  The Classique contains Vietnamese-style ham and salami, the Spéciale has those plus head cheese, and the Poulet obviously contains chicken.  I decided on a Classique(I figured it was best to start with the basics) and stepped inside.  I noted a review from Chocolate & Zucchini posted near the cash register, and took it to be a good sign.  As the owner assembled my sandwich, he asked if I wanted it spicy.  Yes, please.  All the ingredients looked fresh and tasty, and I could hardly wait to get home to tear into it.  All in all, it was a really good sandwich.  The flavors of each ingredient shone individually as well as blending togther in a harmonious whole.  As I Google-chatted to Nick upon finishing it: “We’ll be going back.  Often.”

Another sandwich place that has been on my list for some time is L’As du Falafel.  This place, located in the epicenter of the Jewish quarter, is something of an institution in Paris, and conveniently open on Sundays.  But the best part is the sandwich.  I’ve had some tasty falafel in my day, but L’As might just take the cake.  Bite-sized balls of deep-fried falafel were piled into a large pita pocket and layered with red and green cabbage, carrots, tomatoes, and a delicious creamy sauce.  Hands down the best five euro meal I’ve had in Paris.  And all the vegetables made me feel really healthy.  I opted for the sandwich to go, and as I ate I made my way down to the Hôtel de Ville.  I admired its French Renaissance splendor, then crossed the street to stroll along the Seine.  Unselfconsciously munching away, I made my way down to the Conciergerie, lit up in all its imposing solidity.  I watched the city lights shimmer on the turbulent water of the river and when I was finished eating, I descended into the world’s largest subway station to make my way home.

This is what living in Paris is all about.

Originally published on Croque-Camille.

Dong Huong

11 08 2008

I know you’re all chomping at the bit to see what I ate on my trip to Bulgaria, but that mountain of pictures is going to take some work before I can form some cohesive blog posts.  In the meantime, I’m happy to announce that Nick and I have found a very decent Vietnamese place just up the street.

Dong Huong

We’ve actually been meaning to try it for a while – the giant neon arrow proclaiming “Pho” attracted our attention a couple of months ago.  The problem is that this place is surrounded by about a dozen other Vietnamese and/or Chinese and/or Thai restaurants, and the choice can be a little overwhelming.  One evening we’re seduced by the lacquered ducks hanging in the window of a Chinese restaurant, another we get distracted by roast chickens and don’t even make it up to the mini Asiantown surrounding the Belleville Métro stop.  Even the night we made up our minds to finally go get some Pho, we had to choose between the three Pho joints on the same corner!  But the big flashing arrow did its job and we ended up at Dong Huong.

The moment we walked in the door, we knew we wouldn’t regret our decision.  The place was packed, and about 90% of the diners had huge bowls of steaming hot Pho in front of them.  Upon being seated in the second of three dining rooms, we ordered a couple of Vietnamese beers and began to peruse the menu.  We decided to start with some pork imperial rolls (or nems, as they’re often called in France).  They came out accompanied by a large pile of lettuce leaves, mint, bean sprouts, and sliced carrots.  Two dipping sauces were served alongside: a sweet, hoisin-based sauce and a delicious vinegary lemongrass sauce.

We ate two rolls before taking a picture...

Only after we had greedily wolfed down the crisp, hot rolls did we look around and notice that other diners were using the lettuce to wrap them up with the other garnishes before tucking in.  Oops.  Feeling ignorant and brutish, we sheepishly waited for our soup to arrive.

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