Dish: Banh Hoi Thit Nuong
Place: Huong Binh, International District
On the tray: A plate with “intricate” bundles of thin rice noodles garnished with ground shrimp and scallions, along with a choice of meat–in this case, skewers of the “famous” grilled pork. On the side are lettuce and herbs, specifically cilantro and two types of mint. There’s also a bowl of savory fish sauce (nuoc cham). And an empty bowl, which you’ll likely need.
Supporting cast/What to do: Shred some lettuce and herbs in the empty bowl, adding a bundle of the rice noodles, some pork which you’ll have to pull (vigorously at times) off the skewers, and some nuoc cham. Alternately, you can do a lettuce wrap with the ingredients, thereby bypassing the bowl.
Noodling around: The noodles for this dish are made by a very intricate process and served cold, per the menu, in “intricate bundles.” They’re very thin, and therefore interesting for their texture. A friend got the banh uot, which is essentially the same but made with thin steamed rice flour crepes that are cut into wide noodles. Next time, I’d order this instead, as I generally like wide noodles. The ground shrimp atop the noodles are a fascinating orange color.
There are five options in the banh hoi section of the menu. Having heard good things about the “famous” grilled pork, I went with thit nuong, which was delicious. The caramelized pork deserves the accolades it’s received. Also available are grilled pork meatballs, grilled shrimp, ground shrimp wrapped around sugar cane ($8.50), and a special platter with one of each protein ($10.00).
Whether you get the banh hoi or the banh uot, you’ll enjoy the interactive eating, as you can play with amounts of ingredients or even the way you eat them. And with the lettuce and herbs, there’s a freshness to the meal that’s enhanced by the quality of the restaurant’s nuoc cham.
If you want more: The banh beo chen (6.25) is a version of the banh beo steamed rice pancakes (garnished with group shrimp and scallions) which I first discovered at an Othello Station restaurant that is now closed. In the “chen” version, the five “crepes” are served in miniature bowls with sweet fish sauce for dipping. (Or you can do a pour-over, as I prefer.) If the banh beo are not made fresh to order, they’ll be dry, so “chen” is the way to go.
You can also buy pastries, sweets, corn, and more on the sidewalk outside the store.
Be aware/beware: This Hue-style restaurant doesn’t serve banh mi or pho bo (beef pho)–just pho ga (chicken), and that’s weekends only. But you will find a wide variety of other dishes, some of which are hard to find elsewhere in Seattle. I’m anxious to return to try the chao long: congee with blood sausage, pork tongue, liver, and ear, also served weekends only.
First published in Seattle Weekly’s Voracious on May 28, 2012.