D Magazine intern Carol Shih prowls Dallas in search of the best Asian cuisine. This time she bribed her Vietnamese-American friend to help her translate and teach her the art of eating.
When I took my old high school buddy Theresa to Bon Mua (“Four Seasons”), a Vietnamese restaurant in Carrollton, she laughed the minute I started draining the bowl of beef broth the owner, Din Huynh, placed in front of me. “You’re not supposed to drink it first,” she said. “You pour a little bit onto your rice to wet it, and then you finish the soup after you’re done with the meal.”
After all these years of eating, I never quite understood the Vietnamese order and method of consumption. Not until Theresa, my Vietnamese-American friend, sat across the table and gave me the complete lowdown. It can be a confusing process for any Vietnamese food virgin who is seated at a restaurant like Bon Mua where the owner can’t speak more than ten words in English, a barrier which really throws off the customer as soon as a waiter starts piling bowl after bowl of fish sauce and broth onto the table. Almost every dish on Bon Mua’s menu comes with a side of something.
So here are some tips to make your life easier, fellow eater, from me to you.
First. Place your order. (Like how I’m taking this reeeally slow and easy?) I suggest starting off with the fried egg rolls ($4.75) rolled in thick, crackly paper. Or, if you’re daring, get the bánh bǒt loc lá ($4.75), gelatinous tubes of sticky tapioca flour wrapped in banana leaves filled with whole shrimp and fatty pork. Mr. Huynh told us these were “specialty cakes found in the middle of Vietnam” and he also suggested the còm bò lúc lǎc, cubed tender beef with lemon pepper sauce for $7.99. My favorite has to be any of the broken rice dishes which come in combos or plain pork; Bon Mua’s the only place I know that serves this nuttier, smaller rice form which is native to Vietnam.
Second. Dip eggrolls and bánh bǒt loc lá into accompanying fish sauce (don’t worry, it doesn’t taste fishy at all, but I’m not going to reveal how it’s made because then some of you weaklings won’t try it) or pour fish sauce over rice and vermicelli dishes. Add the generous plate of raw bean sprouts and cilantro into your bowl and mix. If you’ve ordered pho or a noodle soup ($5.75 for small; $6.75 for large), quickly throw in the veggies and let them cook inside your broth while you decide whether to douse it with fiery Sriracha sauce. Some friends of mine like to do this and it’s always a painful process to watch since I like mine clear and spice-free. But to each his own.
Third. If you didn’t order pho and you received an extra bowl of liquid that looks exactly like fish sauce but isn’t, this means you have some broth that took Mr. Huynh ten hours to make. Some people pour it all over their rice or take a sip after each bite; others wait for it to cool before gulping it down. My expert advice? Drink the separate bowl of soup whenever you feel like it. Just don’t let it be the first thing you touch unless you enjoy making your Vietnamese-American friend laugh.
Bon Mua Restaurant
3030 N. Josey Ln #113
Carrollton, TX 75007