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Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Confessions of a Foodie: From the Flavors of Thiland to Vietnam

Fresh, salubrious, innovative, and heavenly divine: these are the elements that fuel my addiction to the flavors of Thailand and Vietnam. Rarely do I have the opportunity to laud over food that is actually healthy and absent of the artery-clogging fun that exists in our rendered pork fat-loving society. The masterful synthesis of aromatic herbs, flavorful chilies, rich meat stocks, and an avant-garde use of spices often spark insatiable cravings for the delights of Southeast Asia.

Having tasted the exotic dishes of Thailand firsthand, I can differentiate between true multidimensional Southeast Asian cuisine and homogeneously seasoned, Asian-like food devoured by those with less than discerning palates. The cornucopia of subtle herbs, spices, seasonings, and vegetables including basil, citrus fruits, nutmeg, culantro, mint, chilies, and coriander lend Thai and Vietnamese food its distinctive, multilayered flavors.

I grew to adore these tastes from an early age, but just recently have the cuisines of Thailand, Malaysia, Vietnam, Cambodia, and Indonesia flourished in popularity and authenticity stateside. This recent development is allowing more Americans than ever to broaden their horizons and experience a taste of Asia that they may not be accustomed to.

I was standing in my kitchen last week, lamenting over eating leftovers for dinner, when I came across a box of spaghetti, a bottle of Texas Pete, and oddly enough, a jar of peanut butter. I had no intention of cooking such bizarre ingredients together, but it did remind me of slurping Pad Thai on the streets of Bangkok. The thought of those soft rice noodles, lightly tossed with egg, fish sauce, tamarind, red chilies, and topped with crunchy peanuts made my mouth water and initiated a desperate craving for Pho Hien Vuong on Spring Garden Street. Leftovers would have to wait until tomorrow.

Pho Hien Vuong is among the most authentic and delicious Southeast Asian cuisine on the East Coast. Their menu is impressively expansive, brimming with both Thai and Vietnamese favorites such as Ph? (Vietnamese noodle soup, pronounced, "fah"), G?i Cu?n (fresh Vietnamese spring rolls), Tom Yum (hot and sour Thai seafood soup), and of course: Pad Thai. First on my menu that evening was an order of Fresh Spring Rolls. I asked Trang, my server and fellow UNCG Spartan, to add roasted pork and basil to the delicate Vermicelli rice noodles, plump shrimp, and earthy vegetables, which are then cloaked in a sheet of rice paper and served immediately.

The urgency in which the rolls are served is substantial, because rice paper quickly becomes rigid and flavorless minutes after being activated in water and rolled into G?i Cu?n. The rolls are complemented by a rich, homemade peanut sauce that pairs perfectly with a touch of spicy Sriracha (known colloquially as "Rooster Sauce") to lend the dish some heat.

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