One of my biggest regrets about moving so far away from home is not only a lack of Vietnamese food, but a lack of authentic, delicious, real Vietnamese food. While I haven’t been very open about trying every single place I’ve seen, my current experiences have been d i s m a l. Upon suggestion from a coworker, my sister and I went to search for noms in Chinatown – a place I’ve seemed to avoid like the plague for whatever reason – and suddenly, I kind of felt “at home,” pun intended.
We first stopped at Paris Sandwiches to test out a Vietnamese sandwich – banh mi – and pick through the desserts they had to offer. After careful thought, we went with the grilled chicken sandwich, pork roll (cha), and some sticky coconut desserts (Vietnamese/ English translation not available – we just know them as the “green loaf,” and “sticky mung bean stripes,” – which, if it sounds interesting to you, should be easy to pick out).
The desserts were perfect! Although they could’ve been a little sweeter (and this is coming from the girl without much of a sweet tooth), I liked them just fine. The ‘green loaf’ tasted just like home. The sandwich was decent enough to make me come back when the struggle became real, with pretty delicious chicken and an amiable amount of carrots, daikon, jalapeños, etc. My only issue was with the bread. If you’ve ever had true banh mi, you’d know that the French bread coating the fillings inside is where the money’s at! Comparatively, this was a little drier and too ‘airy’ for my taste. The pork roll was also edible – I brought it home and ended up snacking on it for a few days !
Then we decided that we needed more dessert (custard buns, duh), and ventured a little deeper into family owned shops and stands, browsing through their eccentric displays as we went along. Who knew there are so many different versions of sea cucumber, or that you could dry it in at least 30 different ways!? (Disclaimer: I do not, and will not, ever eat sea cucumber.) When we stumbled into Century Café, we weren’t really sure what to think. Before our eyes were literally the b i g g e s t buns we had ever seen! AND FOR 85 CENTS!? This had to be a lie. Or these buns had to be absolutely vile. There was no way this was possibly an option – not in NYC.
Just to be safe, we walked around Grand Street for another half hour or so, making sure we gave all the dessert shops in the general area an equal opportunity to make our little tums happy. When we ended up back at CC, I was really pleased to have the guy behind the register talk to us in Vietnamese! While I left with custard and Stef with red bean, both of our buns were equal to the size of our faces. Bottom line: delicious.
I think this is where I realize how much I’ve neglected the communities of this city, and where my desire to learn more about it grew exponentially. If this is going to be my home away from home for a little while longer, might as well get comfortable.
Where is your favorite Vietnamese spot in New York City? Please let me know !
213 Grand St. New York, NY 10013
123 Bowery, New York, NY 10002