Vietnamese food in the South

I’m pretty annoyed to admit this: there are more authentic Vietnamese bakeries and restaurants all over Oklahoma, Texas, and Louisiana than there are in New York. Chris noted that other than our trip to Vietnam, we’ve eaten the most Vietnamese food on this trip than on any other trip. We had Vietamese food once in Oklahoma, multiple times in Houston (small bites, full meals, and snacks), and then twice here in New Orleans. Our very last meal this morning before heading to the airport to go home was at Dong Phuong, a famous bakery-restaurant about 25 minutes outside of the main New Orleans downtown area. They have a bakery section that is quite famous not just for their banh mi and Vietnamese baked treats, but also their seasonal king cakes (they’re reputed to be the BEST in New Orleans if you come around Mardi Gras in March!!), and they sell their perfect baguettes in oversized bags of 2, or even in 8s and 10s! Attached to the bakery is a restaurant with a good amount of indoor seating, and next to the restaurant is likely their bakery and cooking operations, which based on the building, is quite extensive and long!

We picked up a special pate/cold cuts banh mi, two types of banh bao (Vietnamese steamed buns), a Vietnamese iced coffee, a jackfruit smoothie with tapioca balls, taro and coconut cream sticky rice, and a slice of cassava-coconut cake. I LOVED ALL OF IT. The banh mi was spectacular, with huge, thick cuts of all the usual Vietnamese sliced meats, a delicious and creamy pate, thickly sliced cucumber, and enough pickled daikon and carrot to balance all the meaty flavors. And the bread was just perfect: super crisp on the outside and light and airy on the inside. I could have easily sat there and eaten five of those sandwiches by myself. While I’m used to the meats and vegetables being sliced thinner, I actually enjoyed the thicker cuts this time as a novelty.

The banh bao were delicious, though Chris thought they were just fine. I don’t get many opportunities to eat Vietnamese style bao, so I try to get them when I see them. The filling is always made differently than the Chinese ones, and you can just tell they taste Vietnamese. Sometimes, it’s because of their liberal use of white pepper. Other times, they have just a hint of fish sauce flavor. And the way the meat tends to be minced is a bit finer, too.

I grew up eating different Vietnamese tapioca and rice-based coconut desserts, so this taro one definitely hit the spot: it even had nice little chunks of creamy taro. Taro and coconut cream paired can never go wrong. The drinks we got also hit the spot: the iced coffee was SUPER potent; I could only have a few sips, otherwise I’d have been wired the rest of the day. The jackfruit smoothie was nice and fruity, and the tapioca balls were soft and chewy, with a hint of honey flavor to them.

I enjoyed the cassava cake at the airport a few hours later, and while it wasn’t as tasty as the version I make, it would serve as a good substitute for when I don’t want to bake a whole cassava cake or bake at all. Love this spot. As we ate our treats outside the bakery before heading to the airport, I watched avidly as the workers rolled over endless hot and toasty baguettes on carts while hungry patrons queued up and waited for their endless orders. So many cars just kept pulling into the parking lot to get their Vietnamese food fix; it’s a good thing their parking lot is so big! I enviously watched one guy leave the bakery with two huge bags of goodies, likely multiple banh mi orders and an entire bag of JUST baguette. He’s a smart dude, I thought. I would totally do that if I lived here!!

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