Saigon Quy-Bau opened in Aug 2021 and is named for the Chef’s Vietnamese name, Bau, and his older brother’s name, Quy, which together means “prestigious”. The Chef, Corey Nguyen, is a veteran of the Fountain and Swann Lounge at the old Four Seasons Hotel and previously ran the elegant Colonial Quy-Bau, which closed during the lockdowns. The new Saigon Quy-Bau claims to serve “French Inspired Vietnamese with a flair of Thai Cuisine”. We tried the Com Chien Thit Nuong which is Vietnamese style BBQ pork over jasmine fried rice, which was excellent. The pork was perfectly caramelized and had the sweet and charred flavor that you want from Vietnamese BBQ. The Pho Rau & Tofu, which is vegan, was less successful. The Pho broth was pretty good and had clear Vietnamese flavors, but the vegetables were over cooked and close to mushy.
The Dumplings: I am not used to seeing dumplings on a Vietnamese menu but the lunch menu at Saigon Quy-Bau has several varieties: crispy curry chicken dumplings in a sweet soy ginger glaze; steamed pork dumplings with a bell pepper tomato sauce; crispy wontons filled with shrimp and fresh herbs served with a plum ginger sauce; and steamed portabella mushroom and leek dumplings with a caramelized onion and shiitake sauce. We tried the steamed portabella mushroom and leek dumplings and were blown away, this dish is the reason to return to Saigon Quy-Bau. The dumplings were steamed to perfection so that the wrappers had a slight al dente chew to them and the filling was sweet and umami from the leeks and mushrooms. The sauce was also brilliant. It was light but so flavorful with onion sweetness, a slight umami funk from the shiitake and hints of ginger. If they sold this sauce in bottles I would buy it and if they provided straws with the dish I would slurp the sauce off the plate. The portabella mushroom and leek dumplings are vegan.
The Location:Saigon Quy-Bau is on South street in Philadelphia at the corner of Clarion street, which is one block East of Broad Street.
Café Cuong is a tiny family run café that is best known for its Banh Mi sandwiches, which are excellent, and its Vietnamese coffee. The café is in what appears to be a row house and it feels like the counter and the one tiny table are in what used to be a small living room. While the focus is on Banh Mi, they also frequently have Com chay cha bong, which are sheets of crispy rice topped with fish sauce, dried shrimp and pork floss (pork shredded so finely it has the consistency of cotton candy). Of late they have also been serving Banh Gio, also known as Vietnamese pyramid rice dumplings. Banh Gio are made with a pork stock, rice flour and tapioca starch batter that is put into a pyramid shaped cone made of banana leaves, along with a filling of seasoned pork, wood ear mushrooms and a quail egg. The banana leaves are folded origami style to seal up the cone into a pyramid shape and then the pyramid is steamed.
Online sources say that Banh Gio originated in Northern Vietnam and got their name because they were made by Vietnamese charcutier who make the mortadella like pork sausage called gio. Banh is a generic Vietnamese term for foods made with flours, legumes and starches, so Banh Gio.
The Dumplings: I discovered that I am not a huge fan of the texture of the rice batter, it was like eating a lot of the wrapper from an over cooked crystal shrimp dumpling. But the flavor was amazing, lots of porky goodness along with an infusion of mild tea flavor from the banana leaf wrapper. The pork filling was loosely ground and mixed with strips of wood ear mushroom and had lots of flavors, I’m guessing it was cooked with aromatics and maybe soy or oyster sauce. Pork flavor had also infused into the white of the quail egg, which took the egg to 11. I asked if they make the Banh Gio in house and was told they do not, but instead get them from an older woman in the neighborhood who home cooks them.
The location: Café Cuong is on 8th street, just above Christian Street, in an area sometimes referred to as Bella Vista and also referred to as the Italian Market neighborhood (it is one block East of the Market). Also since, further south on 8th street there is the Little Saigon neighborhood, it could also be thought of as the northern reaches of Little Saigon. Café Cuong is currently doing take-out only and given its size, in the before times I am sure it didn’t seat many people. So I recommend taking your Banh Gio and Banh Mi to the park on Catherine street, it is just a half-block north of the Café.
(Sorry the pix of the Banh Gio are not my strongest work. Threw in one of their Banh Mi too)
Little Alley is a Taiwanese food company whose products are represented and distributed in the U.S. by the Well Luck Co. Inc. The Scallion Stuffed Pocket is the love child of a scallion pancake and a Hot Pocket. The pocket dough is make of scallion pancake dough that has been folded and layered like a traditional scallion pancake. This gives the pocket the layering that produces the crispy outside and slightly chewy flaky inner layers that are characteristic of a scallion pancake. The pocket is stuffed with lots of chopped scallions, white onions and fried chives, more that you get in a typical scallion pancake..
These pockets were really good, definitely worth having in the freezer for a snack . As I noted above, the dough of the pocket fries up to have a very similar texture to a scallion pancake, but because they are ram-packed with scallions they had a more intense flavor than scallion pancakes do. The pockets themselves are round and puck shaped and are about 4 inches in diameter. Also of note they are vegan. I picked these up at my local HMART.
I could not find out a lot about this Korean company online, although several online retailers sell these dumplings. The search was also difficult because several Korean companies have Sajo in their name. These dumpling’s claim to fame is that their wrappers are supper thin, 0.6 mm thin, as proudly displayed in the name on the packaging. The dumplings are filled with tofu, green onions, cabbage, carrots and glass noodles and something called artificial beef flavour 04076. The dumplings tasted quite good, with general savory flavor, with some cabbage notes at the end. I did not notice any of the fake beef flavor. The dumpling have a sort of rounded wedge shape and it is easy to pan-fry the top and bottom surface of the wedge, and because the wrapper is so thin they quickly fry up crispy. But it is more difficult to fry the surface at the thick end of the the wedge and so the thick part of the wedge ends up being a little mushy. These are a decent dumpling and HMART is selling them in sets of two bags taped together.
Viet Bistro has been open for about two weeks and the rumor is, that it is the new venture from the owners of the much missed Huong Tram at Hoa Binh Plaza on 16th and Washington. I didn’t get the opportunity to eat at Huong Tram, which was reputed to serve excellent food and was a huge space that families would gather at. In contrast Viet Bistro is a small joint with two booths and a couple of tables. In addition to the classic Pho, Bun, Pan Fried Noodle, and Broken Rice dishes, the menu includes vegetarian stir fries that can be made vegan and a seafood section: the Salt Pepper shrimp with shells were excellent. I didn’t try one yet, but I have been told that the Banh Mi are really good too. The only detraction for Viet Bistro is that their air handling/extraction system does not work, you will leave there with your clothes smelling like Vietnamese Food.
The Dumplings: it is not often that you see dumplings on the menu at a Vietnamese restaurant, but Viet Bistro has two styles of fried dumpling, vegetable or pork filled. The dumplings are tiny little golden nuggets that are cooked deep fried and can be popped into your mouth and eaten in one bite. The vegetable dumplings tasted like fried snacks with no real vegetable flavors and, unexpectedly, a mild fried fish flavor. I liked them. The dumplings come with a sweet and spicy chili sauce.
The Location: Viet Bistro is on South street between 16th and 17th streets, this is essentially the border of the Graduate Hospital and Rittenhouse Square neighborhoods in Philadelphia.
While it has been available in Asia for some time, OmniFoods plant based pork has finally become available in the U.S. (at WholeFoods and Sprouts markets). There is an interesting article (here) with David Yeung on the business side of OmniFoods and the investments that have gone into the company.
The ground pork product is vegan and made from peas, non-GMO soy, shiitake mushroom and rice. I mixed half the 11oz package of pork with one tablespoon sesame oil, one tablespoon of soy sauce and a chopped scallion and used the mix to make wontons. Half of the wontons went into a wonton soup and the other half was boiled and doused with a peanut-sesame sauce. Half a package made 12 good size wontons.
The OmniFoods pork does not have a strong pork flavor; it has a mild savory flavor up front with some recognizable pork notes on the finish. When cooked, the texture however is spot on, it looks and eats just like a real pork dumpling filling. I think overall, when mixed with soy sauce, sesame oil and scallions the OmniFoods pork makes a convincing pork dumpling. I think if I had added a little ginger to the filling the wontons would have been spot on flavor-wise. Perhaps the best endorsement for OmniFoods pork realness came from my vegan dining companion, who said it was almost too real to eat.
Ratchada Thai & Laos Cuisine sprang from the closing of Cafe De Laos, when two ex-employees, determined to keep Laotian cuisine represented in the Little Saigon neighborhood of Philly, took over the space and kept the kitchen going. Even though the Delta surge seems to be in decline, we are trying to only dine outside, so I only briefly peeked into Ratchada and don’t have much to report about the ambiance. The menu has a good selection of vegan and vegetarian options, although this is not readily apparent from their online menu.
The Dumplings: Ratchada serves three types of dumplings: Thai dumplings filled with ground pork, water chestnuts and Thai herbs; the Tulip dumpling filled with steamed ground shrimp, chicken and crabmeat; and the vegan Buddha dumpling. The Thai dumpling is a golf ball sized ball of pork and chopped water chestnut that is wrapped in a wonton, with the wonton smoothed around the meat so the dumpling is spherical. These dumplings are deep fried until the wonton has formed a crispy shell around pork, which stays very juicy and fragrant with Thai herbs. Be careful when biting into these dumplings, they stay really hot inside and also when you crunch through the shell, juice may shoot out. This was a very, very good dumpling. It came with a thick soy based dipping sauce and a cabbage slaw. The waitress told us that a lot of people don’t eat the slaw, apparently thinking it is decoration, but you must eat the slaw, it is delicious: sweet, sour, spicy and crunchy.
We also tried the Buddha dumplings as part of the Veggie Sampler appetizer. These have a more traditional dumpling shape and are filled with finely chopped edamame, corn and some kind of starchy tuber vegetable and are deep fried. These dumplings were also really good and were seasoned with a spice or herb I couldn’t identify, but enjoyed.
The waitress reported that all the dumplings an spring rolls, which were also great, are made in house from scratch.
The Location: Ratchada Thai & Laos Cuisine on 11th street just south of Washington street in the Little Saigon neighborhood. This the border of the South Philly and Hawthorne neighborhoods.
One thing I have noticed while walking around Philadelphia is that seemingly random restaurants sell Chinese Bao. A case in point is Big Catch Poke, which has an 8.5 by 11 piece of printer paper stuck to its front window listing various Bao options. Big Catch has a cold counter with lots of bins with Poke ingredients that you can choose from to make your bowl and a small warmer cabinet full of Bao. In the Pre-Times they had two tables of seating up front and a patio out back, but for now they are doing to-go and pick-up service.
The Dumplings:Big Catch serves four types of Bao: the Big Bao filled with steamed pork, Chinese sausage, egg, mushrooms and celery; Char Sui Bao filled with Cantonese BBQ pork, Hot Chick Bao filled with steamed chicken and “some veggies”; and Mini Pork buns filled with tender pork marinated in “various Chinese sauces”. You can also get each of these with an avocado salad.
I only tried two of the Bao offerings, and based on that sampling I think Big Catch is serving some excellent steamed buns. The Big Bao was really flavorful and I could especially taste the celery and mushrooms, and the bun was beautifully light and fluffy. My only note on this bun was that the Chinese sausage was incorporated as a single chunk of sausage, and I think the bun filling would have been better if the sausage was chopped into smaller pieces and distributed more in the filling. But I loved having the half of a boiled egg in the bun as a single piece. The Big Bao comes with a gold-brown dipping sauce that looks like a peanut sauce but has more of a salty, savory, spicey flavor, which works great with the Bao. The trio of Mini Pork buns was also really good. The menu only describes the filling as having been marinated in ‘various Chinese sauces” with no other details, but my guess is that one of them was Hoisin sauce. My lunch of a Big Bao and the trio of mini buns was delicious and quite filling. The prices for Bao are also really reasonable, so Big Catch is value for money too.
The Location: Big Catch Poke is at 1840 E Passyunk Ave which is just north of Mifflin Street. This is close to the western end of the East Passyunk corridor of restaurants and bars.
I was not planning to buy this product and review it. But after I posted a picture to Insta of Baozza boxes in the local supermarket freezer case a friend chastised me for not reviewing them. So here we are.
Baozza are the mutant mash-up of Chinese steamed buns (Bao) and pizza toppings (zza) that we did not need. These frozen Bao were developed by two expats living in Beijing and were apparently really successful in China, to the point that Mark Cuban became a significant investor. They are now available in the U.S. at Sprouts Markets and by delivery through GoldBelly, and are being positioned to take over Hot Pocket’s market. Baozza come in Cheezy Spinach, Italian Sausage, Pepperoni, BBQ Chicken and Margherita varieties, all of which include mozzarella cheese filling. The boxes available at Sprouts contain two Baozza, each individually wrapped in a microwave-able plastic steamer pouch.
I tried the Cheezy Spinach Baozza which are classically Bao shaped, but the dough is dusted with Italian herbs, like a focaccia or garlic bread. Melted mozzarella cheese is always good, so Baozza have that going for them, and there was a lot of spinach in the mozz filling, so the bao had some semblance of nutrition. But I found them to be very salty and the bao bread was quite dense and chewy, the exact opposite of a steamed bun. You might ask, what do I expect from a frozen Bao?, but I have had plenty of lighter and fluffier frozen bao over the years. Per the instructions, I microwaved a Baozza in its plastic pouch for 1 minute and then pan-fried the Baozza to get a golden crust on the bottom. Unfortunately the bun ruptured a little during the microwaving and mozz leaked out during the pan-frying.
I have never tried a Hot Pocket, so I do not know how they compare, maybe Baozza will dethrone Hot Pockets. But this seems like a concept we didn’t need and I was unimpressed with the realization of this Bao-Pizza mash-up concept.
Since opening in May of 2009, Tortilleria San Roman in Philadelphia’s Italian Market, has been churning out amazing, fresh corn tortillas. A dough made of corn flour and water is put into a long squeaky conveyor belt that cuts and cooks the dough into tortillas and it seems like the machine runs all day long. A pack of 15 fresh tortillas costs $1.50 and a pack of 30 costs $2.25, so this is the best bargain in the Italian Market. These are the best tortillas I have ever eaten. Tortilleria San Roman is a tiny storefront that also sells salsa, tortilla chips, hot sause, Tajin seasoning and tlacoyo, the last of which is what grabbed our interest.
Tlacoyo are an oval shaped hand pie made by folding a tortilla around a filling and pinching it closed and then baking or frying the pie. Traditional fillings are cheese, fava beans, cooked ground beans, and chicharron. They are very reminiscent of pupusa, pasty and calzone.
The Dumplings: Tortilleria San Roman makes it’s Tlacoyo with its corn tortillas and refried pinto beans and sells them six to a package for $4.50. I asked the cashier how to prepare them and he said to simply microwave them and put some salsa on top. The filling was not the most flavorful refried beans I have tried and I felt that the beans needed more seasoning. I should have listened to the cashier and picked up some salsa to put on top of them, but I made a quick dressing from Mayo, hot sauce and vinegar which livened up the dish. But two Tlacoyo made a mildly savory and filling lunch and I think they would be excellent with some of the house salsa. Tortilleria San Roman’s Tlacoyo are vegan.
The Location: Tortilleria San Roman is located in Philadelphia’s Italian Market on the North-East corner of Carpenter Street and Ninth Street.