The Coast can boast a great variety of ethnically diverse restaurants.
In the mood for Italian? Take your pick.
Cajun or Creole? Sure, lots of places have menus heavy in these specialty dishes.
We also have restaurants serving Indian, Honduran, Korean, Japanese cuisines and more.
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Perhaps the most interesting culinary offerings we have, however, are the Vietnamese restaurants.
Many Vietnamese families were forced to abandon their homeland during the Vietnam War, and many of them came to live on the Mississippi Gulf Coast.
On Coast since 1975
In 1975, Vietnamese restaurants and markets began to appear on our shores.
Today they can be found in almost every Coast city, and to the devotees, each restaurant has something just a bit different to offer.
The most common ingredients used in Vietnamese dishes are pork, beef and rice with lots of noodles, but cooking Vietnamese dishes requires skills, so it is best to visit a restaurant rather than try to make these dishes yourself.
With Vietnamese food, the starting point is pho, which most often has a fragrant beef broth base, made by roasting beef bones, along with a few other exotic ingredients, to make a clear and delicious stock.
There are several different varieties, but basic pho is made with thin slices of beef, rice noodles and a medley of fresh herbs, wedges of lime, bean sprouts and hot peppers.
Pho also is sometimes made with chicken and is just as delicious as the beef version.
Another must-try Vietnamese standard is beef stew, but don’t think of it as grandma’s old-time stew.
This beef stew is fragrant with spices you might not expect to find, spices such as lemongrass, Chinese five spice, ginger, cinnamon and annatto seeds, but don’t worry if you are not familiar with any of those spices.
This stew is delicious. It is most often served with crusty French bread for dipping, but you can get it with noodles if you like.
Another Vietnamese specialty that might surprise you is the common pork chop, but don’t expect it to be fried Southern style. This pork chop is caramelized and made delicious with the help of shallots, brown sugar, fish sauce and vinegar.
Don’t turn your nose up at the fish sauce. It is a basic component of many sauces and dips and when balanced properly it is a wonder. Try this dish and your idea of the lowly pork chop will change forever.
One last suggestion. The Vietnamese are also famous for their sandwiches, or Bánh mì. Some call this sandwich a Vietnamese po-boy, but its roots are not in Creole or New Orleans food, but in the French idea of a sandwich.
Vietnam was a colony of France and likely adopted this sandwich from Frenchmen. The Vietnamese versions include a huge variety of delicious things, but the core of it is crunchy French bread. Never expect soft white bread — that just wouldn’t do.
If you really want to try to make Vietnamese food yourself, get a copy of “The Pleasures of the Vietnamese Table,” which is my go-to Vietnamese cookbook.
I have included a couple of recipes here, if you want to try cooking it yourself.
Bahn Mi (Vietnamese style sandwich)
1 loaf French bread (Any Vietnamese bakery)
1 pound red Chinese BBQ (see Lee Market on 917 Division Street, Biloxi)
2 cups julienne carrots
2 cups julienne cucumbers
1 cup chopped green onions
1 cup cilantro leaves
1 thin sliced jalapeno
Slice the French bread, but not completely in two. Slice the barbecue as thin as you can, layer it on the bread and top with the carrots, cucumber, green onion and jalapeno and douse with soy sauce. If you do not want to use the red barbecue from Lee’s market, substitute headcheese, pâté, or even pork belly (to keep it somewhat original). If these choices still do not work for you, use any American-style cold cut.
The traditional recipe for pho is quite demanding for the novice, so, I recommend buying pho base in a can from an Asian Market. Pho is most often made with beef, but the chicken variety is quite good and perhaps just a bit easier to prepare.
2 large cans pho chicken stock
1-2 cups cooked chicken
1 pound rice sticks (noodle)
1/3 thin sliced onion
2 green onions sliced
½ cup fresh cilantro
1 bunch bean sprouts
1 sliced lime
Add the stock to a large sauce pan, add the sliced onions and green onions and warm gently. Cook the noodles according to package directions and set aside. Add the chicken to the stock and a about a cup of the cooked noodles. Serve at once and garnish with cilantro, jalapenos, bean sprouts and a squirt of lime.