Tag Archives: Vietnamese

Lemongrass beef noodle salad: $1.24/serving

“Some of us have great stories, pretty stories that take place at lakes with boats and friends and noodle salad. Just no one in this car. A lot of people, that’s their story. Good times, noodle salad.” —Jack Nicholson, “As Good as It Gets”

What else can I say? This probably in no way resembles the kind of noodle salad invoked above, but it’s a noodle salad all the same. The recipe was originally featured in an older post extolling the virtues of marked-down meat at the grocery store, but it’s high time it had its own page. Not only is it simple to make and a proven crowd-pleaser (good times, noodle salad), it’s a great antidote to all those heavy seasonal braises and gratins that start to get a little old about now. Judging by the view out the window, Punxsutawney Phil (“the world’s most famous prognosticating rodent,” according to Wikipedia, where I went to look up how to spell Punxsutawney) is not planning to deviate from his 13% accuracy rate any time soon.

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Splurge: Vietnamese beef noodle soup, hue-style (bun bo hue): $4.34/serving

As is often the case with upright chest freezers, sometimes things get forgotten about beneath the boxes of frozen butter and yogurt containers full of stock. Things you remember buying, but can’t exactly recall why—marked-down oxtails, turkey gizzards, a single vacuum-sealed plantain. This weekend it was the oxtails and a Ziploc bag of short-rib bones with most of the meat scraped off that had me scratching my head. What, exactly, had I planned to do with a measly 1 1/2 pounds of oxtails and some meatless bones? Make a stock, probably, but for what? It’s not enough meat for subtly flavored pho, and would make a pretty weak oxtail soup. Instead I decided to use them in a soup that gets enough flavor assistance from other ingredients: bun bo hue (pronounced “hway”). It’s similar to pho in that it includes beef and noodles, but the type of noodles, flavorings, and preparation are completely different. I obviously had bought the oxtails pre-$35-a-week, because I could NEVER afford them now, therefore, this meal didn’t exactly come out of our current budget. It’s not cheap, but as is always the case, it’s cheaper than eating out.

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Bánh mì sandwich: 49 cents each

Portlanders loooove to talk about bánh mì, the Franco-Vietnamese wonder that is perhaps the world’s perfect sandwich (meat, pickled carrot and daikon, fresh sprigs of cilantro, and possibly some Japanese-style mayonnaise, all packed into a traditional French baguette). The second most popular conversation topic, after what should or should not go in one and in what ratios, is how much one should cost. Depending largely on the neighborhood, bánh mì can cost anywhere from $2.50 (which is increasingly rare) to $8. Our goal: To make one that’s both comparable to what you’d find in the best shops and that fits our lunch budget of 50 cents or less.

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Vietnamese beef noodle soup (pho bo): $1.88/bowl

I’m not even going to pretend for a minute this is real pho. It’s missing the lime slices, Thai basil, sprouts, chiles, sriracha and hoisin sauce; the meat is wrong; the beef stock comes from a jar…I could go on and on.

That said, I’ve eaten a lot of pho at a lot of restaurants, and I’ve even made it the “correct” way at home using oxtail and beef bones, and this bastardized, not-at-all authentic version happens to be the closest I’ve come to restaurant pho. (That is, minus the condiments. If you can afford a lime at the very least, by all means buy one to slice up and squeeze over the soup. And I heartily endorse the Thai basil as well.) It also happens to be quick and easy and totally doable for a weeknight meal, and if you use smaller bowls and serve a garden salad on the side, it could easily stretch to 4 servings.

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Buying meat

It probably goes without saying that we don’t eat a lot of meat. When we do, it’s usually treated as a garnish, or plays a very minor non-speaking role in a dish. My general rule is that beef and pork should not cost more than $2.99/pound, and chicken should not cost more than $1.99/pound. (Although I usually buy whole chickens and break them down myself in order to use the bones and carcasses for stock, and for those I never pay more than 99 cents/pound.)

The easiest way to meet this budget is to buy in bulk, but at the rate we use meat it ends up sitting around for a bit too long, wearing out its welcome with freezer burn and off flavors.

Enter my favorite area of the grocery store: the discount meat bin.

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