Vietnamese New Year family-style feasts

January 26, 2009 9:49:13 AM PST
Monday marks the Lunar New Year, which is celebrated throughout China. But it also marks the beginning of "Tet," the Vietnamese new year. Our Hungry Hound recently visited a west suburban restaurant where the kitchen is busier than ever.Most of the attention goes to the Chinese this time of year. After all, it's hard to resist a trip to Chinatown to see the lion dance and eat mounds of noodles and dumplings. But the Vietnamese celebrate simultaneously, and as we found at one location in west suburban Carol Stream, they're gearing up for some serious family-style meals over the next few days.

Familes dine all of the time at the spacious Vietnam Bistro, housed in a sparkling new strip mall in West Suburban Carol Stream which is precisely why the owners decided to make large-format meals a part of their New Year's celebration.

"I wanted to offer the family meal so that they could have a little bit of everything, and taste a little bit of everything; that's the traditional style that Vietnamese families normally order when they go out to eat," said Victoria Nguyen, owner of Vietnam Bistro.

Consider the wide range of starters: from cold spring rolls jammed with shrimp, lettuce and bean sprouts.. to tender beef skewers and chao tom - a steamed puree of crab and shrimp, which is dipped into a lime juice-fueled dipping sauce of salt and pepper. There's always a heady broth of pho on the simmer - slow-cooked beef broth with onions, cloves, cinnamon and star anise - but also hearty chicken broth, which is used to thin out a paste of chili, salt, sugar, fish sauce and fried onions; this complex sauce holds fresh catfish fillets and slow-cooks them in a clay pot, until fork-tender.

Another seafood option is live lobster.

"If a person is coming here and they want to celebrate something -- if they don't mind getting something more expensive, such as lobster -- we have different kinds of sauces that we can cook with lobster."

It might show up in salads, with crunchy green papaya, as does plump shrimp.

But the best example of seafood exuberance is in the hot pot presentation. Seasoned chicken broth is simmered at the table, then you add vegetables, such as cabbage or Vietnamese greens.. plus a wide range of seafood options such as mussels, shrimp and halibut; put some cooked egg noodles into your cup, then ladle over the broth, veggies and cooked seafood. It's a Vietnamese celebratory feast that also happens to be very good for you.

"We like to eat fish.. we like to eat seafood," said Nguyen.

In the city, the best place to catch some Vietnamese culture and food is along argyle street which is five-thousand north between Sheridan and Broadway.

There will be a Tet celebration up there all day Monday, at St. Andrews Greek Orthodox Church.

Vietnam Bistro
600 E. North Ave., Carol Stream

Tet Ky Suu 2009 - Vietnamese Lunar New Year - Year of the Ox
Monday, January 26th
5649 N. Sheridan Ave
Time: 10AM - 6PM
Admission: Free