One of my favorite types of food is the sharing and blending of cuisines. Vietnam is a perfect example of such a blending. When France occupied Vietnam the Vietnamese people incorporated some aspects of French cuisine into their own rich culinary legacy and created entirely new foods such as the banh mi (a sandwich using a crispy baguette as its base) and the crispy cross between a crepe and an omelet known as banhxeo.
On the flip side, occupying Westerners (first the French, later the Americans) learned to appreciate some traditional Vietnamese dishes, especially the country’s national dish, Pho, a noodle soup with a rich broth.
Back in Chicago, I lived in the neighborhood adjacent to Little Vietnam and became addicted to the combination of subtle and strong flavors as well as the fusion of Asian and French cooking methods in Vietnamese cuisine. While there were a few upscale places, most of the restaurants were simple storefronts run by a family and filled with mostly Vietnamese customers. You won’t find that concentration of businesses here in South Florida (although State Road 7 seems to be home to a large percentage of Vietnamese and Indian restaurants), but there are delicious options to be found, if you know where to look.
The best representation I have found of authentic Vietnamese cooking is Basilic, which has three locations, Miami, Boca and right here in Fort Lauderdale.
Basilic Vietnamese Grill
218 E. Commercial, Fort Lauderdale
200 S. Federal, Boca Raton
14734 Biscayne Blvd., North Miami
The other night, I met my aunt and uncle for dinner at Basilic’s Boca location, which is a little posher than Fort Lauderdale’s, but the food is comparable. One of the things I love about Vietnamese food is that it is comforting, yet healthy. I’m still struggling to get rid of a few pounds I gained over the holidays, so I’m avoiding carbs like a vampire avoids daylight. Yet, I was still able to enjoy a satisfying (and filling) meal at Basilic.
Of course, that meant that I could not enjoy either of the classic Vietnamese favorites, banh mi or pho, but my dining partners did and raved about them. My Aunt raved about the broth in her chicken pho, saying it was, “as good as her Bubbie’s chicken soup.”
In addition to the chicken pho there are traditional varieties, as well as those toned down for Westerners tastes. The beef pho showcases slices of rare steak and brisket. Served with rice noodles in a rich broth, served with the traditional pho accompaniments; green onions, cilantro, basil, lime and bean sprouts, which are added to taste by the diner.
Other pho options include; Vietnamese meatballs, ox tail, and a combination pho featuring slices of rare steak, brisket and meatballs. All are served with rice noodles. Not on the menu, but available by special order is a vegetarian pho made with vegetable stock.
My husband ordered a crispy noodle dish, available with beef chicken or seafood. He requested a vegetarian version and our affable waiter said it would be no problem. He even gave my husband a choice of fried or steamed tofu. The dish was gorgeous when it arrived; noodles fried in the shape a large bowl arrived piled high with sautéed veggies and tofu, lightly coated in a soy glaze. My uncle praised his grilled salmon and even ate all of his veggies. The dish arrived on a sizzling hot pan, so much so that they could advertise a free facial with every meal.
Behaving on my diet, I avoided carbs and had the hot and soup seafood soup, which provided plenty of calamari and shrimp in a fragrant broth. I followed that up with a Vietnamese grilled beef salad. Dark and crispy slices of grilled beef adorned the top of a salad composed of green papaya, napa cabbage, celery, carrots, red onions and fresh herbs, dressed with a vinegary dressing and topped with peanuts and crispy fried onions.
Here are a few other spots to sample pho and banh mi as well as some other Vietnamese specialties:
What The Pho
2033 Wilton Dr., Wilton Manors
Temple Street Eatery
416 N Federal, Fort Lauderdale
Pho Hoa Noodle Soup
5435 N State Rd. 7, Tamarac