The Year of the Tiger

Saturday 13 February 2010

Happy Chinese New Year!!

The year of the tiger is upon us. In very appropriate fashion (no pun intended), my friend N & I went to the Tết Festival (known in full as Tết Nguyên Đán) that is held every year in Little Saigon(Orange County, CA). It is a festival that brings many people of different cultures together but of course many, many Vietnamese in celebration of the new Chinese (for me but in this case Vietnamese) New Year.

The festival was held over 3 days and had a number of vendors either selling merchandise or promoting a cause, politicians, fundraisers, student volunteers, army veterans, food stalls and the myriad of families bringing their children out celebrate the most important holiday of the lunar calendar year. The Tet Festival offered free admissions for anybody wearing an Áo dài, the Vietnamese national dress. My friend N donned a very beautiful Ao dai that turned a number of heads for the festival.

After a short wait in line, we entered through the big arches and went to find some interesting booths to explore. There was were a bunch of kids dressed up in super adorable costumes and “guarding” the arches into the main area of the festival.

One of my favourite parts was seeing all the lovely miniature buildings beautifully decorated in the spirit of the new year. There were a number of cute structures that reminded me of my childhood. For example, there was the little tree with the mandarins and red envelopes  hung on the branches as a sign for good luck. The boat I am sure is another auspicious sign. Either way it was a pretty cute to see along with the mini houses with thatched roofs.

My ultimately favourite sight though was the tree of love. The tree was completely wrapped from tip to toe in soft pink crepe paper and streamers floating all the way to the ground. The volunteers gave us a piece of heart-shaped paper for us to write something we love or were thankful for and then they would hang it up on the tree.

We also stopped by some old men playing chinese checkers. Not just any chinese checkers though. The jumbo version. And they had some long sticks to help them move the pieces. It was very fun to watch. Shame I don’t know how to play.

And last but obviously not least. We went to check out some food vendors. There was such a large range of choices I didn’t even know what to pick. The few options that stood out were the green papaya salad with beef jerky and all of the different types of fried food like fried meat balls and squid. But of course, being a vegetarian now (well pesco vegetarian at least) I couldn’t eat most of those things. But they looked delicious. There was also a famous sandwich vendor, Lee’s Sandwich (I think?), that was widely popular with the Vietnamese folks. The Vietnamese sandwiches are inspired by the French baguette and so it’s a combination of a baguette with thinly sliced and marinated Vietnamese meat and accents such as pickled vegetables. Sounded delicious. I opted for the spring rolls and corn though which are very traditional Vietnamese staples. The grossest thing I saw was the balut (also known as hột vịt lộn) which is a fertilized chicken egg that has an almost fully developed embryo cooked and eaten with herbs. Ew it looks sooooo disgusting I couldn’t eat it. But I liked the corn anyway.


Triple threat: Vietnamese, Vegan & Raw

Friday 12 February 2010

Who would have known there was this gem of a restaurant tucked away in Garden Grove?

Deliciously steaming "fish" pho

I had dinner at a raw vegan restaurant called Au Lac also known as a fantastically delicious establishment. Most people get freaked out by vegan food, maybe because it’s different or they think they won’t feel full from eating or purely the fact that it restricts meat makes it seem unnatural (though strangely enough eating vegetables is probably more “natural” considering the chemicals in meat). Anyway, it was fantastic food and highly recommended. They don’t only serve raw vegan cuisine although that was the premise on which the owner first opened the restaurant. They’ve expanded to offering cooked hot food, Vietnamese cuisine, such as pho and stir-fried fish made from seitan that tasted very convincingly like fish.

We had the pho with fake fish and a lot of aromatic herbs. The broth was very good considering there were no animal bones used to make the broth. We also had a delicious seaweed salad with kimchi and lettuce that made all the difference. It was like a fusion dish but everything came together spectacularly with Japanese, Korean and European accents. Even the dressing was vegan, made with pine nuts. So delicious.

The best part of eating at this restaurant was all the entertaining novelties. For example, my table was the only one with Asian people and folks over 40. Haha what do you expect at such a hipster restaurant?
Second, the knives, forks and spoons were all very kooky looking but cool looking. They were very heavy too so I’m guessing they were made out of silver. And the last novelty, the restaurant opens at 11:33am-3:33pm for lunch and 5:33pm-9:33pm for dinner. Why? Because their boss thinks 3 is an auspicious number. Haha makes it a big strange to see on the sign at the door. But interesting nevertheless.

Special thanks to H’s mum and aunt for taking me to Au lac! I loved it.