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Pho Vietnam

by Ann Thurlow 

The owner of Pho Vietnam comes up to our table, introduces himself as a newcomer and thanks us for welcoming him to this country. I can feel tears in my eyes. I haven’t even eaten yet and already I’m hooked.

The décor is kind of seducing me, too. The new owners have taken the spot formerly occupied by bright, brassy Cora’s and turned it into a lovely, calm Asian influenced space. The booths are still there but now they feel cozier, private—the kind of place you could while away a long lunch.

One of the interesting things about Vietnamese food is the heavy influence of French food and cooking. Hanoi was the capital of French Indochina from 1902–1954. Though French colonialism is long gone, the culinary influences remain. The owners of Pho Vietnam are originally from Hanoi; it’s not so surprising, given that, to find crepes on the menu.

But first let’s talk about banh mi. At Pho Vietnam it’s called a Vietnamese sub, but banh mi is what it is and it’s a Franco-Vietnamese classic. It’s a homemade, crusty baguette, stuffed with vegetables, meat and a sweet/vinegary sauce. You can get it with chicken or pork but it is traditionally made with pate (thank you France) and you can get that here, too. They make the baguette in the restaurant and, if you hit on the day it is fresh out of the oven, you’ve hit the jackpot.

Pho Vietnam serves both breakfast and lunch, Canadian style. You could get bacon and eggs but why would you when you can get crepes? (Again, merci). There are several choices: we picked buckwheat, which were a treat and spinach and cheddar. The latter came, not stuffed with spinach and cheese but with the spinach and cheese built right in. At first I was surprised, then I was pleased; it’s the kind of comfort food you dream about when you’re peckish.

The French influence is also evident in the Vietnamese love of coffee. It comes in a tiny pot and you wait for the coffee to drip through. It’s served with sweet condensed milk and, unless you’re a coffee warrior, you’ll need it. It’s good coffee but it’s very, very strong and is guaranteed to make even the quiet talk very loud and fast.

At the end of one lovely meal (this one, pho—the savoury Vietnamese soup) we were presented with a gift—a little pot of Vietnamese green tea. Like the coffee, the tea is righteous—it will give you the strength and optimism of ten.

We are blessed, now, to have two Vietnamese restaurants and, inevitably, people ask which is better. But it turns out that cuisine of Vietnam is like the food of any country—full of regional differences. The owner of each restaurant comes from a different part of the country; each, therefore, is special and good for its own wonderful reasons. 

Power Play

One Great Thing
by Ann Thurlow

In the last scene of The Marriage of Figaro, all the actors are on the stage and they are all singing. Most are singing something different from everyone else, concentrating fiercely. Yet it all blends and weaves—an orchestra of voices. These young UPEI students have already been at this intense, physically demanding work for two hours. Yet, they sing joyfully, nail every note.

How hard is this? Put it this way. It’s the most important game of the year and we’re in double overtime. There’s a full-on power play and everything is on the line.

Ancient Wisdom

One Great Bite
by Ann Thurlow

Dear Ann: Thanks very much for having the foresight and the fortitude, back last summer, to deal with all that delicious fruit. Thank you for not saying no on that humid July day, when faced with a knife, a bowl and a flat of strawberries. Thanks for saying yes to all those pounds of black currents and to the big bag of cucumbers. Thanks for seeing the potential in those gnarly beets. You said you would be grateful in the winter and, you sagacious goddess, you were right. It’s an ancient wisdom, but it gets me every time. 

Coming soon

Submitted by Ann Thurlow

The crocuses are starting to poke through; spring and summer are close! That makes me think of wonderful road trips to delicious destinations. By the time you read this, you’ll be able to get a Frosty Treat half and half. And, at the more genteel end of the scale, the wonderful and fun #5 Café will re-open in Murray Harbour. I’m excited to head to Scapes in Borden for homey goodness. And is there anything better than the first, chilly lobster roll at Richard’s? Well possibly, maybe, a dozen oysters at The Lobster Shack on the beach at in Souris. 

Butcher and Butcher

by Ann Thurlow

Chris van Ouwerkerk and Brody Webster, aka Butcher and Butcher (photo: Ann Thurlow)It smells delightful in here—like pickles and spice and, in the background, something savoury. Butcher and Butcher, the meat shop on St. Peter’s Road, has only been open three weeks but already the place is imbued with the scent of something delicious.

If you think of a meat shop only as a place to get steaks and chops, Chris van Ouwerkerk and Brody Webster invite you to think again. Yes, there are all the classic offerings. But where these two young butchers really shine is with things like sausages and cold cuts—the place where spices and flavours and preparation meet with a quality base product. It’s an old-fashioned, and more traditional, idea of a butcher shop and it’s what these guys had in mind when they decided to open.

It makes sense. The business grew, in part, out of Jercules—a beef jerky company that van Ouwerkerk started. Jerky is meat that is marinated and then dehydrated, concentrating the flavours and making it the beloved snack of beer drinkers. van Ouwerkerk discovered he loves building the marinades and finding the flavours that work.

He and Webster have been friends for a long time. After working various place (all involving meat) they ended up together at KJL Meats. There they began to brainstorm about what kind of shop they’d like to have and, soon enough, they had one.

The most important thing to both of them is that all the meat they sell has to come from PEI. They want to be assured of the quality, they want to support local farmers. They begin rhyming off the names of the farmers they work with and then talk about some surprises. They found someone who grows rare and highly prized Berkshire pigs, which produce meat that is marbled, juicy and flavourful. They found a young man in Crapaud who had just started a duck farm. These gave them some unique products to sell and also a good palette on which to experiment.

Duck prosciutto? Those may be the two most enticing words in the culinary world. It’s every bit as good as I had hoped—so rich that you only need a couple of slices at a time. There’s capricola, the lovely Italian cold cut and all manner of other cold cuts, as well. Part of the fun of going in is that your never know what you’re going to find.

They’re always experimenting. A blueberry and maple sausage they tried, just for a lark, proved so popular that customers demanded that they offer it more often, along with many other flavours.

These are two guys who love what they do and want you to love it, too. And when it comes to eating, that’s never a bad thing.

Butcher and Butcher is at 25 St. Peter’s Rd., right behind the shops of St. Avard’s. Monday–Saturday 10–6, Sunday 12–6. There’s parking around the back, next to Kate’s wonderful spice shop. It’s Charlottetown’s new culinary corner.

A Primer

Himalyan Indian cuisine

Review by Ann Thurlow

When the Himalayan opened a few years ago, it was to the delight of lovers of Indian cuisine. But initially the place was spotty, the service slow and the food erratic. Then it suddenly found its groove and became a fun and reliably delicious spot to eat.

So I’m always surprised when I meet someone who hasn’t tried it. I’m afraid that they’re afraid the food will be unfamiliar or too spicy. Allow me, then, to be your spirit guide and to tell you that none of that is true.

For one thing, the sweet and cheerful server will ask you every time whether you like your food mild, medium or hot. Mild is about the spice equivalent of ketchup. And rest assured there’s butter chicken, that gateway dish to Indian food so ubiquitous that it became a potato chip flavour.

So you can tuck in to the bright and cozy room and have that. Or you could be just a little more adventurous and have a peek at the menu. Indian food isn’t just one thing; India is a huge country full of diverse foods. The Himalaya’s chef and owner, Amuj Thapa, is actually from neighbouring Nepal and its cuisine and that of neighbouring Tibet is also featured. In fact, Tibetan Chile Chicken, which comes with sweet red peppers and an addictive sauce, is one of the best things on the menu. Ditto Momo, plump little dumplings stuffed with chicken and vegetables. They’re a popular lunch in Tibet and Nepal and a plateful will cheer a person up on a Canadian winter’s day.

There is also tandoor, which is food that’s marinated and cooked in a tandoori oven. The cooking style concentrates the flavour and tenderizes the meat. A half plate of chicken tandoor is two big pieces of chicken that arrive at your table sizzling and fragrant on a cast iron platter; a full platter with some rice and a vegetable dish on the side, would feed four.

Speaking of which, a vegetarian could eat happily and well here. Indian food generally relies heavily on vegetables. There are vegetable samosas and pakoras, an intriguing looking Kachumbar salad, lentil soup and several meatless mains. And for some reason Aloo Acher—PEI potatoes marinated in sesame and lemon—touches my heart; east meets west in the most delightful way.

There’s also naan, the Indian flatbread that goes with everything. You can get it with garlic, you can get it stuffed with potato, you can get it with mozzarella cheese, which will equal the best grilled cheese you ever had.

Most of all, you’ll just enjoy yourself. The food is interesting and exotic. The room is full of warm, lovely colours. As winter drags on, it’s just the kind of vacation you need.

Himalayan Indian Cuisine is at 39 Eden Street—in the little mall behind Source for Sports. They’re open 11–10 and do take-out. 

All she wrote

One Great Bite
by Ann Thurlow

There is something so elegant about this dish that it’s hard to imagine how a person could not love it. It’s spaghetti with a fried egg on top and that, my friend, is all she wrote. If you are feeling very chi-chi you could add some grated cheese. You probably shouldn’t skip the pepper. And you want the egg sunny side up so, when you cut it, the oozy yolk makes a sauce for the pasta. Forget the bacon; carbonara is a mug’s game. No need to wear Dior to dinner—this dish is already sophistication on a plate. 

Random Discoveries

One Great Thing
by Ann Thurlow

I just finished the best book I ever read, but that’s not the point. The point is I found it by reading the newspaper. It was in the paper edition—the one you hold in your hands and browse through. I don’t read the paper to learn about things I already know. I read it for the random discoveries—the things I don’t know enough about to even ask. I’m afraid, as newspapers die away, that randomness will be lost. We’ll all be big experts with no idea about the worlds that spin just outside our orbit.

Events Calendar

January 2019
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