Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Nem Nuong Khanh Hoa, Alhambra - Pho Gone Wild


Something happens to TV programming once the clock strikes 12. The programming is either syndicated re-runs of old shows like Married With Children or you get those 1/2 hour infomercials for some exercise machine that you'll probably never use. And advertising has taught me why this happens - money. To run a TV commercial on any of the big networks like NBC, ABC and ABC between the primetime hours of 7pm - 11pm, it'll cost you anywhere from $250,000 to $350,000 and even more during special events like NBA Playoffs. For superbowl, you're talking over $1,000,000 per spot because of the reach. Yes, not many clients can afford this sort of placement. Even if they could, they would probably be too unappropriate. After midnight, the freaks do come out... enter: Girls Gone Wild. If you were blind or half-asleep, you would still be able to tell what kind of product they are selling. Loud rock music, sorority girls screaming, dudes cheering and that ever-so-convincing voiceover guy.

As annoying as the commercials are, I find them hilarious. Imagine. You get married to the woman of your dreams and you have a baby girl. So angelic, so beautiful. She kisses you good night every night and tells you that your her hero. Next thing you know, she's 'developing' in jr. high and no longer hugs you anymore because she has a crush at school. Her nights are spent inside her room on the phone, and no longer in the living room. Then she starts going to dances and before you know it, she's on her way to college. Your sweet little girl is going to become a woman finally. But god forbid that one night, at around 2:43 am, you see your daughter taking a beer bong out of a halved sparkletts water jug on Channel 13 for what seems like a 'documentary' on college life. An office-size jug. God forbid. When we have children one day, we all just have to let go and pray that she stays on the right path.

And its the same way I perceive the Central Vietnamese noodle soup called 'bun bo hue', literally meaning 'noodles + beef + from the Hue region. We all know pho, the celebrated beef noodle soup from Vietnam. Pure in broth, flavor and texture... with simple additions that make this one bowl of heaven. But after one wild weekend in Hue, pho is no longer pho. She's lost a lot of beef and has grown other stuff, like braised beef, pork blood cubes, pork knuckles and pork sausage. Her hair is no longer a light yellow/brown, it's red. And boy has her attitude changed, no longer quiet and subtle with gestures, she's loud and not afraid to bite. Think of it as noodle soup gone wild.

In actuality, this soup has no resemblance to pho. The soup is completely different in taste because the predominant ingredient is lemongrass in a slightly spicy beef broth. Toppings usually consist of pork knuckles and pork blood cubes. For garnishing, bean sprouts, red cabbage, mint and lime are used. I searched the Chowhound boards and learned about a place in Alhambra called Nem Nuong Khanh Hoa, not to be confused with Nem Nuong Ninh Hoa in Rosemead.

Nem Nuong Khanh Hoa Alhambra

Located on the far west side of Valley Blvd, still in the realms of Alhambra, you'll find NNKH situated in a small strip mall. Because of the bamboo trees by the window, it always looks like its closed but you'll be happy to know they close at 10 usually. Not sure about the Sunday hours. 'Nem Nuong' means charboiled pork that has been cured in fish sauce, oil, sugar with garlic, pepper and potato starch to bind the mixture. It is pink in color and looks uncooked but is indeed cooked. There's also another version where the pork is shaped into meatballs and skewered on sugar cane sticks. And this is exactly what NNKH is known for, their 'nem nuong'. More on that later.

Nem Nuong Khanh Hoa Bun Bo Hue

Bun Bo Hue (Lemongrass-Flavored Beef Bone Soup with Noodles)
This comes with one large pork knuckle, pork blood cubes, braised beef shank slices and pork meatloaf (gia lua). If you don't want any of the above, simply let them know. The shank and meatloaf are good. You can buy your own meatloaf for only $2! The noodles are made with rice and as thick as spaghetti noodles (unlike the thin pho rice noodles) but go very well with the soup. The soup is so good that I'll actually doggy-baggy it and eat it the next day. Eat this with the fixings, the red cabbage, bean sprouts, mint and lime really take this dish to another level. If you want to spice this up, I suggest you use the sriracha chili garlic sauce (has seeds in it) versus the traditional non-seed chili sauce used for pho. No hoisin allowed in here!!! $5.25

Nem Nuong Khanh Hoa Bun Bo Hue Bone

Centerfold of the Pork Knuckle
Usually comes with the skin on, but once you get past that, the meat is very tender.

Nem Nuong Khanh Hoa Pork Blood Cubes

Pork Blood Cubes
Not everyone will like this, but I think it's delicious. I think of it as chocolate and gobble it up.

Nem Nuong Khanh Hoa Bun Bo Hue Fixings

Bun Bo Hue Fixings
Red cabbage, bean sprouts, lime, jalapeno, mint and this one herb I can never identify. Wandering Chopsticks, Master of Vietnamese food, please identify this for me!

Nem Nuong Khanh Hoa Nem Nuong

Nem Nuong Rolls (3 for $3.75)
You can choose to order these pre-rolled or you can try and have some fun and get your hands dirty. These contain lettuce, a crispy shrimp roll, charbroiled pork and a chive. The sauce used is similar to nuoc cham, but is thicker because it has beaten egg and sometimes honey in it. The rolls are good, but not quite as good as Brodard in Little Saigon, Westminster. If you decide to order the nem nuong party pack, you'll receive a whole plate of various meats including the charbroiled pork, sour pork patties (good!) and crispy shrimp rolls. A bowl of hot water is provided for you to soak rice paper and roll your own joint up.

Nem Nuong Khanh Hoa Nem Nuong Closeup

Centerfold of Nem Nuong Charboiled Pork Rolls
Cha gio egg rolls go well with pho, and these go well with Bun Bo Hue, in my opinion.

Nem Nuong Khanh Hoa Shrimp Roll

Super Perverted Food Porn Close-Up
Notice the crispy egg rolls contain small pieces of shrimp. This is true dedication. It's like rolling a taquito within another taquito without making it big like a burrito.

Nem Nuong Khanh Hoa Nem Nuong Sauce

Special Nem Nuong Sauce
Wandering Chopsticks was helpful enough to explain the sauce to me. Check out her version of nem nuong on skewers.

Nem Nuong Khanh Hoa
1700 W Valley Blvd.
Alhambra, CA 91804
(626) 943-7645


Wandering Chopsticks said...

Haha! NNKH or NNNH showdown! Thanks for the shoutout. Potato starch as a binding ingredient? I've never heard of that being used. Or oil for that matter. It's already fatty from the pork.

I really need to check out this place though.

The herb you can't ID is rau ram, or VNese coriander.

Wandering Chopsticks said...

Or you mean the purple leaf herb? That's tia to, purple perilla/shiso/sesame leaves.

j! said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
j! said...

Hmmm... blood. I was just watching that Travel Channel show, Bizare Foods the other day and they had blood cubes. The host is a little lame, but the food looks good.

SteamyKitchen said...

You're getting me all hot and sweaty with this post!

jinius said...

i think this is the first time i've seen a girls gone wild: vietnamese pho analogy. they should post that on the SAT. all the asian kids would get it right.

JadedOne said...

I love these noodles and so far I haven't seen a local pho place that can make it as you've described. The broth is a much darker shade of red and it although it tastes good to me, it probably isn't as good as the bowl you just had. *sigh* Maybe I should ask TigerFish for recs.

BoLA said...

Those infomercials and HSN help me sleep if all else fails. And yes, if my said baby girl turns to the dark side of GGW, I'd die. BAH!!!

I don't know why I think pho is bland. Every time I try it, I'm not sold. But these noodles look and sound delicious! I'd even try the pork blood... *shudders*

Your photos are absolutely delicious! Slurp!

Daily Gluttony said...

hawt damn, this place is down the street from our house. bun bo hue, here i come!

btw, the GGW angle is most creative; it's funny how all of us are all too familiar with those late night infomercials. if not GGW, then it's some 1-900-party line, get rich quick scheme, infomercial for useless gadgetry or car insurance commercial targeting people that don't have it. gotta love all those sleepless nights.

eatdrinknbmerry said...

WC, i know too many acronyms. NNKH is definitely the longest one I've had to use. I read somewhere that someone used potato starch to bind meat, could be wrong or a 'gwai-lo' technique. Thanks, RAU RAM is it, not the purple parilla herb. i'll remember that. I'm sure Bolsa has way better BBH, but for SGV, supposed to be good.

J!, that show is ok. I don't think the guy is as respectful as he should be if he's going into foreign food territory. Of course it's going to be bizarre dude, you're american.

SteamyK, haha. It's really not hot & spicy. I was exaggerating for the purpose of the GGW/pho analogy.

Jinius, haha that would be a great question:

nun:pho as GGW: ?????

hi jaded, wait where are you located? most vietnamese places will offer this dish.

bola, where are you eating pho? don't tell me le saigon in west la. it's pure sh*t. thanks!

Jeni said...

I need Nem Nuong and Bun Bo Hue now!!!

DG...we'll meet you there...sooo damn good!

eatdrinknbmerry said...

DG, i think you'll like this place. soup is really good.

Angie said...

I love love love coming here to read the way you talk about food. The blood cubes, though, I still have not wrapped my mind around that one.

JadedOne said...

I live in Northern California (San Jose area). I know that a lot of places serve bun bo hue, but I want a place that specializes in it.. or a place that makes it better what I've had so far.

nikkipolani said...

scrumptious photos!
*stomach rumbling*

The Guilty Carnivore said...

One thing I can't do is the cubes of blood.

For some reason whenever I'm watching the late night repeat of The Colbert Report, and one of those Girls Gone Wild commercials come on, I feel shame, humiliation, and embarrassment, which is soon followed by incensed outrage. In other words, I feel almost Republican.

Daily Gluttony said...

yo d,

just came back from eating bun bo hue here. i liked it alot...you're right, the soup is damn good! the only thing was that the noodles were a little too much on the soft side--woulda liked them if they were a little more al dente. prolly just an off-batch. thanks for the rec!

Passionate Eater said...

I hope you only know about Girls Gone Wild from the late-night infomercials (and not from the rental store)! ;) And thanks for your reassuring words D. I am so glad I got to meet you and J through food blogging, it is always so fun to read your posts and see your fun-loving personality shine through.

Slap Your Pap! said...

Pho Gone Wild, huh? A brave new chapter in the general greatness that is food porn.

eastside eats said...

dylan, you brought tears to my eyes with this entry. back in the day, noodle world use to serve bun bo hue and ceased to serve it. i was so sad because i never knew the name of it until now and where they serve it until now...

Sareet said...

Just came across your blog accidentally (can't remember what I was trying to look up) - love it! Great pictures too - can't wait to read more about good places to eat in LA.

Chubbypanda said...

I love Bun Bo Hue. It's probably my Taiwanese blood. Pile on the pig knuckles and pork blood tofu!

I hate rau ram. It's got a truly foul odor.

SiBuduhMan said...

Mmm - the pork blood cubes look especially good. I had the Finnish version on New Year's day (believe it or not) 2004, and my Finnish friends were shocked. They said, "You'd definitely impress our grandparents." I responded, "Remember, I'm Filipino. You don't even know the half of it." ;)

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