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Our not-so-recent dinner menu (oysters & quails & mackerel & ducks! oh my!)

Wherever we’ve lived, we’ve become known among friends for elaborate, fancy dinners (but bring your own chairs). The shindigs serve multiple purposes: it’s fun to play restaurant and we love the occasions to cook together; they allow us to work out and organize into a menu the many random ideas we’ve collected; they let us hang out with our friends and provides us with, in the form of those selfsame friends, guinea pigs to test newest creations on.

This dinner was no different. Taking advantage of Lamp’s rare long visit to the bay area, we decided to hold a dinner with 4 originally planned courses that ballooned to 12 by the time our guests arrived. The menu was a mix of repeats of past successes (roasted salted kumquat quails, sake kasu marinated cod, forbidden rice amazake), brand new creations (bossam-inspired oysters, mackerel braised in green/barley tea, duck dishes, etc.), and cookbook recipe (tomato soup with yuba cream). The dishes were rooted in Vietnamese, Korean, and Japanese cuisines but each had a twist marking them as a product of our kitchen. We took care with each dish to provide a different view, one that incorporated new ingredients available in a modern multicultural society, without obscuring the unique characteristics that made the traditional version so appealing.

Mackerel braised in barley tea

We were especially very excited that our crazy idea for bossam-inspired oysters worked out so well. The idea for this dish had been endlessly brainstormed and sketched out for about 6 months before we got the ingredients together for v1.0 – and tested it out right away. Modernist techniques and traditional Mediterranean ham replaced key bossam ingredients but reconstituted the distinctive flavor combination and preserved the tactile fun of making your own roll.

Another dish that blew us away was the tomato soup with yuba cream intermezzo. The recipe piqued our curiosity due to the unusual flavor combinations and now we are smitten with the possibilities of yuba cream in other dishes.

Communist and nationalist chao together at last

Home-cooking staples were not immune from our tweaking either. Cá thu kho trà (caramelized braised fish with tea) received a fragrant addition in the barley tea version and a crispy charred tea leaves crust green tea version. Vịt nấu chao (fermented bean curd marinated duck hot pot) was experimented in 2 different ways and showed us more possibilities for tofu misozuke. Recipes to come soon.

Lá giang sour soup with chicken

Other dishes also worked out well. We appreciated the positive feedback from our friends and we will post more about individual dishes from this dinner. You don’t just have to take our words for it, either: Mai @ FlavorBoulevard wrote up her dinner experience and posted  more photos of the dinner.


  1. I love your endless creativity. I think you really should seriously look into starting a restaurant, perhaps when the economy gets better. Start forming the concept of the restaurant and make a list of what you need. I feel like your food is closest in concept to Mission Chinese, where it’s an interesting twist on the authentic, but it’s not aloof. But I like your food more than Mission Chinese. 😉

    • Heh, thanks, Mai! [blush] I don’t think we are that creative. Well, I am not. Dang is, so I drag our combined creative quotient down :). First thing we need to do before we start on the restaurant dream is the 2 of us need to be in the same city. We do talk about different aspects of the dream from time to time. We’ll see. I’ll need to try Mission Chinese some time soon. Maybe next time Dang is in the Bay Area.

  2. Hahaha…which chao tastes better, nationalist or communist? Have you always cooked lá giang or is it a recent discovery? I don’t think I’ve ever heard of it (until now via Rau Om). Keep up the cool stuff!!

    • Thanks, Ngan, for thinking our stuff is cool!

      Heh, they have very different textures so it’s hard to compare :P.

      This is so strange that no one knows what la giang is. I grew up eating canh chua la giang all the time so when I saw it in the frozen section at the supermarket, I almost jumped up and down with excitement because I hadn’t had it in a long time. I like the smooth, mellow sourness of la giang. Not so sharp like vinegar and more subtle than tamarind.

  3. Can you please tell me where you got your lá giang? I live in Orange County California and have been searching high and low for it! I would really appreciate your answer! Thanks in advance!

    • Hi Truc Linh,

      I got it from the frozen section – you should be able to find it there to. I can’t imagine OC grocery stores would be less well-stocked than what we have here.

      Take care,