I’m a fan of Vietnamese food, and San Jose is said to have some of the best in this country, which makes sense because it has the largest Vietnamese community outside of Vietnam.
During the holiday break, I drove down to visit my good friend Denise and her girls, and we met up at one of the popular Vietnamese shopping malls called Grand Century on Story Road. We weren’t really there to do any shopping, but instead I wanted to check out its food court known for offering a variety of Vietnamese favorites all in one spot.
It’s true that there are probably better Vietnamese food at nearby restaurants, but the Grand Century mall makes it easy for us to try a variety of items in one spot. Although the mall has been open for a few years, it’s still modern and well maintained.
In some ways, it reminds me of the Ben Thanh Market in Ho Chi Minh City, which is a smorgasbord of food vendors and retail booths. Grand Century combines a food court with a few retail stores and a couple of large anchor restaurants.
But the food court is the definite draw, as demonstrated by how it got progressively crowded during the lunch hour when we were there.
I started by checking out the sugar cane juice vendor, who make freshly pressed sugar cane juices in a variety of flavors. They were doing a special matcha flavor that I wanted to try, and drinking it reminded me of soy milk.
Then we visited the banh xeo stand, which makes the rice flour crepes yellow with tumeric and eaten like a lettuce wrap. I generally don’t order this because the ones I’ve had in the past were often soggy because of the bean sprouts in the filling, but this version was amazingly crispy, which kept up its crispy texture even when wrapped in the leafy greens.
Of course, we had to try the pho noodles, so we visited the pho restaurant and order a bowl of regular pho and my favorite, bun rieu, the rice soup noodle dish with a tomato base. It was actually Denise’s first time trying bun rieu. The soup noodles were decent but not necessarily the best.
We were going to move onto com tam, or broken rice plates, but the restaurant we wanted to try, Com Tam Thien Huong, was closed on Tuesday. So we headed back to the food court to try a few rolls, including the banh cuon, which are the flat rice noodles, and the nem nuong cuon, which are spring rolls (made with translucent rice paper) with grilled pork.
The nem nuong cuon was perfectly done, with tasty grilled pork and a crunchy element (Denise guessed it was sheets of fried rice paper) that added a nice texture to the overall eating experience.
We ended our food tasting adventure by going to the bakery to get the girls’ favorite dessert, which is a green waffle. I asked Denise what it was, and she says they simply referred to it as the Vietnamese green waffles, but tasting it I got a bit of coconut milk and the green color made me think of the pandan leaves that are popular in Southeast Asia.
Coming home, Google said these are banh kep la dura, or pandan coconut waffles (I guessed right!). The girls love these because they grew up eating them, but I actually wished it had something more like cream or, say, maple syrup.
Grand Century mall has some of the best Vietnamese bites I’ve had in the Bay Area, and it’s a great gathering place for the community. If you’re interested in getting an introduction to Vietnamese cuisine, Grand Century is a great place to start.
The deets: Grand Century Shopping Mall, 1111 Story Road, San Jose, Calif. PH: 408.295.3175. Open daily. Facebook page.
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