Friday, December 2, 2011

Thanh Tong - Falls Church

Thanh Tong is located in the West Saigon wing of the Eden Center, one of several interior "malls" squirreled away in the recesses of this center of Vietnamese commerce. A small store front, Thanh Tong literally feels like a mom and pop hole in the wall minus the pop. The proprietor is a friendly, middle-aged Vietnamese woman who speaks halting English. She had two others helping her while I was there, one Vietnamese, the other Hispanic, both of whom spoke less English than the owner. Luckily, the language barrier only poses a small problem; all you need is a finger to point out the #9 Bun Bo Hue entree on the menu, and after that, pantomime and smiles can carry you for the rest of the day.

The #9 Bun Bo Hue is the specialty of this restaurant. What you get is a deeply flavored beef noodle soup filled with a texturally diverse array of Vietnamese sausage, beef, sliced pig's knuckles, and, if you're lucky, blood pudding (unfortunately, we came late and I believe they ran out of blood pudding for our bowls). Each bowl of Bun Bo Hue comes with a huge platter of bean sprouts and fresh herbs. It goes without saying that you should fill your bowls up with veggies because the crunch of vegetables and tang from the herbs provide an essential counterpoint to the chew of the meats and offal in your soup.

The noodles are of a thicker variety, quite dissimilar from the vermicelli you get in pho. These noodles had a pleasing bite and managed to soak up the beefy broth quite well. I would also recommend you take a spoonful of the fermented shrimp paste and stir it into the adds a certain indefinable something, part saline, part maritime, that enhances the overall dish. The hot sauce available on the table was also delicious, milder than Sriracha, but somehow gouleyant in quality, I was eating it by the spoonful unaccompanied by food, it was that good. I recommend taking a spoonful and stirring it into the peanut sauce if you order fresh summer rolls. It provides a nice lift and spice to the peanut sauce without overwhelming it with heat.

While the ambiance of Thanh Tong is starkly minimalist, the restaurant still has a charm that only an austerely functional ethnic restaurant can have: the promise of an exquisitely unique meal that comes at the expense of flashy decor and style. For a meal as comforting, homey, and delicious as the #9 Bun Bo Hue, that is an expense I would gladly pay.

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