Phở Cyclo

Phở  Review #15  –

collage of Pho Cyclo

Phở Cyclo located, in SODO, across the street from Starbuck’s Corporate office on 1st Avenue is probably the prettiest place to eat Phở in Seattle (except for the other four locations – I am guessing) .  The light streaming down from the skylights and the tromp l’oeil style murals create an atmosphere that is what I imagine a street eatery in Saigon might actually feel like.  We went on a rainy summer day and the ceiling fans moved the warm humid air around in a way that felt like being outdoors – breezy but still dry. It may be the fans, it may be the murals, and it may be my pining for escape and adventure to far away lands, but it did feel like we were eating in a sidewalk cafe.

The Spring Rolls are accompanied by a rich thick peanut sauce that I really would have happily eaten with a spoon. Rene was impressed with the size of the small bowl. “It is so big for a small,” she practically screamed. This is one of Paul’s favorite Phở places. He appreciates the simple, fresh ingredients and good cooking – “it’s not trying to be gourmet.”

We ordered: Spring Rolls, Small Phở Tai, Small Phở Gan – $21.68
Overall: We have, individually, and as a family eaten here many times. The Vermicelli bowl is excellent and they tofu dishes are satisfying (for vegetarian fare). Living in Burien, this is the perfect stop off location to and from Seattle – it is easy and convenient. And I realized I need to visit the other locations to experience the full effect.
Rene’s Rating: 4 stars -very good soup and a magical place to sit.

2414 First Ave S  – Seattle, WA
Hours: M-F 10AM-5:30PM, Saturday 10AM-3PM

Zucchini Everywhere

wholeZucchini is everywhere!  I have to admit the mole family in my garden has made an all too big impression and I shied from planting this year.  In a way, I am happy to be freed from the pressure of trying to figure out what to do with the bushels of zucchini that came out of the garden.  I literally ran around trying to keep up with picking the squash  And I would miss!  They would miraculously get too big in a matter of hours.  At 8 in the morning they were cute 3″ puppies and by 5 PM they were too big and woody for a saute.

Instead, I’ve leisurely visited local farmer’s markets and got to choose from many different  summer squashes, picking from an abundantly varied choice of colors and shapes.

As I have been learning more about Chinese cooking – especially in thinking about ways to use Chinese sausage, I have come up with a working theory that any recipe that uses bacon or pancetta can work with Lap Cheong.  It makes sense – sweet, fatty, cured meat. . .  tastes good with everything. Right?

My Mother taught me to cut squash in circles and then later in life I tried chunks.  A couple of weeks ago, I had ribbons at Café Campagne in Seattle’s Post Alley and I loved the way the shape carried the taste of the salty capers and creamy butter.  My family are not capers fans, so I got the idea to use them lightly and add Chinese sausage (because that is the ingredient that lures them to eat anything).

sliced zuchinni

Sauteed Zucchini with Chinese Sausage  – Recipe
4 medium sized Zucchini – washed and cut in half crosswise and then thinly sliced (I used a mandolin) lengthwise
1 Chinese Sausage, chopped finely
1/4 red onion, sliced very thin (I used the mandolin again) then chopped a few times to create rather small thin pieces
1 1/2 Tablespoons Olive Oil
1 teaspoon sugar
1 teaspoon capers
1 Tablespoon Butter
Salt & Pepper to taste

In a 10-12 inch flat-bottom fry pan, heat oil over medium-high eat until it sizzles when splashed with a drop of water.  Add the onions to oil and cook until they start to become tender, about 4 minutes.  Add the Chinese Sausage and continue cooking (and stirring) until cooked through, about 2 minutes.  Add the zucchini, capers, and sprinkle with sugar.  Continue cooking over medium high, and stir constantly  until zucchini is done, about 7 minutes more. Move the vegetables around gently to cook evenly and to keep the “ribbons” from breaking.   Using a silicon spatula works well. Turn off heat and add the butter, stirring until melted.  Season with salt and fresh ground pepper to taste.

7 minute prep, 15 minute cook time, serves 4





Phở Tai, Burien – Then & Now Phở Review #14

girl eating noodles

This past Friday, I came home from an annual all school retreat at Black Lakes camp with 498 high school students, staff, and parent volunteers.  It was a beautiful sunny three days, and the mood was brightened by my colleagues including their small children.  Watching all the toddlers transported me back to the days when my own kids went with me to camp and when they, too, needed constant entertaining.

Those days of hanging out with three year old Lia were filled with little adventures slipped between naps and reading and snacks and playing. I remember how fun it was to entertain her.  Of course one of the easiest things about Lia is that she would eat just about anything. Sitting still for too long was a problem, but eat was was not.  We ate Dim Sum and Sushi and Fresh Crab.  She was just as comfortable eating out of a taco truck as she was choosing from an Indian buffet. She liked eating so much that I often combined lunch with other errands.  This is when we started eating Phở.  Next to the Burien Safeway is a Phở shop always filled with customers.  In 2001, it was the only Phở in Burien.  I was curious and Lia was hungry.

Back when she was three, Phở Tai was Phở Hoa and nestled between a discount clothing store and a Boehm’s candy counter. After sharing a large bowl for $8 (tip included), we would walk next door and she would pick out a foil wrapped chocolate  – the kind that were formed into shapes of animals, insects, cars, and hearts.  Eat yummy Phở and get candy after.  If that wasn’t magical enough, she fell asleep on the way home – this was an arrangement we both really liked.

Eating Phở became a regularly asked for lunch.  Getting chocolate was also part of this regular routine.  When Rene, her sister, came home in 2002, it was one of the first things Lia wanted to show her.  And she loved it.

Rene and I ate there again just last week.  The shop changed from Phở Hoa to Phở Tai seamlessly somewhere along these years. The decor changed slightly and the waitresses stayed on.  The broth is exactly the same but the candy counter closed five or so years ago.  We will always love coming here because separating memory from meal isn’t possible.

photo collage of Pho Tai

We ordered: Three Small Phở Tai last month – $20.96
Overall: This is the first place I had Phở, this is the first place Lia had Phở, this is the first place Rene had Phở, this is the place I first heard of Phở’s affect on making Paul sleepy
Rene’s Rating: 4 1/2 stars for the broth and the memories

1521 SW 98th Street – Seattle, WA
Hours: daily 9 AM – 9 PM




Sticky Rice Without the Sticky Rice

sticky rice ingredients

Sticky Rice, Nuo Mai Fan, is made with glutinous rice, a short grain sweet rice that is often used for making Sushi or Thai Sticky Rice. When I was a kid, my Mom and Dad mostly made See Ew Fan (Soy Sauce Rice) with long grain rice. We ate this a lot – well, okay, every morning. Every evening after washing the dishes and cleaning the kitchen from dinner, my Mother stood in the corner of the kitchen, defatting and chopping meat and washing rice for the next mornings See Ew Fan, which was a simple pilaf-like dish made on top of the stove with rice, chopped meat, ginger, garlic, and soy sauce. In the morning, my Father turned it on and went running. When I was in high school, I scooped a bowl and ate it while blow-drying my gorgeous locks.

On special occasions – Thanksgiving, Family Gatherings, and on Weekends – they would make Nuo Mai Fan, which in our home was a much fancier version of what we ate on a daily basis.

Nuo Mai Fan has a stickier consistency than plain rice and contains Chinese Sausage, which was, for me and my brothers, the defining feature of the dish. The stickiness is determined by the proportion of glutinous sweet rice to “regular” rice. Recipes range from 100% glutinous sweet rice (typical of Dim Sum dishes) to half sweet rice and half long or medium grain rice. When I was just out of college and short on funds, I used one part sweet to two parts “regular” rice just to save money.

After my brother said, ” You can make Sticky Rice without sticky rice, but you can’t make it without Chinese Sausage,” I started making the dish with Calrose, a medium grain rice. The recipe I share is neither Nuo Mai Fan nor Fried Rice. Instead, it’s a Chinese flavor inspired rice pilaf.

fried rice and egg

Sticky Rice

Chinese Sausage and Rice Pilaf – Recipe
1/4 lb. ground pork (about 1/2 cup)
3 Tablespoons Soy Sauce, divided
3 cups Calrose rice (if you are using the cups that come with a rice cooker, use 4)
1/2 cup chopped shallot or red onion
1 teaspoon minced garlic
2 slices ginger, about 2″ in diameter, use and discard before eating
1 cup shredded carrots (it much easier if you buy it already shredded)
2 cups frozen corn (or one 15 oz can, drained)
4 Chinese Sausages – 2 chopped fine, and 2 chopped course (this is my preference for texture – all the same size is fine too)
2 Tablespoons Hoisin Sauce
1 Tablespoon Oyster Sauce (or Chinese Mushroom Sauce, or Vietnamese Fish Sauce)
1/4 teaspoon fresh ground black pepper
1 1/2 Tablespoons Vegetable Oil
1 Tablespoon Sesame Oil
1 bunch green onion, chopped
8 large eggs – poached or fried (optional, but this is my favorite part)
Salt & Pepper to taste
Sriracha Hot Chili Sauce

Mix 1 Tablespoon of Soy Sauce with the pork and let sit for about 10- 15 minutes while you prep the other ingredients.

Wash and cook the rice according to package instructions.

Prep ingredients – chop and ready.

While the rice is cooking, heat oil (medium high heat) in a wok or large sauté pan until a drop of water sizzles and sauté shallots until tender, about 2 minutes.

Add pork and ginger, garlic to onions and sauté until cooked, about 3 minutes. Move the meat around while cooking so it crumbles.

Add carrots, corn, sausage, Hoisin Sauce, Oyster Sauce, 2 Tablespoons Soy Sauce, black pepper. Mix and lower heat to medium. Sauté until carrots are soft and all ingredients are mixed together and hot.

Lower heat to medium low and add Sesame Oil and stir to combine. Add cooked rice and mix all the ingredients together. The meat sauce should be integrated into the rice and the color of the rice will turn tan. Pull out the ginger and discard.  Add the green onion and mix well. Salt and pepper to taste.

Top each serving with a poached or fried egg and drizzle Sriracha over egg as desired.

15 minute prep, 35 minute cook time, serves 6- 8

chopped sausage



Phở Vina – review #13 20140712-165806-61086912.jpg Phở Vina has been a family favorite for many years.  It’s the place I take the girls when they want Phở and I don’t.  For years, this is my “go-to” place for Pad Thai when I don’t want to cook or leave Burien. While this is a Vietnamese Restaurant, it does host a few Thai dishes and an array of excellent vegetarian entrees too.  The Pad Thai is super fresh tasting – not too saucy.  Once I get started, there really isn’t any control and I just eat until it is gone.  Perhaps this is not so good for the waistline but it is very good for my soul.  The moderate portion size helps be feel less “pigged-out.”

Following custom, Rene ordered Phở and I did not.  She said the soup was good but on the thin side and the meat slightly bland.  I ordered the Banh Mi Sandwich.  It too was a little bland.

We ate: Small Phở Tai, Banh Mi Sandwich (one for there and one to go)
Overall: This is a neighborhood favorite.  The restaurant is a pleasant place for regular everyday eating out.  The Phở is good, but if we were going out specifically for soup, we would likely choose another. If looking for Pad Thai, I would definitely come here.
Rene’s rating: 4 out of 5

Address: 15623 1st Avenue S, Burien WA
Hours: Mon-Sat 10 AM- 9 PM, Sunday 11 AM – 8 PM

Summer Days – Fresh Corn with Chinese Sausage Recipe

Corn and Sausage

I am a high school teacher by profession and I have a wonderful colleague who used to text the entire staff when Summer was exactly at the mid-point.  It must somehow be the glass is half “whatever” problem, because he has since stopped this practice, citing “everyone hated it.”  The mid-point is a bittersweet date, because half the summer still stretches out before us, with promises of hot weather, fun times, and more picnics.

Today is August 11 and with an August 21 “teachers back to work” date, the summer is more than half over, it is coming to a screeching halt.   And the dwindling fresh corn supply follows suit.  At last week’s Farmer’s Market, I picked up what I believe is the last of the local corn and am more than a little sad as my family (well, maybe except me, the Mom) counts this easy to make food as a vegetable.

I can soak the whole corn in water and stick it on a fire or barbecue,  shuck and boil it, or serve it practically raw and everyone is always happy.  Over the years, with braces and such, I started cutting it off the cob before serving and them, soon after, before cooking.  We discovered a quick sauté with salt, pepper, and butter makes a delicious side dish whether hot, cold, or at room temperature.  During the winter, we use frozen corn with similar results.  I have since added some Chinese Sausage for an added twist.

bowl of corn

Fresh Corn with Chinese Sausage  – Recipe
3 ears of corn, shucked and cut kernels off of cob
1 Chinese Sausage, chopped finely
1 1/2 Tablespoons Olive Oil
1 Tablespoon Butter
Salt & Pepper to taste

After shucking the corn break, cut off the tip of the cob or cut the cob in half, creating a flat end.  With a knife, slice the corn as you rotate the cob.  Putting a cutting board into a full sized cookie sheet or inverting a small bowl inside a larger bowl will keep the kernels from flying all over the kitchen.

In a 10-12 inch flat-bottom fry pan, heat oil until it sizzles when splashed with a drop of water.  Add the corn kernels and stir to coat with oil.  Then let the corn sit for 2 minutes over high heat.  Stir and let cook, without disturbing for an additional 2 minutes.  And once more, stir and let it cook, undisturbed, for 2 minutes.  This browns the corn.  Add the chopped Chinese Sausage, lower heat to medium high, and stir constantly  until corn is done, about 5 minutes more.  Turn off heat and add the butter, stirring until melted.  Season with salt and pepper to taste.

7 minute prep, 10 minute cook time, serves 4

Cutting Corn

“You can make Sticky Rice without sticky rice, but you can’t make it without Chinese Sausage.”

Twelve posts into my blog and I already digress.  I have decided to take two separate paths – Pho soup reviews and a deeper exploration into a single ingredient (Lap Cheong) that has been an integral part of my upbringing and a seemingly under-utilized ingredient in Asian Restaurant cuisine.

Many years ago, after a long bike ride in Boulder, my brother and I decided to make “Nuo Mai Fan” (Sweet Sticky Rice) both because it is delicious and because we were trying to recapture a little of our childhood.  Even in the mid-1990’s, authentic Chinese ingredients were hard to come by in places like Colorado, so as a good “Deh De” (older Sister) would do, I packed a couple of frozen packages of “Lap Cheong” (Chinese Sausage) and flew from Seattle with them (this was post post 911 and doing such things were not acts of transgression, but truly just what everyone did out of habit or duty).

While cooking, I was inspired by Kori, my sister-in-law, and decided to make a “healthier, vegetarian” version of the dish.  When Bryan walked into the kitchen, he was incensed with the very idea and said what is one of the most memorable cooking phrases in my life,

“You can make Sticky Rice without sticky rice, but you can’t make it without Chinese Sausage.”

That is one point well taken and I immediately and obediently went and extracted the sausage from my suitcase.  And from that time on, I have always (yes, always) made sure NEVER to substitute or omit Chinese Sausage from traditional and published recipes.

One of the most traditional home-cooked Chinese meals is steamed rice with sausage and some green vegetable on the side.  Here my updated version that fuses Chinese heritage with new ingredients that makes it work for my not-so-traditional Chinese/American family.


Gingery Rice & Potato w/ Lap Cheong – one pot recipe
1 1/2 cups white rice (we like Calrose) – this is two “rice cooker – measuring units”
2 medium sized Yukon Gold or White Potatoes – peeled and diced into 1″ pieces3 slices of fresh ginger
2 1/2 cups water
1/2 teaspoon “Better than Bouillon” reduced sodium chicken base (or one cube Chicken Bouillon cube)
1/2 teaspoon salt (omit if using bouillon cube)
1/4 teaspoon pepper
1 1/2 Lap Cheong (Chinese Sausage) – cut in thin slices (1/8″) diagonally
3 Tablespoons chopped green onion

Put all ingredients EXCEPT Lap Cheong and Green Onion in a rice cooker and cook for 15 minutes; and then add sliced Lap Cheong.  When rice is done, push Lap Cheong to the side of the pot.  Remove and discard ginger slices. Add green onions and stir.  Put Lap Cheong on top or rice and serve with a salad or steamed vegetables.

If you are cooking the the rice over the stove, bring all ingredients except Lap Cheong and green onion to a boil.  Reduce to a very low simmer for 15 minutes and then add the Lap Cheong.  Re-cover and cook for 5-10 minute until rice is done.  Push Lap Cheong to the side of the pot.  Remove and discard ginger slices. Add green onions and stir.  Put Lap Cheong on top or rice and serve with a salad or steamed vegetables.

Rice & Potato with Sausage