Nam Giao, featured on David Chang’s Ugly Delicious, is in a run-down shopping center off Bellaire. I turned off a couple times too early before actually finding this place. Nam Giao specializes in cuisine from Huê. This is one of only a couple restaurants in the city that do, in addition to the bún bò huê shops. Huê, located in central Vietnam, just below the 17th parallel, was the imperial capital for centuries until the French took over. Nam Giao is named after an esplanade in Hue where the king would hold offereing ceremonies for the gods. The citadel and royal tombs in Hue are stunning, but even more stunning is this city’s cuisine. This was the food of emperors.
Ai Le’s food at Nam Giao is “made according to traditional values, with hard works and with helps of todays’ means and technical know-how,” as the top of the menu states. I’ve listed some not-to-miss items below.
- Bánh bèo chén: small, round rice cakes topped with dried shrimp and pork crackling (picture 1 below)
- I could eat these all day long.
- Bánh boc loc lá: pork and shrimp stuffed in tapioca starch, then wrapped and steamed in banana leaf (picture 2)
- Bánh khoái: crispy rice pancake (picture 3)
- This isn’t my favorite version of the dish, as it’s too crispy/fried for my liking. I prefer the Southern version, bánh xèo. Definitely still dreaming of Bánh Xèo 46A in Saigon.
- Bánh nâm: thin pork and shrimp rice cake, wrapped in banana leaf like a Vietnamese tamale (picture 4)
- Chà Huê: sausage from Huê
- Hên xúc bánh da: baby clam meat served with rice cracker
When we complimented him on his appearance in Ugly Delicious, Ai Le replied, “We work hard. We didn’t expect that.” And that’s what’s so special about this place. Unassuming. Quiet. Just a man and his family sharing their cuisine with the country they love.
Tips? Wash it all down with Yeo’s soybean juice. Pay at the counter.
What to get? Everything. But, don’t miss the bánh bèo chén, bánh boc loc lá or bánh nâm.