The Lemongrass is Always Greener

Columns What's for Lunch?

September 1, 2013

Story By: Rachel Breit | Photos by: Rachel Breit

In Vietnam, markets bustle with hungry cooks gathering fresh ingredients to prepare for their daily meals. After zipping home on mopeds laden with baskets of fruit and vegetables, the Vietnamese go straight to cooking. It is this freshness that epitomizes Vietnamese cuisine.

“It’s all very natural — the healthiness of it, the veggies. There’s not a lot of fat in it, and it stays with you,” says Walter James. A Vietnam War veteran and world traveller, James has a particular fondness for the food and way of life in Vietnam. He has been to 153 countries, and claims that Vietnam is one of his favorites.

James, a financial advisor, helped husband-and-wife team Tommy Dang and Lien Bui open Pho My Lien, a Vietnamese eatery. The name is a combination of Tommy and Lien’s given names, My and Lien. James has even visited Lien’s hometown in Vietnam, where he tasted her mother’s cooking. “(Lien) got a lot of her recipes from her mother,” he says.

Small batches of fresh ingredients are delivered to Pho My Lien for Lien to use to create edible works of art. “She’s in the kitchen seven days a week,” James says. Lien is the chef, while Tommy manages the restaurant. Every day she offers diners a variety of dishes to choose from, but Lien won’t give away what makes up her secret spice mixes.

Broccoli Sauteed ($7.95) with chicken features one such confidential concoction. Lien combines broccoli, carrots and onions with garlic, crushed red pepper and seasonings, and quickly stirs them around the wok. The vegetables retain their crispness and burst with color. “They’re not soggy,” says James. The tender, bite-sized pieces of chicken are full of gingery flavor. The dish can also be prepared with pork, beef, shrimp or tofu.

Hot Spicy Lemongrass Stir-Fried ($7.95) with shrimp (choose from other protein options, too) also has a list of guarded ingredients. It is safe to say that lemongrass stalks, thick-cut onions and celery comprise the medium-spicy dish. A garlicky, lemon-grass-spiked seasoning coats the tail-on shrimp and vegetables that are served on a large leaf of lettuce. “Every dish (Lien) presents nicely; it’s not just thrown on,” says James. However, the crisp lettuce leaf goes beyond garnish.

The Rice Plate ($7.50, September special) features a house-made fish sauce, the details of which are also not divulged. “It has a tangier appeal, a little sweetness to it,” James says. The plate comes with a choice of meat, such as thinly-sliced beef, which is marinated in soy sauce, honey and brown sugar, then seared on the grill for a tasty char. It is served with sticky or brown rice, and tomatoes, cucumbers and lettuce as a side salad.

For these traditional Vietnamese dishes and more, hop on your moped and make it in to Pho My Lien. The restaurant also offers monthly discounts on specified dishes, a 10 percent discount for military and takeout options.

Pho My Lien

Westridge Shopping Center
98-150 Kaonohi St., Ste. B213-B, Aiea
Monday-Saturday, 10 a.m.-10 p.m.
Sunday, 10 a.m.-8 p.m.

Aiea, HI 96701

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