>> Lẩu Tôm 5 Ri | Eat the World Los Angeles

Wednesday, 15 September 2021

Lẩu Tôm 5 Ri

VIETNAM 🇻🇳
Facade of Lau Tom 5 Ri

COVID-19 UPDATE: The dining room is open and a couple tables are outside in the parking lot with a heat lamp for night seating. The staff, unlike a lot of the county, is masked.

EDITOR'S NOTE: The flag of Vietnam is used as a placeholder and not a political statement.

While popular ramen chains from Japan and barbecue and other specialists from Korea are constantly setting up shop for their respective expat and multi-generational communities in and around Los Angeles, the Vietnamese of Orange County have a bit different relationship with "back home." If something is trending in Bangkok, you will most certainly find it within a year or two in Thai Town. But does the area see the hottest new ideas from Hanoi, Hue, and Ho Chi Minh City?

While Vietnamese people started showing up as a result of the failed American War in Vietnam in the last half of the 1970's, not a ton has changed in the decades since, as this time period also served as a severing of lives and families. Therefore it was with some excitement that the words "Bien Hoa, Since 1992" showed up under the sign of new Lau Tom 5 Ri in Fountain Valley, alluding to a business that has decided to make the jump and open stateside.

Sweet snails with tamarind sauce (ốc hương rang me)

When counted alone, Bien Hoa is the fifth largest city in Vietnam and lies just northeast of Ho Chi Minh City. As one of the biggest locations of resistance to the North Vietnamese after the fall, it almost makes sense to see one of its restaurants become a hot spot in Orange County, a place you will still rarely if ever see the flag of Vietnam to this day. The beloved foods of the Mekong Delta region, not too far away from Bien Hoa, are what you will find here, using the fresh catch of Southern California as a substitute.

You can start a meal with one of four sauce options on sweet snails (oc huong), big, meaty creatures of surprising length once fished from their shells. Oc huong rang me ($15, above) are in a very good tamarind sauce, but you can also select crowd favorite salted egg yolk, garlic butter, and lemongrass versions. Regardless of what you decide, the snails are cooked very fresh.

Spicy grilled squids (mực nướng sa tế)

On this occasion an order of the popular sugarcane shrimp or chao tom were unfortunately unavailable, but this was forgotten as soon as the muc nuong sa te ($12, above) hit the table. These spicy grilled squid are cooked over fire, giving them burnt edges and smokiness to combine with the excellent marinade.

The spicy dipping sauce they come with will start to get used by pieces of everything else on the table, as it is outrageously delicious. The meaty chunks of squid have the pleasant consistency closer to a fine steak or pork chop than they do to cheap bar snack calamari.

House special prawns hot pot (small) Lẩu Tôm Càng Đặc Biệt

No matter how good the starters are though, everything seems like build-up to the main event of canh chua, a soup made sour by tamarind and served in a hot pot (lẩu). It is also a bit sweet from pineapples and tomatoes and full of morning glory, okra, and a doc mung, which was being freshly chopped up in the back as the meal began.

In Bien Hoa and Ho Chi Minh City locations of this restaurant as well as many other businesses, this soup is often served with the freshwater fish found in the Mekong River Delta. It can also be paired with prawns, squid, fish cakes, or even spare ribs or quail eggs.

House special prawns hot pot (small) Lẩu Tôm Càng Đặc Biệt

Here in Fountain Valley the top options for the soup are shrimp and prawns, and it is hard not to select the version with the largest freshwater prawns, the house special lau tom cang dac biet ($43 small, above). These are almost comically large, with heads ready to be sucked. A plate of pre-cooked vermicelli noodles is served alongside, which you can add to the hot pot or to your individual bowls.

While the prawns are undoubtedly fresh and divine, the soup itself is the real star here, full of so many flavors to explore. The morning glory (ong choy) is the vegetable that stands out the most, and also is used in salads and many other dishes at the restaurant. In fact, upon venturing out to the parking lot after the meal ended, a delivery of fresh bushels had just arrived in the back of a family member's SUV.

📍 17431 Brookhurst Street, Fountain Valley, Orange County

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