by Mike Sula
Tet, the Vietnamese New Year, falls on Monday (Year of Dragon, yo), and there are giant moon cakes for sale at Nhu Lan Bakery, home of the finest banh mi in the land. There are also two new banh mi on the menu, the first sandwiching bo la lot, the betel-nut-leaf-wrapped beef cigars. I died a little when I saw they'd run out of those yesterday, but they did have bo kho banh mi (or bo ko, as they call it), which is not a sandwich but a rich stew of beef and carrot spiced with lemongrass and star anise.
I know I wrote the other day that a kho is something simmered down in a bitter caramel sauce in a clay pot, but according to Andrea Ngyuen in Into the Vietnamese Kitchen, this one's an exception. And you can see the connection—kho is "to simmer" or "to stew." Carrots and beef are cooked down with lemongrass, star anise, fish sauce, tomato, and brown sugar until soft and yielding. Typically eaten at breakfast, at Nhu Lan it's yours anytime. You can customize the spicing with basil, jalapeño slices, a mix of salt and white pepper, and a squirt of lime. It also comes with one of the Nhu Lan's crackly, feather-light rice-flour mini baguettes, which you dunk into the container and sop up the precious liquor au jus style. It's a steal at $4.98. Chuc mung nam moi("Happy New Year").