got in the car today knowing, thankfully, that Heng Lay would be open for lunch. Staying in Medford this week, so it’s really not a bad ride–just about a half hour or so. Arrived a little before noon but the place was pretty full already, though had no trouble being seated. My food took a while to come out (but since I was in no hurry this wasn’t an issue) and when it did come it was sure worth the wait. Had the sweet and sour chicken soup, and it was fantastic, especially on a cold day like today. Scallions, Asian basil, tomatoes, pineapple, big chunks of chicken in a delicious sweet/sour broth that smelled of galangal and was clean tasting. There was also a white tubular vegetable in here that added some crunch, that I’m not quite sure what it was–it seemed sort of like heart of palm but had a lot more tensile strength than that usually does. There was also a crunchy topping that appeared to be maybe something akin to a candied chicken skin or something along those lines…in any case, this is an amazing, complex soup with a whole lot going on in it. Highly recommended.
Also had the sadout salad with pork belly. My cursory internet research seems to indicate that sadout (aka sadao) comes from a tree more commonly known in India as neem, and the part used in this dish appears to be the flower buds and some of their accompanying young leaves. The rest of the salad consisted of cucumbers, red and green peppers, Asian basil , bean sprouts and some crunchy battered and fried pork belly. Here again there was a great contrast of textures and tastes, though be warned if you don’t much like bitter flavors as the sadout is really fairly extreme in that department. A really interesting and unique dish if you can handle that, though, and I’ll post my mediocre picture of it below for reference’s sake.
Even though I was full already, since I don’t get to Lowell much I thought I’d make a few stops. After a brief bit of architectural nerdery stopping by to look at the totally cool Jonathan Bowers House, I headed to 100 year old Cotes Market to pick up a salmon pie and some of their baked beans. I’d heard that this old landmark was up for sale last year but near as I can tell it’s still going strong cranking out pies, brown bread, Italian wedding beans and such and operating as a classic neighborhood market. The pie is headed for the freezer, but I tried a spoonful of the beans and they were good and on the low end of sweetness scale where I like them.
After that, I swung by the Athenian Corner and picked up some grape leaves for later. It was kind of deserted in there, but the grape leaves looked good when they came out and hopefully will reheat OK for dinner. (I resisted the temptation to chow one down in the car, and I hope you’re all impressed by my restraint).
I really wanted to go and walk around a bit in the Andover St Historic District and go to a couple more places, but given the ridiculous cold I decided to just go to one more spot and then light out for home. Last hit was Hong Cuc Grand Eatery, a small market with takeout banh mi and coffee and a good selection of assorted other Vietnamese snacks. Got a pork roll banh mi and an iced coffee to go, it seemed sort of insane to drink an iced coffee today but well, that’s me, and what the heck it was good to drink on the drive home. I’m just now eating a part of the banh mi for an afternoon snack and it’s pretty nice–pork roll, pate, carrot and cuke etc on a crusty roll. One big minus is that I asked for spicy and got no kind of hot peppers of any kind, I kind of think the lady who made my sandwich didn’t understand I wanted chilies/jalapenos or whatever it is they use. Partially this is my fault–I wasn’ t really watching her make my banh mi, I was wandering around looking at spring rolls, the Lays honey butter chips and the case of Vietnamese pate. Next time I’ll pay more attention. The younger woman who rung me up and made me a delicious coffee was super nice though, and I also have to point out that this place is really kept spotlessly clean. Would love to go back and try some of their other prepared foods and bahn mi at a later date.