The French set up shop in Vietnam in 1859, and after quite a few skirmishes, created “French Indochina” in 1885. They remained in Vietnam until they were booted out in the mid 1950s, but those 95 years in between created a marriage of flavors and cultures to behold for a delectable fusion treat.
Traditional Vietnamese cuisine features a combination of five fundamental taste elements in the overall meal: spicy (metal), sour (wood), bitter (fire), salty (water), and sweet (Earth). Each Vietnamese dish has a distinctive flavor which reflects one or more of these elements. Common ingredients include fish sauce, shrimp paste, soy sauce, rice, fresh herbs, fruits and vegetables.
Cam Thai, his wife, Hue Huynh, and their family had a long and somewhat adventurous journey to American from their native Vietnam in 1985 and settle in Carson City for a time. It had always been Thai’s dream to one day a restaurant and in 1994, he took over what is now the Golden Flower.
The place is simple, with neat tables and seats for about 85. It’s open well into the wee hours of the morning. It’s a friendly environment with friendly staff. There’s a very extensive menu, and prices range from $5.95 to $11.95. The food is made to order, and the portions often generous. If you’ve never had pho, the beef and noodle soup that’s known as the national dish of Vietnam, I can’t think of a better place to start, because they offer 25 variations on the menu. But I’m very familiar with that dish, particularly great in cold, snowy weather, and I was out for an experience—and an experience I had.
I started out with a simple spring roll ($5.50). Shrimp, pork and super fresh vegetables wrapped in rice paper and served with a creamy peanut sauce complementing the rolls with a touch of sweet heat. Next a baacute;nh mì thit nuông ($4.99), sometimes also referred to as a “Vietnamese hoagie,” served with barbecued pork that was marinated with a little sweetness and grilled. Add a smokin’ jalapeño, pickled onions, cucumbers and carrots on a French roll and you’ve got a three-alarmer going on in your mouth—my sinuses were cured!
Canh chua tôm, a hot and sour shrimp soup ($7.95), was oh so flavorful. It had some pineapple, carrots, celery, bamboo shoots and elephant ears—huge, green leafy plant with natural sugars producing a sweet nutty flavor—in a light broth with a base of tamarind, a southeast Asian spice with a tart/sweet taste, a favorite in Vietnamese cuisine. It was garnished with lemony herbs, caramelized garlic and chopped scallions.
Bún thit nuông chaacute; giò is a bowl with flame-broiled pork and imperial rolls with noodles ($7.95). You get a deep-fried spring roll with shrimp, pork, cabbage and shiitake mushrooms nice and crispy. The wonderful sliced pork is marinated in lemongrass, shallots, garlic, sugar, fish sauce, pepper, dark soy sauce and sesame oil for several hours and then grilled. Vermicelli noodles and fish sauce poured over the top that was savory, lightly sweet and salty tasting, sour and spicy with carottes finement tranchées. The flavor and texture experience on the palate is gratifying and even delicate.
And then a dessert, ché, a three-colored bean dessert ($3). Made with mung beans, kidney beans, great northern white beans, tapioca, clear jelly strands and coconut cream. Served like a parfait, you mix everything together, and have the extraordinarily refreshing sweet/savory almost drink finishers. Again, it’s another flavor/texture experience for your mouth.
Food lovers and culture buffs with a passion for fresh flavors will find the Golden Flower a great way to experience one of the world’s best unions, that of Euro-Asian cuisine.