Authentic Vietnamese in CharlotteNovember 28, 2012
In Charlotte, which is known for welcoming newcomers, Central Avenue, on the east side of the city, is one of those places where Latin American, Middle Eastern, Asian and other international markets and restaurants concentrate and thrive. It’s streets are lined with unassuming venues serving and selling workaday food and goods the way it’s done in their respective home countries, more focused on authenticity than atmosphere or doting service.
If you’re in Charlotte and craving the bold tastes and flavors of Vietnamese cooking (perhaps passing through on I-85 on the drive home from a buttery turkey and dressing-laden holiday, for example), you’d do well to take a Central Avenue detour for the most authentic Vietnamese restaurant in the city, called Ben Thanh. Named for one of the best known food markets in Ho Chi Minh City, Ben Thanh is owned by a dedicated Vietnamese family who cooks there the way they’ve done at home, inspired by the cooking of their mother, Ngan Nguyen. (The family originally owned another Charlotte Vietnamese spot, Lang Van.)
(Above: Can Chua Ca, or Sweet and Sour Soup with Catfish)
Ben Thanh’s menu is filled with sublime Vietnamese dishes that blend the influence of classic French technique with the tropical ingredients of Vietnam, and that cuisine’s penchant for balancing sweet, sour, salty, bitter, spicy, and savory tastes with bold flavors, herbs, and a variety of temperatures and textures. Fresh summer rolls, pho, warming hot pots brimming with meats and vegetables, and classics like Can Chua Ca, or sour fish soup, with its delicately sweet and sour broth flavored with tamarind and featuring hearty okra and delicately simmered catfish—are all done beautifully.
(Above: Goi Cuon, or Fresh Summer Rolls)
Vietnamese cooking dovetails unexpectedly with Southern cooking, especially in the warmer months when many of the ingredients are similar: chile peppers, okra, green beans, mint, peanuts, shellfish, catfish, and of course rice are both Southern and Vietnamese staples. Hopefully these two cuisines will continue to mingle, thrive, and influence one another here in the South.