One very interesting trend that has popped up in parts of the US lately has been Vietnamese-owned Cajun
restaurants. This may sound like a very odd cultural clash, but there are eerily coincidental similarities between the two cuisines: they were both influenced by the French, they both depend heavily on rice and chili peppers, and some have even argued that banh mi
is not that much different from a po'boy
It apparently all started with the large Vietnamese population in Houston, which has since spread it out to other Vietnamese centers in the US: Little Saigon
in Southern California and of course San Jose up north. And while the Vietnamese enclaves of east San Jose
probably would have provided a lot more selection for us tonight, we came to a slightly more upscale one in downtown instead (80 North Market Street, 294-8626).
"Upscale" was pushing it a bit though. If anything, the place was rather tacky-looking, be it in the snot-green crockery or the techno music playing overhead (flashbacks of a nearby French-Vietnamese fusion place
could not be avoided). The food was more important though, so we got right down to business by asking for a pound of boiled crawfish, plus some gumbo
and blackened catfish.
It turned out better than I would have expected. The crawfish were frustratingly difficult yet fun to eat, the gumbo was thick and hearty, and the catfish was just what I was looking for
. So where did the Vietnamese influence come in? Well, the crawfish came with lime and salt/pepper mixes on the side for you to dip into, while the catfish came paired with coconut rice on the side. As out of place as it may have seemed, in many ways it worked, and elevated it all into something that I kinda liked.
Still, none of this was so exciting that I would run back right away, especially since the spicy seasoning that we requested for the crawfish was hardly spicy at all...I was really hoping that the Vietnamese influence would crank up the heat on all of this. And if I were to come back here again, I'll be sure to hold any main course orders until later (my catfish got cold tonight because they brought out main courses before we even made it halfway through the crawfish).
I do want to try heading out to the competitors on the eastside though, as well as maybe the ones down in SoCal next time I'm there. Either way, I'm glad to have found that this seemingly odd pairing of cultures turned out to be less out of place than it initially sounded.