Traditional Vietnamese at Mekong River Restaurant

By on March 16, 2011

“Ohhh you’ve ordered something VERY traditional!” Lisa Nguyen, the woman who runs Mekong River restaurant more or less single-handedly, was excited. “Let me show you how to eat it.” I was less excited. I figured I knew how to eat things. “First you fill half your spoon with rice.” She pointed to a bowl heaped high with sticky jasmine rice. “Then you fill it with this soup. Then you eat it. Then you fill half the spoon with rice again. Then you fill it with that soup. Then you eat some of those pickled vegetables. You go round and round in a circle. It’s delicious!” So many thens, but I did what she said and my face lit up. It was indeed delicious. Let me show you what I had.

It’s called caramel pork and egg stew ($10) and it is indeed traditional. The stew is simmered for hours, and one Vietnamese writer, recalling how, back in Vietnam, her mother started the stew in the early morning hours when she was still sleeping, wrote: “We’d wake up to this warm pot of slow, simmering goodness and it was a wake up call that filled the house with braised love.” I could easily fall in love with that stew. It is indeed made with caramel; sugar and water are heated and stirred until they caramelize (there’s that Maillard Reaction again), and then in goes the pork and hard-boiled eggs and coconut milk. I also caught a hint of some spices, star anise perhaps. There’s a rich, slightly sweet, complex flavor. As Mrs. Nguyen said, it’s a perfect complement to the other soup, at the upper right of the photo, a spicy sour seafood concoction that is also in its own right delicious. The pickled vegetables were just fine too, though they forgot the bean sprouts.

I focused on that marvelous culinary creation and barely paid attention to the other dishes. They were, though, worthy of attention. Here’s a Mixed Bun Cha Gio ($8).

That’s a popular dish too. I’ve had it many times before, both here and in New York. It features grilled meat atop cold thin noodles, with sliced egg rolls and leafy greens thrown in the mix. There’s a bowl of nuoc cham to the side, made of lemon juice, sugar, water and fish sauce; I usually pour it over everything. I’ve had better Bun Cha Gios, and the egg rolls here weren’t crisp enough, but this was good.

Betty had a pork chop ($7). She was worried it wouldn’t be big enough, but as you can see, it is.

We still had room for dessert. Let no one say that France never gave anything to Vietnam. They left them with great baked goods: breads, Banh Mi sandwiches, and desserts, including the fine Napoleon ($3) that rounded off our meal.

Mekong River
7879 E. 71 St. (in back of a strip mall on the north side, just west of Memorial, near Toys R Us)
252-5611
open 11 AM to 9 PM daily

Mekong River on Urbanspoon

Brian Schwartz

Born in NYC, age 0, on my birthday. College in Oxford at age 16. Law School in New Haven, Conn. 6 years travel in Africa and Asia. Haven’t done much lately. Still, I’m the only Tulsa member of the little-known Omega Society.  www.theomegasociety.com

I speak enough Chinese to order food not on any English menu. Spanish French Italian too (not fluently but food-ently) My favorite restaurant is Jean-Georges in New York. But those NYC chefs would sell their soul to get the produce available from the farms around Inola.

“A writer writes alone. His words tumble forth from a magical inner void that is mysterious even to himself, and that no one else can enter.” And yet, the most important thing to me the writer is YOU. Without you to hear them, my words are worth less than silence.

Brian Schwartz

About Brian Schwartz

Born in NYC, age 0, on my birthday. College in Oxford at age 16. Law School in New Haven, Conn. 6 years travel in Africa and Asia. Haven’t done much lately. Still, I’m the only Tulsa member of the little-known Omega Society. www.theomegasociety.com I speak enough Chinese to order food not on any English menu. Spanish French Italian too (not fluently but food-ently) My favorite restaurant is Jean-Georges in New York. But those NYC chefs would sell their soul to get the produce available from the farms around Inola. “A writer writes alone. His words tumble forth from a magical inner void that is mysterious even to himself, and that no one else can enter.” And yet, the most important thing to me the writer is YOU. Without you to hear them, my words are worth less than silence.

3 Comments

  1. adam

    March 16, 2011 at 3:27 pm

    I had that pork stew, and while it seemed unremarkable to me, it was much better than the authentic seafood dish I ordered. Things with tentacles and other such things were too much for my Midwestern tastes!

    I used to go there fairly regularly, until I had the worst waitress ever. She screwed up the order and accused me of “ordering wrong” (and I had ordered off the menu… how do you “order wrong” when you point at what you want?) and then gave herself a tip on my bill and I had a party of three people. She watched as I, not seeing what she had done, put a tip on there that was larger than what she had put. Then I did the math in my head and confronted her. She didn’t really have an explanation for what she had done other than, “The tip is supposed to be for the entire table and I wanted to be sure you got it right.” I proceeded to scratch off my tip (which again, was larger than what she was stealing). I left and never went back.

    It’s been some years now, and that waitress is probably long gone, but it just goes to show how one negative experience can cost an establishment a customer. I’m out of the habit now and don’t really plan on returning… although I’d sure like to try that pork chop!

    • Brian Schwartz

      March 16, 2011 at 7:40 pm

      I think she’s gone. The only waitress was the owner, who is nice, and one other person who didn’t speak a word of English.

  2. Ann

    March 17, 2011 at 11:22 am

    Their chicken noodle soup is hands down, the best!!

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