February 19 marks Lunar New Year, often mistakenly, or at least incompletely referred to as Chinese New Year. It’s the New year for the Chinese, but other Asian countries observe it, as well.
As you probably know, each year is represented by a revolving stable of animals. This year is the year of the goat. Or the year of the sheep. It’s a little unclear, actually. It sort of alternates, which may explain why some restaurants that serve mutton, which most of us know as lamb, is really goat, which most of us know as goat. Either way, happy goat or sheep year.
I know many of you, including non-Asians, will head out to a favorite Chinese restaurant, but as I said, the Lunar New Year is observed by other Asians. The Vietnamese, for example. So if you want to join in the celebration to ring in the new year you have many more options.
Consider Saigon Noodle, a Vietnamese restaurant on the Eastern side of town.
It’s a small, family operated restaurant with a welcoming and gracious staff. The decor is similar to those you’d find in the Mills 50 district, which has the largest collection of Vietnamese and Asian restaurants in the area. There are framed oil paintings of Vietnamese landscapes on the walls, bare tabletops and lacquered bentwood chairs, and lots of silk flower arrangements.
And, like other Vietnamese restaurants, there is a large and potentially confusing menu of typical offerings from the various regions of Vietnam, including the phos of the North.
Don’t let the size of the menu befuddle you. Know that the base of all the soups is a hearty beef broth. The rest of the listings are just mathematical variations of the same basic ingredients. You’ve got your sliced rare eye round meat, flank, brisket, navel, tendon, tripe and meatballs. The meatballs are the very densely packed kind that won’t fall apart in the broth. I can’t attest to the variety of navel. The menu does not feature any goat or sheep, so there’s that.
Each soup is served with a plate of fresh bean sprouts; Asian basil, which is not as sweet as the Italian variety; jalapeno slices; and a wedge of lime. These are yours to add to the soup as you see fitting. Toss in a handful of the sprouts, tear off some of the basil leaves and shred them with your fingers, squeeze in some lime juice, and toss in some of the jalapeños if you dare. Or add nothing, it’s up to you. And if the peppers doesn’t spice your bowl of broth enough for your fiery taste, squeeze in some of the sriracha from the big red bottle on the table. Or give the soup a different taste altogether with a spoonful of the fish sauce you’ll also find in the condiment corner.
You’ll also find in the bowl plenty of big chewy noodles to slurp up. Try using your chopsticks and don’t worry about twirling the noodles or having some of them drop off before you can shove them in your mouth. This is all part of the experience. (By the way, if you need a primer on using chopsticks, check out this video on icFlorida with the secret to mastering the utensils.)
Oh, and be sure not to cut the noodles into bite-sized lengths; that’s considered bad luck, especially during the Lunar New Year.
I enjoyed my pho of thinly sliced steak and meatballs. I also liked my appetizer of summer rolls, which had a bit of shredded pork and shrimp, visible through the translucent wrappers. Delicious with the thick peanut sauce.
Saigon Noodle is at 710 S. Goldenrod Road, Orlando. It is open for lunch and dinner daily. The phone number is 407-658-1967.