Fields Corner in Dorchester really is the destination for Vietnamese cuisine in the greater Boston area. This neighborhood offers the widest and most concentrated selection of Vietnamese food throughout Boston, from places where Banh Mi is ordered at a counter to more formal restaurant experiences with table service. There are also Asian markets where all the ingredients for a Vietnamese meal can be found, including freshly baked baguettes, freshly caught fish, exotic fruits and vegetables, and the more esoteric banana flower fruit. I loved exploring the neighborhood with my terrific tour guide Pham Nam, the director of the community development corporation Viet-AID.
After our market visit, Nam took me to the Vietnamese American Community Center, which opened in Dorchester 11 years ago through the help of Viet-AID. It is the first Vietnamese American community center in the United States. The well-maintained facility houses classes for children and adults, including instruction in business, the Vietnamese language, ballroom dancing, and preschool. When I stopped by the community center the after-school program was in session. I was most taken by the fact that while the majority of children receiving after-school homework assistance or reading books from the center's library were of Vietnamese descent, it was still a multicultural group of children from the community. While one of Viet-AID's missions is to strengthen the Vietnamese community and preserve Vietnamese culture in the greater Boston area, another core value is to bolster the Fields Corner community as a whole by providing services and a safe space for all members of the Fields Corner community.
Nam also showed me evidence of the community's development efforts through the many newly constructed and under-construction buildings in the area. One newly renovated building holds the restaurant Pho Le. There are several Pho Le locations in the greater Boston area, including restaurants in Allston and Cambridge, but I must admit that my favorite Pho Le location is the one in Fields Corner. The interior and exterior are colorful and new and there are large windows with light pouring through them. The Pho Le designated parking lot across the street is also a big plus. At Pho Le, owner Duyen Le, a true gentleman, showed me how to make four of his recipes, three of which we feature on our show.
He taught me how to make a Vietnamese crepe with shrimp and pork called Banh Xeo, which is an example of the French influence on Vietnamese cuisine. The proper way to eat Banh Xeo is to roll the crepe up in a lettuce leaf with lots of fresh herbs and vegetables. It is a complete meal in one roll-up. Ever since my visit with Le I have been wrapping everything in lettuce leaves. Sliced sausages, chana masala, croquettes, you name it, I have wrapped it in a lettuce leaf in my home. Nothing beats that fresh crunch at a meal when biting though the leaf and rib of a big leaf of romaine, red leaf, or Boston lettuce to find layers of savory flavor within.
Obviously, Pho Le's namesake pho, or noodle soup, is extremely popular. The broths at Pho Le are out of this world. They are so flavorful, yet light and clear. There is a choice of ga (chicken) or bo (beef) broth for your pho and it is no small process to produce these broths. During my visit Le shared how to make the chicken broth, but he would not reveal his beef broth recipe. Every morning Le arrives very early to his Allston location and makes the broths from scratch. He then delivers them to his other locations before they start serving for the day. Talk about top secret! It's no wonder people keep coming back for his pho again and again, he makes his delicious broth recipes impossible to crack and produce at home.
VISIT NEIGHBORHOOD KITCHENS