5i Indochine Cuisine – Culver City, CA

Food Adventures, Los Angeles

We are proud to live in our beloved City of Angels, surrounded by amazing food from cuisines the world over. But despite the many ethnic enclaves that make up the Westside, it is darn near impossible to find good Vietnamese food here. Martin hails from the San Gabriel Valley and I was born and raised in Orange County, so those 24-hour pho restaurants with kitschy names just don’t do it for us. That is, until we found 5i. At first glance, the menu seemed a bit scattered with Singaporean noodles, har gow and shu mai dim sum dumplings, and pad thai. But after paging through, we noticed that the bulk of the menu was made of familiar dishes that encompass more than just the infamous beef noodle soup that everyone thinks of. For example…

Tau Hu Ky (Crispy Shrimp Patty)

Tau Hu Ky (Crispy Shrimp Patty)

SO GOOD. More on this later. 5i Indochine Cuisine just opened earlier this year. The restaurant is a tiny hole in the wall nestled in a Culver City strip mall, right between a karaoke bar and a dive bar. Fear not — once you slide into a parking space and navigate around the unsavory characters loitering about, entering 5i is like stepping into another world. A trendy-looking, IKEA-decorated world.

The Decor

The Decor

Our server quickly seated us and brought us the menus. While perusing our options, we overheard that they were giving a discount to the police officers sitting next to us as a small token of appreciation for the work they do. I thought it was a nice gesture. The expectations continued to rise when she came over to check in on us and discovered that we could communicate in Vietnamese. That definitely swayed me toward the Bún / Cơm (vermicelli rice noodles and rice plates, respectively) pages of the menu.

Plate of Herbs for Pho

Plate of Herbs for Pho

Martin had a huge craving for phở so he decided to go with that. Sadly, his favorite type of meat, the tripe (sách), was not available (it is on the menu but it seems they had run out that day). Instead, he selected the phở tái with rare slices of beef. First, of course, comes the plate of herbs — rau quê (Thai basil), bean sprouts, lime wedges, and jalapeno slices.

Pho Tai (beef noodle soup with rare steak slices)

Pho Tai (beef noodle soup with rare steak slices)

Despite the initial disappointment at the lack of tripe, Martin seemed to enjoy his steaming bowl of pho. The broth was actually pretty impressive in its fragrance and flavor. Not quite Pho 79, but definitely better than the others I’ve had in LA. Lots of beefy flavor, the aroma of star anise and charred onion, and plenty of fresh scallions and white onion. I would go into the nitty gritty details, but I only got one bite and a few sips of broth.

Charbroiled Pork with Vermicelli (Bún Thit Nướng)

Charbroiled Pork with Vermicelli (Bún Thit Nướng)

I am usually a fiend for noodle soup, but I could not pass up the opportunity for a big bowl of vermicelli so I got the bun thit nuong. Rice noodles, chopped lettuce, cucumber strips, and fresh bean sprouts form a refreshing bed for the hot-off-the-grill (or flat-top?) slices of juicy, smoky pork. Pour on the fish sauce and dig in. It’s like a warm salad, in the very best way imaginable. One of my favorite Vietnamese dishes, especially in the summertime… or this unusually warm winter.

Crispy Shrimp Patty (Tau Hu Ky)

Crispy Shrimp Patty (Tau Hu Ky)

I had a feeling I would be satisfied with my bowl of bún, but as I was closing up the menu, my eyes took notice of an item on the appetizers list. Crispy shrimp patty — ground shrimp patty wrapped in a crispy tofu skin. Wait… isn’t that tau hu ky (tàu hũ ky)? I had to ask our server but she confirmed my suspicion. It’s one of my all-time favorite add-ons for cold Vietnamese dishes, so I ordered a plate of these as well. These were hot hot hot, fresh from the fryer, and the layers of bean curd crunched satisfyingly with each bite. The center was well-seasoned minced shrimp, which was only accentuated by the sweet & sour dipping sauce (a bit unconventional, but still delicious). The tau hu ky at 5i rivaled that of our established favorites in the SGV and OC. Spectacular!

If you’re in or near the Westside and looking for pho (or to expand your Vietnamese food eating repertoire beyond it), cruise on over to 5i Indochine Cuisine. We can’t speak for the rest of the menu, but the Vietnamese dishes are pretty darn stellar.

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Check out 5i Indochine Cuisine: 5ipho.net

5407 Sepulveda Blvd
Culver City, CA 90230

See their Yelp reviews here – though to be honest, I disagree with many of the reviews. To address a few: 5i is NOT Asian fusion. Most of the menu features Vietnamese dishes, so don’t order the Thai food and expect it to outdo “authentic” places. Yes, the parking lot can be a bit shady but that’s no reason to penalize the restaurant. And lastly, sparse and curt customer service is just how it is at many Asian restaurants… don’t come here expecting Michelin star treatment (although when we went, we found the staff to be pretty friendly).

Kanom Jeen Nam Ya (Thai Fish Curry Soup)

Main Dishes, Recipes

As I’ve mentioned before, my dad is awesome at tasting new foods at restaurants and then coming home and replicating (often improving) on those dishes. Nam ya (known by its full Thai name as kanom jeen nam ya or ขนมจีนน้ำยา) is one of those dishes. We had tried it at a family friend’s house years ago and every once in a while, especially when the weather turns chilly, I’ll request my dad to whip up a batch. He used to purchase whole catfish from the Vietnamese grocery stores, but then the work to flake the fish off the bones was time-consuming. He found catfish fillets, vacuum-sealed and frozen, at Costco and the final product was still pretty darn good (and less time in the kitchen means more time with family!). I found some recipes online for a traditional version that resembles noodles coated with curry sauce, but ours is a noodle soup version sure to warm your soul on a cold night.

Kanom jeen nam ya (Thai fish curry)

Kanom jeen nam ya (Thai fish curry)

Ingredients:

1 10.5-ounce package of rice vermicelli

3 catfish fillets

2 14-ounce cans of chicken broth (súp gà) * keep one can for the 2nd step

3-4 kaffir lime leaves, whole

1 stalk of fresh lemongrass, cut into 2-inch chunks

3-4 slices of galangal

1 4-oz can nam ya curry paste (yellow or red – you won’t need the whole can)

1 6.8 fluid ounce (200 mL) carton of coconut milk (I use kara brand coconut cream – it comes in a convenient Tetra-Pak box)

1-2 tablespoons fish sauce, more or less to taste

1 bunch of long green beans (đậu đũa in Vietnamese), cut into 1/4-inch pieces

Sprigs of Thai basil

A few handfuls of bean sprouts (be sure to remove the roots and rinse the sprouts in cold water)

Bring a pot of water to a boil. Cook the vermicelli according to package instructions (probably 2-4 minutes). Tip: unlike pasta, the noodles will not feel al dente until they’ve been drained, rinsed, and set aside for a few minutes. You’ll want to take the noodles off the heat once the timer goes off, even though the noodles will seem too firm. If you wait until the noodles have the right texture straight from the pot, they will overcook and become mushy after you rinse and drain.

Prep the garnish and toppings

Prep the garnish and toppings

In a large pot (at least 5 quarts), add the chicken broth. Keep one of the cans and fill it with water; add to the pot. Repeat once more. Bring to a boil this 28 ounces of broth + 28 ounces of water solution. Add the lime leaves, lemongrass, and galangal. Cook the fish fillets in this fragrant broth. It should only take a few minutes, longer if the fillets were frozen.

Mashing up the fish fillets and curry paste

Mashing up the fish fillets and curry paste

When the fillets are cooked through, transfer the fillets to a bowl. Using a fork or the back of a spoon, flake the fish into a fine mash. Mix in about 2/3 of the can of curry paste.

Add the fish back to the pot. Pour in the coconut milk and season with fish sauce. Simmer for a few minutes.

Soupy goodness!

Soupy goodness!

Prepare for serving: in each bowl, add the vermicelli. Top with a handful of bean sprouts and a scant handful of chopped long beans. Ladle in the broth, being sure to get plenty of fishy bits. Garnish with Thai basil and chili salt (see below). This recipe will yield about 4-5 servings.

Chili Salt

Chili Salt

If you have it on hand, you could whip up a quick batch of chili salt by grinding 1 Thai chili with about 1 tablespoon of salt. Store in an airtight container in a cool, dry place. Chili salt is pretty shelf-stable and tastes great with fruit.

Thanks, Dad, for figuring out the recipe and for teaching me how to make it myself!