The feast I’ve been waiting for: beef 7 ways

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Before I knew where Vietnam was, before I knew I would live there, I knew what bo bay mon was. And if you remember a Vietnamese restaurant at the corner of Maunakea and Pauahi called A Little Bit of Saigon, you might know too. They had this, they were the only ones in town, and since that bit of Saigon closed in the ’90s I haven’t seen it at all.

Bo bay mon is beef seven ways, and I mean ways you’ve never seen. I remember sitting in that sunny restaurant and marveling at all the ways you got it: grilled, poached, minced and rolled in smoky leaves, rolled in fresh leaves alive with herbs, floating in savory congee. When I got to Saigon in 1996, this was the first meal I asked for — and nobody knew what it was. Over four years in that city, I saw those three words together maybe once, so really, it’s been nearly 20 years.

You see why I’m excited? Pig and the Lady’s founding inspiration, Mama Le herself, is bringing back beef seven ways at a two-night pop-up this Saturday and Sunday. I wasn’t invited to the trial run last month, a meal from which her son Alex Le had the gall to send me pics, after which I cornered Mama Le for the menu:

  • Goi bo — beef salad; I have no idea how Mama Le makes this but it’ll have lots of fresh leafy herbs
  • Bo nhung dam — as I understand it, you take thin sheets of raw beef, shabu shabu it in beer, eat
  • Bo la lot — minced beef, garlic and spices, rolled in betel leaves and grilled into steaming, juicy bundles (see above)
  • Bo nuong mo chai — beef rolled in caul fat and grilled
  • Bo nuong hanh la — beef rolled around stalks of green onion and grilled (also above)
  • Cha dum — steamed spicy beef sausage all minced up and served on fresh-fried shrimp chips (at right)
  • Chao bo — congee or jook with minced beef, a homey coda

This pop-up is all Mama Le. No contemporary experiments with flavors and textures, no riffs on gnocchi or bruschetta, which Pig and the Lady chef Andrew Le has been reveling in. This one hews strictly to tradition, except for the beer shabu shabu thing, which I think Mama Le made up. “This is what my family ate in Vietnam, and every time we had it, we had 10, 15 people at the table,” she says. “Everybody does it their own way. This is my family way.”

This bo bay mon will also be served family-style. And it’s all locally raised Kulana beef from the Big Island, by the way, so yes! We’re eating local. It’s $59, BYOB, and starts at 7 p.m. at Taste, 667 Auahi St. in Kakaako. If you love beef, if you’re a Pig and the Lady addict or you remember with nostalgia this seven-course dinner from A Little Bit of Saigon, clear Saturday or Sunday night on your calendar. Here’s the full story and menu, with a link to the ticket page at the bottom.