Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Fun Playing With Lunar New Year Food in Cleveland Asiatown

The Year of the Snake began on February 9, 2013, and in many Asian communities, people are still celebrating. We were fortunate to attend several events that fed our souls and our bellies in connection with Lunar New Year, beginning at the newest Asian shopping center in Cleveland - Asian Town Center. We visited the Center on the second of their two day New Year party. Arriving early and hungry, we began with some Vietnamese treats at Pho 99. All three of these dishes were new to us.

Banh Bot Loc (Vietnamese Ravioli, Pork/Shrimp), Dipping Sauce
There are few things in life that make me happier than chewy dumplings, and these steamed banh bot loc really delivered! The fried shallot garnish added just a bit of crunch, and the dipping sauce a hint of spice.

Banh Beo (Steamed Rice Cakes Topped With Egg and Scallion), with dipping sauce 

These little rice cakes are very similar to the Chinese ningko, but were a little softer. The topping tasted like scrambled egg yolks, with scallions and a slightly salty seasoning powder. The dipping sauce served on the side was very similar to the sauce served with the banh bot loc; indeed, all three cups of dipping sauce were very similar. 

Banh it Tran (Boiled Dumpling Stuffed with Shrimp and Pork) with Dipping Sauce
This dumpling was chewy, yet in a completely different way from the banh bot loc, which was a stiffer dough. Though the fillings were similar, the different skins made for a different tasting experience for each.

In addition to enjoying these delicious bites, we couldn't help but get suckered in by the cheesy kung fu comedy movie playing in the almost empty restaurant on the big screen TV. The film, in Mandarin (with English subtitles), was called Shaolin Soccer. I started paying attention when the plot turned to Mui (Vicki Zhao), a female baker with severe acne who uses T'ai chi to make mantou (dumplings). After watching her special-effect-aided dumpling prowess (think Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon-special effect martial arts, with dumpling dough), we couldn't wait to tuck into the above goodies. As much as Bob was getting lost in the film, though, it was almost time for the Kwan Family Lion Dance in the center of the plaza, so we missed the ending. I'm sure the good guys won. 

Heading to the performance area, we caught the end of the classical music presentation, followed by Japanese drumming by Mame Daiko, then finally the Kwan Family Lion Dance.

As always, the Kwan Family Lion Dance entranced the crowd; hopefully, it would usher in good luck for the New Year. Too busy feeding the lion to take pictures! We finished our celebration at Asia Town Center with a visit to Asia Food Company, to shop for produce and pantry staples.

Pho 99 is definitely worth a visit, whether to sample soup, sandwich (neither of which we got to try, but we'll be back!), dumplings, or full on entrees of Vietnamese specialties. Also of note is that they deliver to downtown with a $2 delivery charge and a minimum order, and have plenty of free parking at the Center, located at 3820 Superior Avenue, 44114, (216) 586-6969. Note that they are closed on Wednesday.

We had great fun playing with Asian New Year's treats at Pho 99 and dancing with the Kwan Lion! Gong Xi Fa Tsai (Happy New Year)!

Pho 99 on Urbanspoon

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