At school in Vietnam, Charles Phan and his classmates would buy these chewy rice-paper rolls, filled with crunchy jicama and sweet shrimp, from enterprising street vendors who set up their stalls in the playground at dismissal time. Phan loves the neatness of including the sauce in the roll rather than serving it alongside, but he often makes extra for those who insist on dipping.
Phan prefers tender baby bok choy but if you can only find mature heads, separate the leaves from the stems, cut the stems into 1 1/2-inch pieces and stir-fry them separately so the leaves don't overcook.
When chef Phan samples banh xeo (a.k.a. “happy pancakes”) at other Vietnamese restaurants, he often finds that they aren’t crisp enough. Phan thinks the perfect crêpe should be lacy thin and crackly crisp. After years of obsessive experimentation, he recommends refrigerating the batter overnight, so the starches have time to relax, then cooking the crêpes in a nonstick pan.
Phan has firm opinions about the right and wrong way to stir-fry. “A wok isn’t like a salad bowl with a flame under it. You don’t want to throw everything in at once and toss. You need to layer flavors by adding ingredients in the right order.” That’s why he stir-fries the chicken here by itself until it is deeply golden and juicy before he transfers it to a plate; after he finishes cooking the other ingredients, he returns the chicken to the wok so all the flavors meld.
Phan thinks these French-Vietnamese sandwiches, banh mi, “are fusion food at its best.” This particular recipe is inspired by a tiny sandwich shop Phan happened upon in Hoi An, Vietnam, that stays open until 4 a.m. Not only does the owner of the shop make his own pâté, he also soaks his pork overnight in a garlicky brine before roasting it, as Phan does here.
Charles Phan recalls eating numerous versions of this slightly sweet and pleasantly tangy fish soup while growing up in Vietnam. Some included only chopped tomato while others were made with a colorful mix of vegetables. Here, he adds freshly squeezed lime juice for a hit of sourness instead of the more traditional tamarind pulp. He adds bean sprouts to the soup for a refreshing crunch.