Going grocery shopping on an empty stomach is an excellent idea, if the destination is Viet Hoa [pronounced vee-it wah], 8300 West Sam Houston Parkway South. The prepared foods section is stocked with lots of tasty options. From typical Asian dishes such as lo mein and General Tso's chicken to more adventurous offerings like crispy-fried red snapper or mackerel and Chinese barbecue pork (char siu) hanging from hooks, grocery customers can pick up a boxed meal to go or eat in the dining area, adjacent to the deli counter inside the store.
Perusing the display case is similar to an experience at a Chinese buffet. Everything glistens with fat and moisture, and the savory aromas are intoxicating. Here are five items to try from the prepared foods counter.
Vegetable Lo Mein
These spaghetti-like egg noodles are a favorite among the customers and staff. The noodles are pan-fried with cabbage, onions, green onions, carrots and a savory sauce. The kitchen offers several types of fried noodles, but the lo mein is the most popular.
At $6.95 a meal, the price is affordable. This deal includes steamed or fried rice and a choice of two entrées. Along with the lo mein, the more popular items on display are actually the stir-fried vegetables. Chinese broccoli (gai lan), snow pea leaves, water spinach and bean sprouts are just a few of the choices that are fried in a wok with garlic.
For the same price, a to-go box can be filled with an abundance of steamed or fried rice and two choices of barbecued meat. Hanging in the case are Peking and roasted duck, soy sauce-basted chicken and red Chinese barbecued pork. The whole roasted suckling pig (heo quay) arrives at the counter by 10:30 to 11 a.m. every day. The kitchen delivers two to five roasted pigs a day to the barbecue counter and up to ten on the weekends. It's a Chinese and Vietnamese tradition to have a whole roasted suckling pig at celebrations such as tea ceremonies, receptions, engagement parties and children's first birthdays.
Fried Pork Belly (ba roi chien)
This is probably the food counter's best seller. Pork belly is prepped, brined, dried and then fried until crunchy and golden. This is definitely a do-not-miss item at Viet Hoa. The crispy pork belly can be eaten as a snack or as part of a meal. A typical way to have this treat is to cut it into small pieces and stuff it into French baguettes, or serve it over a bowl of bun (rice vermicelli) with fresh herbs and nuoc mam (fish sauce).
Banh Mi (Vietnamese sandwich)
Across from the hot foods and barbecue stand are the deli, bakery and dim sum counter. The deli includes a banh mi counter that resembles a Subway sandwich line, with different types of cold cuts, including fancy pork roll, head cheese and roasted pork belly. Pick the type of banh mi, and the ladies behind the counter toast the baguette and build the sandwich. Each is finished with cilantro, sliced jalapeños, pickled carrots and a splash of soy sauce. Only cash is accepted at the deli, and the food must be paid for at that register. There is always a "buy four, get one free" deal.
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A limited variety of dim sum favorites, like ha cao (shrimp dumplings), xiu mai (pork dumplings), xa xiu bao (barbecue pork buns) and cha gio (egg rolls), are available here. The stacks of metal steamers sit behind the glass, filled with bite-size morsels that can be ordered only in groups of three or four. At lunchtime, the dining area stays pretty full and customers, as well as staff, can be seen enjoying all the different foods offered at Viet Hoa.
All of these convenient, ready-to-eat options at Viet Hoa mean it's entirely possible to indulge in a reasonably priced Chinese feast, whether at home or right there in the store's dining area.