Cafe TH continues to evolve under the careful and creative eye of owner Minh Nguyen, the former University of Houston student who purchased the old Thiem Hung bakery from its previous owners several years ago. He added more standard Vietnamese items to the menu than just banh mi, and is now steadily adding a few more modern touches of his own. One of those touches is the vegan curry that's quickly become one of the cafe's most popular items.
"Originally, I only offered it on certain days," Nguyen told me last week as I eagerly consumed a bowl of the stuff, bright green and vegetal over a bed of jasmine rice. "And then people started asking for it more and more," he continued. So despite the fact that making the curry is a very time-consuming, he began offering it on a daily basis.
Into the curry go bunches of cauliflower, green beans, carrots, onions and still more vegetables. But not until Nguyen has first boiled them all individually, then combined all of the vegetable stocks together with a green curry base that he thickens up with coconut milk. The result is a deeply and intensely flavored curry that is delicious on its own merits, the fact that it's vegan only an afterthought to the hum of lime, basil and pungent vegan fish sauce. No, it's not technically Vietnamese, but it's damn good.
Nguyen also offers vegan pho on a daily basis, although he's the first to admit that it's not nearly as popular as the curry.
"How on earth do you make vegan pho?" I asked him, bemused. "I mean, it's not like you can slow-roast cauliflower bones," referring to the fact that Nguyen is insistent on roasting bones for his regular pho stock every day.
"No," he laughed. "You can't." But the process, he told me, is very similar to that for making the curry. He adds the same spices to the broth as he would for regular pho, but bases it around chunks of tofu instead.
I promised to try it next time, and finished my bowl of xiu mai dia that I'd ordered along with my vegan curry. After all, what pairs better with vegan food than a big bowl of pork meatballs?