For a Taste of Vietnam in Boston, Get the Seafood Chao (Congee) at New Dong Khanh
Two years ago, I ate a bowl of cháo (Vietnamese congee) at a seafood restaurant outside of Nha Trang that I haven't stopped thinking about since. The rice had been cooked just short of the mush stage, so that the stubby rice grains suspended in the porridge had just a hint of chew. The shrimp and squid literally couldn't have been fresher; they had been plucked from the restaurant's aquaculture beds earlier that afternoon. And I can only assume that some excellent homemade seafood stock had been the cooking liquid, because the dish had a subtle, briny-sweet savory depth that I can't adequately describe.
Since then, I've been looking for an equivalent Stateside preparation, including a homemade attempt, and have yet to find a version that measures up. But New Dong Khanh in Chinatown makes a Seafood Congee ($5.25) that's a very tasty stand-in. The pleasantly soupy porridge tastes like there's a light seafood stock behind it, and getting a curl of plump shrimp enhances that flavor. (There's imitation crabmeat in there, too; I'd like to trade that for squid.) The best part might be the thin slices of homemade fish cake: smooth, tight-grained discs that are springy like sausage and deliver rich sweetness.