I've heard the Bear Cubs and the Papa Bear talk about 'chao vit' or 'duck porridge' here and there for quite a while now. Although it seemed to be a Vietnamese breakfast/lunch dish, I really knew nothing about it until this weekend. What I had in mind was more like a Far-East Asian porridge of rice in soup with maybe some pieces of duck floating about... So, imagine my surprise when I got this:
A bowl of porridge and a plate of duck! This is more like 'vit va chao' (duck and porridge) rather than 'chao vit' (duck porridge - the adjective comes after the noun in Vietnamese). The duck plate wasn't a wimpy serving either - it was easily a quarter of a duck per person - skin, bone, meat and all.
The duck was succulent and juicy, although I prefer the skin to be crispy on the outside rather than soft all around. The simplicity of the preparation reminded me of ban-ban-ji (oh, Shan, when you come back from Davis, you'll have to help me edit how to spell this), the Chinese chicken dish of steamed chicken with sesame paste sauce. Surprisingly for such a simple steamed dish, I didn't notice any of the gamey smell that can be associated with duck. My first thought was that the duck must've been steamed in sake with ginger - but that would be too Japanese and not Vietnamese enough. Honestly, I have no idea how they managed to deliver delicately delicious flavors of a bird condensed without being gamey or stinky.
The porride was also nothing like what I had gotten used to having when I have 'porridge'. The rice grains maintained its texture and strength throughout the dining experience - it didn't get all mushy and gushy like the porridges I've had before (including at this 'porridge' place in Milpitas that the Papa Bear preactically begged me to go - it was so bad I complained about it for days afterwards!). The amazing thing is that the grains maintained an almost couscous-like texture while absorbing the duck-powered broth nicely. The broth was flavorful without being heavy and delicate without being weak - indeed a very Asian soup. Despite the broth being supplemented with rice for more substance, it didn't deviate from the 'delicately delicious'-theme of Asian cuisine, particularly highlighted by this duck porridge, that leave you wanting just a few more bites...
My duck porridge was from the only duck porridge place in the food court at the Grand Century Mall in San Jose. They have a free-standing store outside of the mall as well, but rumor has it that the one in the food court is better than the free-standing restaurant. The Papa Bear says that duck porridge isn't that unusual and is frequently found in many Vietnamese restaurants, but that this one at the Mall is the good one, favored by his family.