While many of you may have heard of a Vietnamese dining experience referred to as 7 Courses of Beef (Bò 7 Món), 8 Courses of Fish (Ca 8 Món) may be a little less unfamiliar. In fact, I had been hearing bits and pieces about this type of meal for a couple of years now, but couldn’t seem to get the name of the restaurant. Finally, between Chowhound and a couple of Vietnamese friends pointing me to the right direction, I found Restaurant Nhu Y in Fountain Valley. So as soon as I could, I set up an outing to see what the fuss was all about.
Walking into a roomful of primarily Vietnamese diners, my group of 16 from mixed backgrounds really stood out and I think because of that, the manager took us under his wing. First, he helped us determine the number of orders of the 8 Courses of Fish we should have for our two tables. Apparently, one order per person is actually too much food unless you have a big appetite. Second, he even had one of his wait staff give us a lesson on how to properly roll up the food in the rice wrappers a little later in the meal.
As we were waiting for the food to start arriving, some of us ordered drinks. My drink of choice was the Durian Shake. For many, durian is definitely an aquired taste. Some can’t get past the smell, let alone have a taste of something that is quite pungent and not for the faint of heart. But I grew up on it and will savor it, whether it’s as ice cream, as candy, as a milkshake or even fresh. This particular durian shake was thick, tasty, hit all the right flavor notes and was already a great start to my meal.
Speaking of the meal, the first course to arrive was the Fish Salad that came with large fish or shrimp chips. I’m not sure which. Regardless, the Fish Salad itself was tasty. The fish itself was cut in strips and lightly fried. I enjoyed the crunchy cabbage and carrots and the dressing’s sweet vinegary flavors hit the spot.
The second course was the Fish Spring Rolls. On their own, they were a little dry, although I appreciated that the greens that were part of the filling tasted fresh. They really needed to be dipped in the fish sauce for some moisture and flavor.
For our third course, we had the Sizzling Fish Filet on Hot Plate. The fish was delicate and ate well with the onions and topped with the ground peanuts.
Earlier, we also got a plate of greens, rice wrappers and bowl of a thick peanut sauce, but we didn’t really do anything with them until the next four courses all arrived on one plate after the Sizzling Fish Filet. Those 4 dishes comprised of Fish Egg Rolls, Fish Wrapped in Hawaiian Lot Leaf, Wrapped BBQ Fish and Fried Fish Strips with Tamarind Sauce.
Before we dug in, we got a lesson in rice wrapper wrapping by one of the wait staff. Key thing to remember is to skim your rice wrapper in a bowl of hot water, but don’t soak it or else it’ll get sticky. Once the rice wrapper is dampened, lay it flat on your plate. First, add your greens and herbs. Be sure to strip the mint leaves off its hard stem before adding it to your wrapper. Add your noodles, if you’re so inclined. Than add either the Fish Wrapped in Hawaiian Lot Leaf, the Wrapped BBQ Fish or the Fried Fish Strips and top with either the thick peanut sauce or the fish sauce before wrapping it up like a burrito and taking a bite. It was definitely a fun hands-on eating experience.
Our last fish course of the night was the Fish Rice Porridge, which was actually one of my favorites dishes of the night. It was a simple dish with just a little bit of toasted ginger and chopped herbs for flavor, but it was so good. The rice was creamy and it reminded me of when my Mom makes Arroz Caldo, a Filipino rice soup, but with fish instead. I honestly could have eaten it as an entree soup and would have been perfectly happy.
To end the meal, a few of us opted for ice cream. I went straight for the taro/ube ice cream while others went for the pandan ice cream. It was a colorful and sweet way to end the meal.
Overall, I really enjoyed the 8 Courses of Fish. One thing that I was found interesting was that the courses that stood on their own (e.g. fish salad, sizzling filet, fish rice porridge, etc.) were quite delicious without having to add anything to them. However, the three items that we used as fillings for the rice wrappers tasted just okay by themselves. They really needed the flavor layering of the greens, herbs and sauces for them to have any type of yum factor. In the end, I had a wonderful meal at Restaurant Nhu Y and for those of you who have never tried 8 Courses of Fish, check this place out for a different kind of dining experience.