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Nowhere else in the U.S. has Vietnamese food culture been embraced like it has in the Gulf South. Showing up in waves throughout the second half of the last century, Vietnamese immigrants found comfort in the familiar climate and employment opportunities of south Mississippi and Louisiana. Some overlap in native ingredients and a shared heritage of French colonial influence further tightened the bond with their adoptive home.

Kien Giang is stashed in a nondescript strip mall in D’Iberville, but overlooking it would be an act of criminal negligence. Serving a broad menu of Vietnamese staples with a cursory nod to Americanized Chinese food, Kien Giang’s pho game is especially on point. A plate of bean sprouts, lime wedges, jalapeno and fresh herbs presages a huge bowl of oily, aromatic broth filled with rice noodles and various beef parts. Bass notes of sweet cinnamon provide strong accompaniment to soft beef tendon and condiments like sriracha, chili garlic paste, and fish sauce. The clay pot dishes, served at a rolling boil, are both visually impressive and intensely flavorful. Accoutrements like sturdy roasted pork rolls and bittersweet Vietnamese iced coffee are just two of the pleasant surprises hidden on the menu.

In Biloxi, the wizards at Le Bakery are knocking out breads and pastries in the fine tradition of French baking. The case up front is packed with croissants and country loaves sporting a multitude of fillings and toppings. Do an about-face and you’ll find a menu of “Vietnamese po boys,” also known as banh mi. Served on a crackly eight inch pistolette, each sandwich features a cluster of pickled veggies and cilantro atop traditional Vietnamese fillings like roast pork or pate. At under $5 apiece, these meals are confusingly affordable and delicious. Unique treats like mung bean cakes and gummy, caramelized coconut yucca pies make a perfect coda to a meal.

Dinner at the concisely-named Pho in downtown Ocean Springs hews closely to the standard Asian dining experience, but a few bright spots on the menu are not to be missed. Spring rolls are enlivened by a surprisingly deep, savory peanut sauce. The salad dressing, a balanced mix of honey, sesame oil and ginger, makes iceberg lettuce worth eating for the first time in recent memory. The restaurant’s eponymous dish is a bit bland, but a plate of spicy, smoky calamari more than makes up for it.

Enjoy the authenticity and affordability of Coast Vietnamese cuisine while it lasts. With the breakneck pace of today’s food trends, it’s only a matter of time before something this delicious and versatile gets branded, francished and diluted. Until then, we can happily enjoy our banh mi in the knowledge that we’re supporting one of Mississippi’s most appreciated culinary subcultures.


 

Kien Gang

10598 Diberville Blvd. # D
D’Iberville, MS 39540

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Le Bakery

280 Oak St.
Biloxi, MS 39530

Pho

1504 Government St.
Ocean Springs, MS 39564

Written by

Troy Coll is a New Orleans-born, Mississippi-raised investigator of all things gustatory. A 2007 graduate of The University of Southern Mississippi, Troy has written for a number of now-deceased Hattiesburg publications, along with hubcitylife.com and Signature Magazine. He also assisted in the efforts of Raise Your Pints, a grassroots organization dedicated to modernizing Mississippi’s draconian beer laws. By day, he runs Mr. Sippi Beverages, Hattiesburg-area bottled water provider. Otherwise you can find him roaming the South, with a glass in his hand and food in his mouth. His non-edible interests include meeting new dogs, making mix CD’s and tweeting a lot. Follow him across social media @TacoHole.

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