To know a culture is to learn its food and language, said Loc Phan, general manager of Cam Ranh Bay.
“That’s how I believe I would learn anybody else’s culture and that’s what I want to share about my culture as well,” he said.
That is why many of the items listed on the menu at the downtown Hopkins restaurant remain in Vietnamese.
The community response to the family-owned restaurant, which opened July 1, has been “incredible,” Phan said.
“The Hopkins community has beyond embraced us,” he said.
“We’re not your standard Vietnamese restaurant,” Phan said. “We base our flavors off a very traditional food we’ve been cooking for a very long time,” but evolving to the palettes of today.
“We do a lot of different things,” he said, noting they accommodate diner choices or dietary requests.
By that, he means there are more things on the menu, he doesn’t use as much oil for frying and he can accommodate people’s varying flavor palates and spice levels. Dishes can also be made vegan and for those with allergies, he said.
“We put things together when we cook our food, so it takes a little bit longer than your standard Vietnamese restaurant ... but at the same time, it’s worth it,” he said.
“And that’s part of my way of passing hospitality. I feel like that’s really important because everybody is so different today,” Phan said.
All of the recipes come from his mother, Nguyet Phan, who emigrated to America in 1979 from South Vietnam after the war.
“Her story is a long and incredible story,” Phan said of his mother, who led her family out of the communist country in search of a better life.
Along with her in the kitchen is head chef Liem Nguyen, Loc’s uncle; and Nguyen’s wife Hang.
While most Vietnamese restaurants are known for pho, a Vietnamese soup of broth, rice noodles, herbs and meat, Phan’s favorite is the Canh Chua.
“Don’t get me wrong, our pho is phenomenal,” which is made from scratch, and “when we run out, we run out.”
“But Canh Chua is something I like to share with people that want to be a little more adventurous,” he said of the soup that is made with tamarin, pineapple, tomato, okra, basil and kayang “which is a really awesome herb,” Phan said, describing its flavor as a cross between basil and mint.
Among the most popular dishes are the noodle bowls, which are served with a bed of lettuce, cucumber, bean sprouts, scallions and crushed peanuts.
Although Vietnamese food does have spice, “we believe in balance,” Phan said. “So, we start with lower spice and we can add a lot of spice.”
They use Thai chili a lot in their cooking. “But we do mask a lot of that flavor with different sauces and sugars,” he added.
The menu includes stir fry dishes that use fresh, crisp vegetables that are never dipped in oil like some restaurants will do, Phan noted. The veggies are prepared by steaming or blanching before sautéing in the wok.
“We use a lot of bean sprouts, cilantro, cucumber – all that kind of stuff in our food,” Phan said, pointing out the pickled platter which includes the lotus root and cucumber salad.
For dessert, Phan recommends the banana egg rolls, which are served with coconut ice cream, caramel, powdered sugar, strawberries and whipped cream.
Cam Ranh Bay also serves Vietnamese coffee, tea, beer and wine and has an outdoor patio, which Phan plans to expand.
To see the full menu, visit camranhbayhopkins.com. Call 952-303-5834 for more information.
Cam Ranh Bay is located at 712 Mainstreet, Hopkins.
The restaurant is open 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Tuesday-Thursday; 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Friday-Saturday, and noon to 9 p.m. Sunday.
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