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A DIY Banh Mi Birthday Party + Pomelo Papaya Salad

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I haven’t had a birthday party in the longest time, but turning thirty seemed like just the occasion I needed to spend the weekend cooking some delicious Vietnamese food and having a few of our friends over. Plus, Dean and I both have March birthdays, so we had double the reason to throw a party! I thought I’d keep things simple by setting up a DIY banh mi bar with all the fixings, but we ended up adding a couple extra items to the menu, including a pomelo papaya salad, lemongrass pork skewers, and a peppery lime chicken.

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I was so pleased to find a copy of Andrea Nguyen’s The Banh Mi Handbook at my local library the week before the party (I have to add that the city of Redlands’ public library has the THE BEST cookbook collection that I have EVER seen at any of my local libraries. Two full rows of the newest cookbooks out there! And it’s super cute, to boot.). I ended up using many of her recipes for our party, including the quick pork pate, grilled pork skewers, and the Hanoi chicken. Here’s what our entire menu looked like:

DIY Banhi Mi Bar
Fried cha (Vietnamese ham)
Cha with peppercorns
Garlic cha
Vietnamese headcheese

Pickled carrots & daikon (bought pre-made at the local Viet store)

Spreads & Condiments:
Homemade mayo
Pate (used the quick recipe from The Banh Mi Handbook, which just added a few ingredients to a Farmer John’s pork liverwurst)
Maggi seasoning sauce
Hoisin sauce
Red Boat fish sauce

Other Foods
Grilled lemongrass pork skewers
Hanoi chicken (lime & pepper)
Chicken chao (rice soup)
Green papaya and pomelo salad with shrimp, served with shrimp chips
Cha gio (spring rolls)

Coconut cassava cake
Mango sticky rice

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This was my first time making the pomelo papaya salad, which I’d been meaning to try ever since ordering it at Garlic & Chives in Garden Grove. We tried this Vietnamese/Asian Fusion bistro a couple months back, and I just loved their extensive menu, especially their inclusion of more Vietnamese “street food” type offerings like various shellfish dishes, a variety of tasty salads, and more traditional entrees like bo luc lac (shaken beef) and hot pots. They also have an awesome fried salmon belly appetizer that is worth trying!

Here’s the recipe I ended up using for the pomelo papaya salad:

Pomelo Papaya Salad
serves 6-8

2 pomelos, peeled and separated into bite-sized segments
1 Ruby red grapefruit, peeled and separated into bite-sized segments (you can omit this, but I thought it added a lovely color to the salad)
1 bunch mint leaves, leaves washed and picked off
1 green papaya, shredded
1/2 lb. cooked shrimp, butterflied
fried shallots
crushed peanuts
nuoc cham dressing, to taste
shrimp chips

This salad comes together really quickly if you have a Vietnamese grocery store close by that sells pre-shredded green papaya. Otherwise, it takes a little more time for the prep. Also, feel free to add in/substitute other Vietnamese herbs if you don’t happen to have mint on hand. The shrimp can be swapped out with pork/pork belly slices, or it can be left out entirely.

Fry the shrimp chips (find directions here if you need them) and set aside for accompanying the salad. Combine all the ingredients together except the shallots and peanuts. The nuoc cham dressing can be mixed in, or you can have your guests dress the salad themselves. Garnish at the end with fried shallots and crushed peanuts. Serve with shrimp chips immediately.

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I couldn’t resist making some fun signs and favors for the party. I made a graphic for the banh mi bar, which I turned into little bookmarks for all our guests. I also added in a pho postcard and some pho spices to keep with the Vietnamese food theme. I have a couple extras left over from the party that I’d love to give away to a few of our readers. If you’d like one, please send us an email with your name and mailing address, and I’ll send one your way!

Also, if you’d like to throw your own party with a DIY banh mi bar, I’ve turned my banh mi graphic into a free printable that you can download right here. Please send us pictures of your parties or tag us on Instagram (@rhuynh, @julie1wan)! We’d love to hear from you.

Art Print Giveaway: What’s in Your Pho?

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If you haven’t visited our site in a while, you’ll find that things look a little different around here! We’ve updated our banner, added some new travel pages for Beijing and Grenada, and included a recipe index too. You can subscribe to the blog by email or RSS feed, or connect to us through our new Facebook page. When you “like” the Facebook page, you can also sign up to get notifications so you don’t miss any new posts — including a family pho recipe we’ll be sharing later this week!

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As you might know, Becca is a designer by trade and owner of Lavender’s Blue Designs. Not only is she the one who created our new blog design, she’s also the talent behind the cute foodie Valentines back in February and, of course, Elijah’s first birthday party. And now, to go along with our site’s new look, she’s created a set of art prints featuring a beloved food of ours — pho!

To celebrate the site’s new look, we will be selecting TWO winners to each receive an 8″x10″ art print of his/her choice! You can enter the giveaway any time between now and next Tuesday. The giveaway will close in one week, at 11:59 p.m. EST, on Tuesday, April 30, 2013.

The prize is open to anyone worldwide. All you have to do to enter is leave a comment below telling us what’s in your pho.

See additional details below:


In addition to the giveaway, these prints are also available for purchase in the Lavender’s Blue Etsy shop. From now until May 15th, Becca is offering free shipping within the United States.*

Each print is available in two sizes in the shop:
8″x10 – $22
11″x14″ – $32

These are high-quality giclee art prints, printed on super-smooth, coated 100% post-consumer recycled paper featuring a few natural surface imperfections. Process chlorine free (PCF). 170 gsm/ 62 lb.

*Please note that the giveaway is open to readers worldwide. For the time being, however, art prints purchased through the Etsy shop can only be shipped to a U.S. address. As you might know, both my sister and I currently live abroad, so being able to offer international shipping is important to us. Right now, Lavender’s Blue works with a wonderful printer to fulfill US orders, and we are currently looking for a similarly reliable printer who can ship worldwide. We hope to have this option available soon for all our international readers. For the giveaway only, we will personally ship the art prints to two winners anywhere in the world.


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Be sure to check back later this week when we’ll be sharing our family pho recipe! We’ll also tell you what’s in our pho. :)

*Edit: The giveaway is now closed. Thanks for your comments and entries! Winners will be announced soon.

I love you as much as…

Happy Valentine’s Day! This year, I took inspiration from our blog name and created a set of printable food-inspired Valentines for you to share with your loved ones. Is there someone you just can’t live without? Tell them! :)

Find the download here.