If you were lucky enough to get to Coffee Bar's The Window early last Thursday, you got to taste the authentic yet accessible Saigon street food from 3 Bottled Fish (http://3bottledfish.wordpress.com). If you got there late, unfortunately, you missed out: the lunchtime pop-up's stash of spring rolls and vermicelli bowls sold out an hour before closing time. But don't fret--there are plenty more noodles to slurp up, plenty more mouthwatering meatballs to chow down on, and plenty more hot chili sauce to drown it all in.
Created last fall, 3 Bottled Fish is the project of three cousins--Paulette Tran, Diane Le, and Victoria Hoang--who wanted to share the food they grew up with, and to celebrate the inspiration that came from cooking with their mothers and grandmothers. The name "3 Bottled Fish," like the flavorful food they produce, has many layers. "Bottled Fish" is a tribute to fish sauce, Vietnam's favorite ingredient, which Tran jokes runs through her veins. The number "3" ties into many things: the three women themselves, the three sections of Vietnam, and District 3 of Saigon, where their families originated before moving to the Bay Area.
"There is a saying in Vietnamese that one tree stands alone, and three trees stand in strength and success," says Tran. "We believe in our food and in our vision so we are going for it." What started as a modest brown-bag lunch service is quickly growing as the cousins are "driving full force," says Tran, focusing on pop-ups and events as well as catering. Farmer's Market appearances are in the works as well, and they hope to be up and running sometime this year.
The lunch hordes had already claimed every last shrimp-and-pork spring roll by the time SFoodie got to The Window, but thankfully there was still plenty of bun tam bi: vermicelli noodles tossed with julienned pork, coconut milk, lettuce, peanuts, and a fresh kick of mint served with three tender meatballs and a side of chili sauce. The dish displayed a delicate balance of sweet, tangy, herbaceous, and spicy, while possessing a wonderful lightness and an energizing fire that made it perfect for lunch in the middle of a busy day.
3 Bottled Fish has two appearances coming up soon: back at The Window from 11 am to 2 pm this Thursday, and next Wednesday May 2nd at Vinyl Wine Bar beginning at 6:30 pm. We recommend you show up early, especially if you have a craving for spring rolls.