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The Food: Vietnamese curried beef jerky.
Where Spotted: Song Que, the Vietnamese deli in the Eden Center, 6769 Wilson Blvd, (703) 536-7900.
The Background: Thuan Lai, manager of the tricked-out new Song Que, tells me that beef jerky, in all its many forms, is a staple at Vietnamese street markets. Like Americans, Vietnamese eat their jerky as a snack. (It can also be served, in thin strips, in papaya salads or simply over rice.) The real-deal Vietnamese jerky apparently can’t be imported into the United States (I have not verified this with the FDA; this is blog after all, people!), so there’s a company in California, prosaically named New Jerky MFG Inc., that sells the dried beef wholesale. Song Que buys some of its jerky from California, but employees make the curried version in-house. Lai says that’s because curried jerky is less complicated to make than other versions.
How’s It Taste?: Not like you think it would. The dried beef doesn’t have that tough, used-saddle leather consistency of some American jerkies. It’s moister and more pliable than those razor straps you can buy at 7-Eleven. It’s also sweeter. Sugar is an obvious component to the curing process. (Here’s a video on how to make Vietnamese beef jerky, though it’s not the same as this one.)
But if the curried jerky starts out sweet, it finishes with heat, a medium-grade burn that lingers long on the tongue. It’s quite pleasant, particularly because all these other flavors dance around the fire. If I had to guess, I’d say the flavorings include paprika, cloves, nutmeg, and fennel seeds. There’s a distinct liquorice quality to the snack. I passed the jerky around this office today, and to a staffer, everyone loved it.