A rice dish with a rich history


When the weather begins to indicate that winter is, in fact, going to happen again this year, turning to food for edification seems to be the natural choice. I don’t just look to meals for warmth but also color, freshness and variety — basically everything for which we’ll have to wait very patiently to see out of our windows again. And where better to look for this inspiration than the vibrant cuisine of Southeast Asia?

Pho So 1, located in East Lansing’s Hannah Plaza, has the most expansive menu out of all the Vietnamese restaurants in the Lansing area, so it’s a great choice to expand your horizons beyond classic dishes like phở and bánh mì sandwiches. Pouring over the six-page menu, I was torn between many exciting, new-to-me options, but I ultimately went with the Cơm Gà Hải Nam.

Hainanese chicken rice was adapted by immigrants from southern China’s Hainan province who spread across Southeast Asia in the mid-1800s. It’s based on Wenchang chicken, one of the four pillars of Hainan cuisine, which dates back to the first dynasty of imperial China. The dish has iterations distinct to Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand and, of course, Vietnam, and there is contention as to which country can lay claim as the true ground zero. This controversy is understandable after the first bite.

Chicken seasoned with what tastes like a blend of lemongrass, ginger, soy and plenty of garlic rests upon a bed of fluffy, fragrant, turmeric-broken rice. Atop is a field of fresh cilantro, basil, carrot and pickled daikon radish, along with a self-administered ginger-and-lime-inflected fish sauce. It’s a kaleidoscope of color, flavor and texture, from the dazzling, warmly spiced yellow of the rice to the fresh, bright green of the cilantro and basil and the crunch of the carrot and acidic pickled radish. Hidden throughout is the best part: little bits of crispy chicken totally caramelized in the marinade.

I added an order of Gỏi Đu Đủ, or green papaya salad, which included crushed peanuts, fried shallots and shrimp, heaps of which I tossed in with my rice, seeking to lose myself even more fully in the labyrinth of flavor. As for the Vietnamese menu standbys, I can vouch for the restaurant’s tofu bánh mì and chicken phở. Eating a meal with me almost ensures I’m going to ask for bites from your plate, and my dining companion was kind enough to oblige me. After all, we must stick together to survive the coming months.

Cơm Gà Hải Nam


Gỏi Đu Đủ


Pho So 1

4790 Hagadorn Road, East Lansing

11 a.m.-9 p.m. daily




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