Nail Shop Eats- Vietnamese Chicken Cabbage Salad Competition

by on August 22, 2010

DeliciousVietnam is a monthly blogging event celebrating the love and diversity of Vietnamese cuisine.  Delicious Vietnam was  founded by Anh of Food Lovers Journey and Hong and Kim of Ravenous Couple.

I’m joining in on this month’s festivities and sharing my Vietnamese Chicken Salad Recipe. If you love Vietnamese food and have a great recipe post to share, please join the community!

My Mother has acquired an unprecedented fan basehere on our blog since I started writing about her Nail Shop Eats escapades and she has absolutely no idea of her devoted following. Mom is not a woman of technology, social media nor simple “hand-phone” use. To explain to her what twitter, facebook, social media and blogging are would be too epic of an explanation for her. I would lose hairs just wondering where to start. She would be bored after the first 3 minutes.

Mom thinks twitter is a cute video game with a blue bird and that blogging is a waste of time in front of a “digital machine”. But she’s seasoned home cook and can whip together a meal for our family of 10 faster than I can write a short post. Her kitchen skills far exceed anything that I can ever accomplish online.

Her kitchen training began as soon as she could barter her way through the market stalls of Viet-Nam and became head of household at the age of 11 when my grand-father died in the Viet-Nam war. She had no choice but to leave school and was catapulted into adulthood to tend for my grand-mother and family of 5. Mom had to grow up fast, learn the street and market smarts like a savvy produce dealer and grew a skin thicker and sharper than a durian shell.

Mom is tough, as is the rest of her nail shop staff, and when they all discuss things they are passionate about, it’s a delirious afternoon of stories and laughter. When it comes to food-talk, everyone has a strong opinion about how a dish is prepared. With 12 women hailing from different regions of Viet-Nam and with different flavor preferences, there’s never a dull moment.

They were talking chicken salad one afternoon. Everyone had the best chicken salad recipe.

So there were 12 best-chicken-salad-makers in one nail shop, at one time. Oh hell, watch out. This nail shop is way too small to have 12 BEST-CHICKEN-SALAD-MAKERS. It’s one thing to have 12 best eye-brow-waxers and 12 best-mani/pedi-curers in town, but for some reason, having 12 best cooks working within the same walls doesn’t garner the same camaraderie.

I sat in the corner and listened to each of the techniques and recipes shared out-loud across the bustling shop. The conversation was intense, often sisterly combative, but friendly and mostly silly-snarky about Northern or Southern ways of seasoning the fish sauce dressing and particularly on how they poached the chicken.

Customers were drawn into the conversation, often wondering if the staff was smack-talking the customers’ hairy eyebrows.

I re-assured the clients that the staff were talking food. The ladies don’t smack-talk. The customers felt relieved and were even more entertained. They decided to add more to their service just to stay longer. Mom was excited that business was bustling because of chicken salad talk.

Everyone was getting excited about their chicken salad recipe. The nail drills were grinding louder and the massages were becoming more firm.

Then I decided to add my own chicken recipe salad into the fun conversation and spoke up in Vietnamese, “I put napa cabbage in my salad and I BBQ my chicken instead of boiling it!”

Thunderous silence! The nail drills came to a halt, the 12 Vietnamese voices dropped dead silent. Vicky (aka Phuong) breaks the silence, ” You do what? The kimchi Korean cabbage? In a Vietnamese chicken salad? You don’t boil your chicken?” Vicky is hard-core. No substitutions are allowed in her cooking.

All eyeballs turned to me. I was getting hot. I stumbled for words, stuttered in my thoughts to explain my rationale on using napa cabbage instead of regular cabbage and why I prefer BBQ’d chicken. I started getting flashbacks from when I was a kid in trouble, trying to figure out if I should lie or just tell the truth.

Then I realized I was an adult, a 30-something Vietnamese-American woman who is dating a cattle ranch white-guy. My life has always been flooded with enriching things outside of my own culture. I was a diverse cook and embrace all things different and edible.

I felt empowered and respectfully blurted in one long breathless Vietnamese sentence, “Yes sister Vicky! And all you sisters!” (out of respect, we all call each other sisters). “I like napa cabbage because I like the delicate crunch and soft textures of the lacy leaves. And it’s really pretty when you have the different colors of the stem and green leaves. And I like the flavor and char of bbq chicken instead of boiled chicken. And you should try it too, dear sisters!” I gasped for air.

All got quiet on the nail shop front.

Mom broke the awkward silence, “Hey, I like that! Sounds like a good idea. Did Tot (she still can’t pronounce Todd correctly) show you that? Tot is smart.”

Omg, Mom had my back. She agreed with me about my recipe & technique for once. Mom didn’t try to tell me how to make my recipe better. I felt accepted as a bonafied Vietnamese home cook.

The rest of the staff agreed, “Yes little Sister, that sounds good, we’ll have to try that. Thank Tot for us.” Then the nail shops continues humming with the regular sounds, as if there were no distractions.

Whew. I think I won. I actually had the 12 best-chicken-salad-makers agree with me! And they gave all the credit to Tot.

Oh well, I don’t care where the credit went to.  I still think my chicken salad recipe is great and  we’re all winners!

Just another day at the nail shop.

-diane

Previous Nail Shop Eats:

(Gỏi Gà or Gỏi Bắp Cẚi Gà) Vietnamese Chicken Salad Recipe

Yield: 4 servings.

Total Time: 40 Minutes

There are many variations of this fabulous and classic Vietnamese Chicken Salad. The salad can be especially pleasing with different textures and flavors ranging from fried shallots, roasted peanuts, fried garlic and picked onions to different Vietnamese herbs such as mint, basil or the classic rau ram (Viet coriander). Some salads will be heartier with more chicken than cabbage, so you can choose your ratios and toppings to your personal taste. The chicken can be boiled, poached, grilled, fried or bbq.

Ingredients:

For the Salad:

  • about 4 cups thinly shredded cabbage (regular or napa)
  • handful of rau ram (Vietnamese coriander) or mint, basil, cilantro
  • 1/4 c shredded Carrots
  • crushed, roasted Peanuts
  • fried Shallots
  • fried Garlic
  • Pickled Red Onions

For the Chicken Marinade:

  • 2 lbs Chicken, sliced  to desired thickness for boiling, poaching, grilling or bbq (go for the brown meat!)
  • 1 T fresh Ginger, crushed or grated
  • 1 large clove Garlic, crushed or finely minced
  • 2  T Vegetable or Grape-seed oil
  • 2  T Fish Sauce
  • 1 t Sugar

For the Fish Sauce Dressing

  • 2/3 c Fish Sauce
  • 2 T fresh Ginger, crushed or grated
  • 1/3 c Water
  • 3 cloves Garlic, finely minced or crushed
  • 1-2 Red Chilies, minced
  • 1 T Sugar
  • 2 Tablespoons of fresh Lime Juice or more to taste (about 1 lime, depending on how juicy it is)

Directions:

    Make the Chicken

  1. In bowl, combine all chicken marinade ingredients and let marinade for about 20 minutes. Cook chicken using your desired method: boil, poach, grill or bbq.
  2. Once chicken has cooled, shred the chicken.

    Make Fish Sauce Dressing

  1. In medium bowl or large jar, combine all ingredients well. Allow sugar to completely dissolve before serving.
  2. You can keep chilled in fridge for up to 1 month.

    Final Assembly:

  1. In large bowl, combine cabbage, herbs and shredded carrots. In medium bowl, place shredded chicken and a few tablespoons of fish sauce to evenly coat the chicken.
  2. When you're ready to serve, toss chicken into the salad and add more fish sauce dressing to taste. Top with fried shallots, garlic, peanuts and/or pickled onions.
Recipe Source: WhiteOnRiceCouple.com.

Hello! All images & content are copyright protected. Please do not use our images without prior permission. If you want to republish this recipe, please re-write the recipe in your own words, or simply link back to this post for the recipe. Thank you. And remember in making the recipes, if using table salt instead of kosher or sea salt, make sure you reduce the salt amount.


More Best Vietnamese Chicken Salad Recipes:

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{ 63 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Anh August 22, 2010 at 10:57 pm

Thanks for participating in Delicious Vietnam! :)

And what a cute story! I went through a phrase of “to substitute or not” when I first came to Australia. Now I think of freedom in my cooking. The key in Vietnamese food has always been the freshness of ingredients and simple cooking technique anyway?

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2 matt August 22, 2010 at 10:59 pm

Lovely lovely food, photography and narrative guys! That must have been a total riot in the nail shop, would love to have witnessed that!

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3 Pepy @Indonesia Eats August 22, 2010 at 11:21 pm

I can smell the goodness of rau ram. Ever since I learned Vietnamese cooking, I’ve always have nuoc mam cham in my fridge

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4 Jessica @ How Sweet August 23, 2010 at 3:57 am

Beautiful and so delicious! I can’t imagine the stories. :)

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5 Foodie in Berlin August 23, 2010 at 4:20 am

Your description of this event is hilarious! I can literally picture it all – like I am watching it on film and laughing (and drooling just a little bit – OK a lot!). I have been to Vietnam twice now and I LOVE the food. Fish sauce, chili, mint, rice pancakes – delicious!

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6 joudie's Mood Food August 23, 2010 at 5:29 am

Oh my Goodness. I can literally hear the crunching from over here. This looks so fresh, and raw. I love these kinds of dishes, full of flavour and texture. Great post, and very very beautiful and tempting pictures.

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7 Alanna August 23, 2010 at 5:41 am

I love how you ‘paint’ pictures, Diane, just as beautifully as you ‘shoot’ them! Fun story … and I think it’s about time I find a new bottle of fish sauce.

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8 Fran August 23, 2010 at 6:11 am

What a fun story. I’m envious of the experience of being part of this kind of camaraderie in small business. There are so many popular and hilarious “barber shop” movies, I’ll bet a Vietnamese nail salon movie would be a hit too, but with food at it’s core it would draw a whole other segment of movie-goers.

And your update to the salad sounds pretty close to perfect to me! I think I’ll head to the market to pick up some chicken and cabbage — the rest of the ingredients are all here. Yum!

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9 matt August 23, 2010 at 6:53 am

Having experienced the sisters AS WELL AS YOUR CHICKEN SALAD I could quite easily tell you that yours would win in my book any day. And the other readers here, well, I only wish you could have this salad as Diane makes it because it’s nothing like you’ve ever had before. Yes, thanks to Tot.

Sidenote: You left the salad on the table once and I kept going back and picking at it until it was gone. I ate the entire thing.

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10 alison August 23, 2010 at 6:57 am

I just tweeted this post. Great story, recipe and incredible photos.

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11 Jenny Flake August 23, 2010 at 7:20 am

What a story! This is a beautiful post through and through. As always, your photography just makes me happy, GORGEOUS!! Have a great day :)

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12 hanna August 23, 2010 at 7:25 am

Oh, this is such a familiar feeling! I also stammered out a recipe tweak to my group of cooking aunts once. And the credit was given to my roomie. Thanks for posting this story (and recipe)!

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13 Kristina August 23, 2010 at 7:30 am

OMG, I love, love, love this story. I laughed out loud because I could just hear them chattering about who had the best salad and then the thunderous silence when you spoke up. The salad sounds fantastic too. I’m with you on the grilling vs. poaching.

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14 Maria August 23, 2010 at 7:36 am

Thanks for sharing this story. Love it! The salad looks incredible!

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15 Tamar@StarvingofftheLand August 23, 2010 at 7:43 am

And all this time I thought they were talking about the ugly American with the big feet! To think that this was what I was missing for not speaking Vietnamese. Thanks for the translation, and thank your mother for the food. What a beautiful recipe.

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16 Ken August 23, 2010 at 7:44 am

What a healthy delight. I’m definitely making this in large quantities.

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17 Sandy August 23, 2010 at 7:51 am

I just had my sister-in-law’s salad, which is pretty tasty, but traditional. Dare I suggest napa cabbage and grilled chicken to her?

Hilarious story about the nail shop. I can pick out a few Vietnamese phrases here and there, but I think the shop that I go to never has such heated conversations about food!

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18 Cookin' Canuck August 23, 2010 at 8:00 am

What a great story you weave. I can practically hear the crickets chirping as you made your napa cabbage & bbq chicken pronouncement. I love that all the women were having a heated discussion about chicken salad.

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19 Jen Yu August 23, 2010 at 8:08 am

I’m crying tears of laughter! Diane, I love how you tell your mom stories. That salad looks incredible, but the juxtaposition of your story makes it doubly special. It’s okay if Todd (Tot) gets the credit – it’s much better that they like the white boys than not! :) Love you guys xo

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20 TheKitchenWitch August 23, 2010 at 8:09 am

That’s good stuff–both the story and the salad. Tot is certainly a genius, because napa cabbage and charred chicken are inspired variations to the traditional recipe.

Wonderful descriptions–I can almost hear those ladies clucking and comparing recipes. Your mom’s story…boy. She’s a tough cookie. She has my admiration.

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21 Lauren August 23, 2010 at 8:25 am

Fantastic post! I loved reading it, and the recipe was just a perfect finale :).

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22 Barbara | VinoLuciStyle August 23, 2010 at 8:31 am

The salad looks delicious and thank you for sharing but more…thank you for sharing the story. No matter the culture we are all made of some of the same cloth; hesitant to speak up out of fear or respect or…who knows, but glad to hear you found your voice! Maybe I’ll thank Tot for that, but you for the salad!

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23 Patty August 23, 2010 at 8:32 am

I see a lot of my mom in your mom. Great story, well written and the chicken salad sounds and looks delicious!

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24 Michael Procopio August 23, 2010 at 9:06 am

This is my first time visiting your blog. It won’t be my last.

This post encompasses everything I feel a great food post should be: the photography and recipe are beautiful, but it’s the story behind the food that really makes me want to read about it. And eat it.

As a friend recently said to me, “It’s the sippers and munchers, not the sips and munches themselves, that we’re really interested in in the end.”

Thanks for the great post,

Michael

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25 pam August 23, 2010 at 9:09 am

That’s hilarious! I hope Tot comes up with more good ideas :)

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26 Cathy/ShowFoodChef August 23, 2010 at 9:18 am

Your story was a tiny movie and I love it so! If you changed the details, but kept the spirit and love – you would have a story of my mom with her sisters, too, from the South in NC. She also loves to give my husband credit for things, a cultural thing also, and I love it because it brings her closer to him somehow. Food is that global connector, right? Thanks for sharing such a funny and loving post. Of course, the pics and the recipe are truly amazing – you and “Tot” are precious!

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27 ravenouscouple August 23, 2010 at 9:25 am

fabulous recipe and story–the momglish speak “Tot” is LOL spot on from what we hear from our parents. Thanks so much for sharing and contributing to Delicious Vietnam!

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28 TripleScoop August 23, 2010 at 9:26 am

You know if you add some Bun to this recipe it would make a entree!

I’m like you ..I don’t even bother with explaining blogging and social media to my parents…they are just happy to read the Vietnamese newspaper online and boy where they excited to see vietnamese videos online. Simple pleasures keeps everyone happy.

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29 serena @bigapplenosh August 23, 2010 at 9:49 am

This looks so delicious! Thank you for sharing the recipe and the stories! :)

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30 Fiona August 23, 2010 at 9:57 am

Mighty impressive to suggest recipe changes AND have your mom back you up. The day that my my mom doesn’t debbie-down my suggestions will be the day that pigs everywhere take flight. Can’t wait to make this recipe!

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31 Kate @ Savour Fare August 23, 2010 at 10:17 am

I’ll have to try this! I love Viet cabbage salad (though I remain unconvinced about the Napa because I generally prefer the crunch and flavor of regular cabbage, I think grilling is genius). Love the Tot story!

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32 Jenious August 23, 2010 at 10:21 am

You weave quite a vivid and hilarious tale here. Thanks for the laugh. :)
p.s. – your chicken marinade sounds delightful!

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33 Victoria August 23, 2010 at 10:44 am

Diane,

How said it made me when you said your grandfather died in the Viet-Nam war. I wonder if your family called it the American war.

I recently had a friend from Australia visit. She is 40 years old and has been to the States many times on business but had never gotten to D.C., and this is the one thing she wanted to do on this visit. So one more time I took someone to that granite monument, designed by a female Asian-American student of architecture, and stood in the place where you can see the name of the first American who died in what we call the Vietnam War AND the name of the last American who died there. And, again, I cried tears for all the Vietnamese whose names are not there but whose spirits hover over that aching place. Then I pointed to the name Rodney D. Johnson, a boy from Knoxville, Illinois, who I once dated in our seventeenth summers.

I’m 63 now. It still makes me sad.

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34 colleen August 23, 2010 at 10:51 am

You sure bring smiles to my heart/mind. And, the salads look sooooo delicious!!!

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35 Mai August 23, 2010 at 10:54 am

I love your nail shop stories! Keep them coming.

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36 CarolineAdobo August 23, 2010 at 11:09 am

Great post! A great example of dishes that are so versatile we can put our own spin on it to make it our own. Love mom’s accents, in my case my mom calls my husband Day-niel. hehe

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37 Victoria August 23, 2010 at 11:24 am

But I forgot to add above that your story made me smile.

And do I love the part about Tot?

You bet I do.

I toast both of you every time I have a WORC Sidecar Fizz or a WORC Meyer Lemon Margarita (or two). I still haven’t tried the Sidecar made with tangerine juice – that is definitely next on my list.

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38 Tokyo Terrace August 23, 2010 at 2:03 pm

Wow! I loved reading this post about your mother’s life and cooking. Such a touching story. This post also made me even more excited for our spring trip to Vietnam in March. Can’t wait! Maybe you can give us some tips on where to go and (of course) what to eat.

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39 momgateway August 23, 2010 at 2:13 pm

Yum! I’m making this when my in-laws come to visit!

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40 maybelles mom August 23, 2010 at 5:43 pm

My Indian mother used to get anxious when my italian american boyfriend would come over and cook. Then one day he made dosas crispier than she ever had using his cast iron griddle. Since then, my mother loves to boast that my husband is a better Indian cook that me. I love this story, and I agree about the chicken.

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41 Priscilla - She's Cookin' August 23, 2010 at 5:51 pm

Hilarious! I can just see all heads turning to look at you! Drop dead gorgeous photos – especially the one of the chicken grilling. And, thank G-d for Tot, that’s a beautiful salad – I prefer the crunch of Napa cabbage, too!

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42 Cheryl August 23, 2010 at 10:36 pm

I really want to meet your mom! LOL I might have to venture to the OC to get my nails done, but you have to tell me ahead of time when your mom is cooking!

Gorgeous pictures as always!

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43 JillS. August 24, 2010 at 6:41 am

What a great story teller – I could just picture being there! Your mom sounds terrific (I also have a technologically-challenged mother and she has decided she want to learn how to text – heaven help me!). The salad looks fantastic – great for a summer dinner. Go Tot!

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44 SMITH BITES August 24, 2010 at 2:53 pm

Another great post – storytelling at it’s very, very best and one that made me laugh out loud! I’m so fascinated by cultures and how they intersect with food. And I’m happy that you discovered you’re a grown woman, not a child, while still in your thirties . . . most of us don’t figure that out until we’re . . . well . . . I can’t wait to meet you and Tot in Atlanta!

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45 Karen Rubio August 24, 2010 at 4:04 pm

Diane,
My eyes welled up with tears when I read your Ma’s reaction to you standing up for your recipe. That was the best part of the whole story! Of course I am very excited about the chicken salad recipe too.
Your newest cooking and photographing friend,
Karen

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46 Betsy August 25, 2010 at 9:59 am

I love that your mother says ‘Tot’. My step-siblings are half Vietnamese and their mother can’t say my name. To her, I am ‘Pepsi’. :)

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47 Jackie at Phamfatale.com August 25, 2010 at 7:25 pm

I can relate to your story, Diane! My mom has 7 sisters. Each of them makes their own version of gơi gà and calls it “đặc biệt” (special) ;)

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48 moonvalley August 25, 2010 at 7:31 pm

Oh, how I love your photos and commentary, the gorgeous photos make my mouth water and your description of the conversation in the nail salon is priceless!

I made the salad tonight, using your directions, and I have a question: do you really mean to use 2/3 cup of fish sauce in the dressing? I made it this way, and it was super salty! Perhaps it was a typo, or am I missing something? The rest of the salad was delicious!

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49 Marisa August 26, 2010 at 6:51 am

Cute story! Sounds like your mom & her nail shop friends means business when it comes to cooking. :-)

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50 Jennifer August 26, 2010 at 7:47 pm

@moonvalley, I assume you’re referring to the 2/3 cup fish sauce that’s listed in the dressing, which is to be added to taste? Normally my mom mixes up a few cups worth and it’s to be used as needed for multiple dishes and not to be all dumped on one thing…

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51 moonvalley August 26, 2010 at 9:04 pm

@ Jennifer, thanks, we did add it sparingly to taste… the recipe as written makes about a cup of dressing, of which 2/3 is fish sauce…next time for the dressing I will use the same proportions of everything else and use a few tablespoons of fish sauce- it will be more to our taste. A fabulous salad nonetheless!

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52 White on Rice Couple August 27, 2010 at 9:33 am

We double checked our double check of the measurements and that is how much we use (we make it so much @ home that we rarely measure & just make it to taste), but the quantities are how we like it. A few factors come into play for how much fish sauce to use: the fish sauce (some brands are more “salty” than others, comfort with the taste of fish sauce, and of course personal seasoning preference. We like our flavors to pop, but will dress the salad with a careful hand. We will use the hottest chilies but use them just enough it gets a nice tingle without blowing out our taste buds. Like Jennifer mentions her mom doing, we make the sauce in batches to use for many dishes since it keeps so well.
Glad you still like the salad and are finding your own personal preference to the ingredients. There is no wrong or right way, just make it how you enjoy it! ;)

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53 Jennifer August 27, 2010 at 3:51 pm

Ah, yes, if you’re unaccustomed to that level of saltiness it might be a bit much. My mom also uses lemon juice generally, and not lime juice, which might also affect the tartness level.

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54 Jeanette September 1, 2010 at 3:54 am

Love the story and photos. Sounds like a scene out of The Joy Luck Club! I’m of Chinese heritage and I can attest that the Chinese are just as passionate and opinionated about food! Thanks for sharing.

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55 Lael Hazan September 4, 2010 at 1:36 pm

What a wonderful story! I can just imagine the 12 best chicken salad makers staring at you. Of course, all kudos to “Tot”. I do understand :)

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56 Ann September 9, 2010 at 3:57 am

What a great (and funny) story! I printed out this recipe and left it lying on our kitchen counter. I laughed out loud when my husband walked by it, stopped and incredulously asked “We’re having nail salon salad?” I took the recipe to the beach with us Labor Day weekend, made it for some friends and everybody loved it. It’s definitely a keeper. Thanks for sharing!

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57 Lily October 30, 2010 at 4:42 pm

Oh wow….I stumbled upon your blog, i couldn’t stop reading. It’s just fascinating following the conversation in the nail shop. Thanks for sharing the chicken salad recipe.

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58 White on Rice Couple October 30, 2010 at 9:13 pm

Lily- thank you for coming, hope you enjoy more reads and recipes!

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59 Diem January 9, 2011 at 12:51 pm

I felt like making goi ga today, googled and was happy to see that you had a recipe. Lovely story – a lot of the time, the nail ladies don’t realize I can speak the language. And it’s true, most of the time they don’t talk about the clientele at all.

Btw, my parents call my husband Bread ;)

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60 Delish Dinners January 19, 2012 at 9:59 pm

A Google search for goi ga brought me here and I was desperately hoping to find a recipe that didn’t have poached chicken because I’m not a fan of poached chicken!

So not only was I thrilled to read that BBQ chicken has the authentic tick of approval but I also loved reading this story!

I will be making this salad tonight- with BBQ chicken!!!

Great blog :)

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61 deb June 15, 2012 at 11:54 am

Do you have a recipe for kimchee. I had it made in Switzerland at a school by a team of visiting people from Korea. They served it fresh, rather than fermented. It was the best thing after this salad which works well in a wrap also. Thanks

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62 rose October 26, 2012 at 1:01 pm

this recipe is GREAT. i’ll admit, i only used some of the elements…the dressing as a base and some of the salad ingredients. we made it vegetarian to have along side lime-mustard salmon, so to bulk it up we added peapods, green onions, bean sprouts, and extra carrots/peanuts. we also added sweet chili sauce to the dressing cause my hubs is very sensitive to fish sauce. i will be making this again and again – and will add chicken next time to make it a complete meal on its own. thank you so much! and i loved reading the story – your mom/nail ladies sound like a good group!

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63 Tsu Dho Nimh July 27, 2013 at 10:58 am

Seriously … you need to put these into a cookbook called “Nail Shop Eats”.

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