Tag Archives: Valerie Luu

Rice Paper Scissors : Vietnamese Pop-Up Cafe

8 Feb

In celebration of Vietnamese New Year, street food vendors Valerie Luu of Little Knock and Katie Kwan of KitchenSidecar threw their first Vietnamese pop-up café and called it Rice Paper Scissors. The guerrilla-style, street food fare featured Valerie’s Crab Sautéed Glass Noodles and Katie’s imperial rolls, snail pho and sticky rice dessert with mung beans and lotus seeds, and other yummies.

With a sizzling pan to her left and wok on her right, Valerie served up a hot and flavor-packed family recipe her grandma served this past Christmas. Valerie says when people think of Vietnamese food, they tend to think of Pho and stick with it. So she wants to get people to try what she grew up eating. She finds this a good excuse to hang out with her grandma and learn recipes and preserve that part of her identity through language and food. When in Saigon, she saw an old lady in her pajamas, cooking up food in an ally way with motorbikes buzzing by. No fear. Valerie palled up with Katie to recreate that culture in San Francisco.

Photo Courtesy of Valerie Luu aka Little Knock

I met with Valerie the following day to help her prepare the Crab Sautéed Glass Noodles for the Underground Market put on by forageSF.

She works out of the rentable kitchen space at La Victoria’s Mexican Bakery & Café.

It was Friday afternoon and we shared the kitchen with a slew of street and underground food entrepreneurs, preparing for their own weekend ventures.

Spanish radio blasted heartfelt ballads from the speakers and the smell of freshly baked cookies enveloped the kitchen.

We started by hesitantly picking up and throwing live crabs into a giant vat of boiling water. It takes 20 minutes until the feisty crabs are no longer intimidating. In that time, we chopped a few pounds of onions and cried insurmountable amounts of liquid, punishment for the mass slaughter. Twenty minutes never felt so long.

But when it came, Valerie gave me some crab cracking tips that resulted in nice chunks of juicy, crabby innards.

First, move to the back of the crab and separate the top shell from the body with your two thumbs. Pour the liquid and fluffy white crab brains, also called crab butter, into a container for later use (Secret Sauce). Leave the yellow stuff, that’s the crab’s digestive system. Some consider it a delicacy but it contains chemical contaminants so I don’t suggest it. Once the shell is off, you will see some thin, white, loosely attached gills that you need to remove and also discard. Then twist off the legs at the joint connecting to the body. Take the body and break it in half with the triangular shaped belly flap facing you. And use a nutcracker and the point of a crab claw to fish out the meaty parts the best way you know how!

Valerie pre soaks the glass noodles in warm water 30 minutes before she starts cooking at the Underground Market. She tells me glass noodles are made from mung bean starch. Because the noodle itself is bland, it acts as a blank canvas to absorb the flavors in her “Secret Sauce.” Not to worry. The ingredients are listed at the end of this article.

At the Underground Market, she will boil chicken broth in a wok and add the pre soaked glass noodles. In a separate pan, she sautés yellow onions, garlic, mushrooms and crab. When the noodles absorb the chicken broth, she adds the “Secret Sauce.” When the noodles and sauce have made a dark caramel color, she adds the sautéed crab and other ingredients into the wok. Mix. Plate up, garnish and serve.

Do It At Home

Rice Paper Scissors will be popping up once month in to-be-determined San Francisco sidewalks and alleys. Find updates on Twitter @littleknock  and @kitchensidecar. In between Pop-Up’s, Make Valerie’s Crab Sautéed Glass Noodles with the ingredients listed below.

Secret Sauce – to taste

Red Vinegar, Hoisin Sauce, Sriracha, Soy Sauce, Sesame Oil, Crab Butter


Dungeness Crab, Glass Noodles, Yellow Onions, Wood Ear mushrooms, Garlic, Chicken Broth, Garnish with Cilantro and Green Onions

And in the locavore spirit, Valerie suggests you go crabbing at Fort Point near Crissy Field. All you need is a license, a big net and some chicken for bait. Let the net sit from 20-30 minutes before pulling it in to check your catch. Don’t forget to throw back the little guys!


Shrooms n Cookies at the Underground Farmers Market

24 Dec

The Underground Farmers Market found a home – in a home – last Thursday. Vendors occupied every room of the Mission Victorian, including the restroom – where one could taste test and purchase honey…questionable.  Spruce beer, resembling root beer, was sold in recycled Samuel Adams beer bottles. In keeping with the low-carbon mileage theme, Iso Rabins of Forage SF offered wild mushrooms foraged in Mendocino County. Acorn flour, crushed the night before, was also available along with lavender shortbread cookies. The lavender was foraged the very same morning by Valerie Luu. Planter boxes of arugula, jams, and Jewish dessert filled a second living room while the empanada lady roamed around until her weary looking basket was emptied.

Forage SF also hosts guided forages to educate the populace of edibles in our local landscape. Monthly CSF boxes of locally foraged edibles are available and 50% of the profit goes to the foragers. While the selection rotates seasonally, the box contains foods you may not have even known were foods. Sea nettle, miners lettuce, sea bean pickles, sea beans and cattail rhizomes are among other such options as acorn bread, mushrooms and fresh caught fish. A pre-Christmas wild food dinner, featuring wild boar, was held in the Haight last night. The menu and locale was kept secret until the day of the 5 course feasting.

I suggest you subscribe to keep updated on Forage SF’s future dinners and related events.

Wild mushrooms foraged from Mendocino County.

Partial view of Iso Robbins – of Forage SF – on the left.