You gather around a whole grilled lemongrass- and chili-stuffed sea bream. You unwrap it from its banana cocoon and begin chopsticking morsels of its firm, sweet, steaming white flesh, folding them into soft rice paper parcels bulging with a bouquet of herbs. You swipe these pockets through fruity, funky pineapple fish sauce and deliver them straight into your greedy gob, followed by a tangle of cool rice vermicelli tossed in a tangy tomatillo salsa verde.
That’s how the two chefs behind the Vietnamese-Guatemalan alliance Giống Giống will do it when they return to Monday Night Foodball, the Reader’s 65th chef pop-up at Ludlow Liquors.
The pandemic was still seething back in August 2021 when Jeanette Tran-Dean and David Hollinger killed it at the very first Foodball. Who knew any of us would make it this far, particularly since the pair took a long, year-plus break? Tran-Dean took the time off to hang with her newborn, while Hollinger moved from Aya Pastry to managing the bakery at Zeitlin’s Delicatessen.
But the unexpected harmony of Vietnamese and Guatemalan cuisine is a sweet song too haunting to ignore. Giống Giống, pronounced “yum yum,” means “same-same,” after all, and Tran-Dean and Hollinger jumped back into action, adding yet another surprising dimension to an already cosmic alignment of contrasting textures, temperatures, and tastes. More on that later.
Remember their take on the citrusy, minty Guatemalan radish and chicharron chojín salad, bumped up with fish sauce, shredded papaya, and shrimp paste? This time they’re wrapping it up into a Vietnamese-style spring roll, bulging with garlicky grilled shrimp and crunchy pork bits, with extras to dip into peanut hoisin sauce.
Hollinger will be pressing thick Central American-style tortillas from fresh El Popocatepetl Tortilleria masa to swaddle jiggling fried pork belly, stewed with lemongrass and fermented shrimp paste, and topped with a chunky pineapple-cucumber salsa.
Their bún chả Guatemalteca, a take on the symphonic Vietnamese pork and noodle salad, assembles a trio of jicama-lemongrass pork meatballs in sweet-salty-spicy nước chấm, with chimichurri marinated charred flank steak, a crispy fried spring roll, and vermicelli tossed with the roasted tomato-onion-habanero salsa chirmol.
So what’s the big surprise in this refreshed incarnation of Giống Giống? Tran-Dean and Hollinger have learned that what their emerging Viet-Guat cuisine needs is an injection from their prairie Canadian and rural Wisconsin roots
On a previous menu, that meant a controversial take on poutine topped with Guatemalan beef stew. “Some people said, ‘Why is there poutine in this menu,” says Tran-Dean. “‘Well, I grew up with this.’ We don’t want to shut out the opportunity to showcase what we loved when we grew up. And I don’t like people telling us what to do. We grew up in a melting pot, and I want our food to also be a melting pot.” This time they’re slinging a Phởpusa smash: an oxtail and cheese curd-stuffed pupusa with a phở broth dip bobbing with spring ramps.
For dessert they’ll serve chè Thai, a cool creamy cup of coconut jello, grilled cassava pound cake, jicama, jackfruit, jiggly green pandan mung bean noodles, and corn ice cream.
Finally, you’ll want to prime your palate for this unremitting storm of sensations by starting with a salsa-oyster shooter with a picosita mignonette. Douse it with your beer of choice and you’ve got a marine Guatemalan michelada.
You can just walk right into Ludlow Liquors, 2959 N. California, sidle up to the bar, and order a tamarind cantorito, then order off this astonishingly syncretic menu—first-come, first-served; cash or Venmo—starting at 5 PM this Monday, May 1.
But you will need to think ahead—and act fast—if you want one of those majestic whole grilled banana leaf-wrapped Mediterranean dorade, which they’ll serve with cool rice vermicelli dressed in salsa verde and bursts of fresh, fragrant herbs.
You need to DM them via Instagram—stat—and be ready with a $20 deposit via Venmo (@gionggiong). Orders must be in by 10 PM, Sunday, April 30.
You think your head is spinning now? Just try to focus on the rest of the Foodball schedule.