The New York Diet

Actress An Nguyen Loves Her Vietnamese Dives

At Cong Ly.
At Cong Ly. Photo: Melissa Hom

In the upcoming film “Year of the Fish,” An Nguyen plays a young Chinese woman who comes to New York to work at a massage parlor. Nguyen is actually Vietnamese (she was shipwrecked along with her aunt and uncle when she immigrated at the age of 3), so she felt right at home eating congee almost every day while the movie was shot in Chinatown. “I go to these amazing dive restaurants there,” she tells us. One is Cong Ly, for the spring rolls and the seafood soup with pork and egg noodles; the other is Pho Tu Do at 119 Bowery, for the bun rieu — “it’s a tomato-based crab soup with noodles and it reminds me of the way my aunt used to make it.” At the age of 16, Nguyen was reunited with her mother, a restaurant cook who would bring home little surprises from work. “We were eating escargot and lobster at a young age,” she tells us. We asked her how she put that refined palate to work this week.

Saturday, August 9
For breakfast I had eggs and bacon, and we made chicken Milanese for lunch. My boyfriend pounds the chicken really thin. It’s so inviting when I hear the noise because I know I’m going to have a great meal. His favorite spice is Himalayan salt — it’s quite an investment because it’s so expensive and we rarely use it because it’s so overpowering, but with the bitterness of some arugula and the sweetness of some tomato it’s perfect. We’re also madly in love with panko.

We went to a dinner party and nibbled on prosciutto and melon. I was pretty much monopolizing the prosciutto. I wasn’t going to eat it because it has nitrates and is so salty, but we got there and I was eyeing it. We brought some One Girl Cookies, a little cookie shop in Cobble Hill where I live. I love the brownie and the pumpkin cookie and the cookie called “Lucia” that’s almost a candy bar.

Sunday, August 10
We had eggs and bacon and for lunch which was also my dinner. We also had steak-frites from Markt and it was really good. I freelance at a post-production house so I’m in Chelsea a lot.

Monday, August 11
I had hard-boiled egg whites for breakfast — my attempt to be healthy.

I skipped lunch because I was running around and we had linguine vongole for dinner and some tiramisu. I managed to only take two or three bites — usually I’m really competitive with it. And we had some Red Truck, which is an everyday red wine that I love because it’s so easy to drink. When I go to a bar there isn’t that much I can order because I don’t really drink beer (it’s so carbonated— until recently I couldn’t drink more than two sips of soda. Socially, what I can drink is water and maybe juice with water cut into it.). But we have a few bottles of Red Truck at home now, chilled — it’s so refreshing.

Tuesday, August 12
I had hard-boiled egg whites for breakfast, on the balcony of our apartment. It was really peaceful to be out there.

For lunch I had Thai green curry with chicken from Royal Siam, which is a pretty dependable and consistently good place. I’ve always liked the texture of bamboo shoots. And the green curry is just spicy enough for me —it’s not like red curry where you’re dying.

We made tagliatelle with veal ragout for dinner. And we had an arugula-and-tomato salad as a second course. Then we made a porterhouse steak that we got at Whole Foods. I much prefer the steak we make at home — we found a Tyler Florence recipe where he recommends you season it with salt and pepper generously and let it sit for a while, then you do four minutes on one side, four on the other, and then you put it in the oven. The porterhouse is nice because you have two cuts on each side of the bone — I’m a big fan of steak with the bone.

Wednesday, August 13
We had steak and eggs for breakfast.

We decided to order from Pastis and I got the steak-frites, my favorite thing from there, but ate very little of it — mainly just eating the fries and ketchup and the strawberry shortcake which I ate all. I fall into patterns of eating — last weekend we were with my boyfriend’s family so there was a lot of Asian food. I guess I got my fill of that and this was steak week.

I don’t cook enough Asian food myself because there are a lot of fresh ingredients that go into everything. When I visit my mom’s house she has so many herbs in the fridge, it’s insane. And she’s constantly cooking. It’s like a factory. She makes pork buns called bun bao— they’re a lot of work because there’s a lot kneading of the dough but they’re so freaking good. There’s a sandwich shop, Banh Mi So 1, that usually makes them, but we went recently and they said, “I’m sorry, we don’t make it in the summer time.” I was dreaming about it!

For dinner I had one of my favorite things —I went to Basta Pasta (it’s Italian food made by Japanese people) and I got the spaghetti with flying fish roe. I got the owner to give me the recipe — it’s a huge mystery. I feel like I have this secret in the palm of my hands. He said to boil spaghetti for three minutes, then take it out of the water and boil it for three minutes in a pot of clam juice. This was the part where he got vague —he said, “Also, there’s some butter and garlic in it.” And then you put the flying fish roe at the end, and the shizo goes on after. It’s timeless.

Thursday, August 14
I had a chocolate croissant and a soy flat white from Grumpys. It’s a little café tucked away in a pretty residential street between Seventh and Eighth and they have the Clover machine, which was really rare (Starbucks just bought the company that made it). They make really smooth coffee and they’re the nicest people.

For lunch I had sushi, shumai, pork gyoza, and clear soup, and avocado rolls from Mizu. It’s always very quick and they know me.

“Year of the Fish” opens at the Angelika Film Center on August 29.

Actress An Nguyen Loves Her Vietnamese Dives