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Vietnamese Chè, Mung Beans, and Lotus Seed: Dessert First at Da Vang in Phoenix

If you're into Vietnamese food, then you've probably heard of Da Vang. The restaurant on the west side of 19th Avenue between Campbell and Highland has been a Valley staple for Vietnamese food for nearly two decades. The spacious but spare, family-friendly spot serves a variety of noodle and rice dishes, as well as steaming bowls of pho. Service is quick and friendly, and the tables surrounding yours are invariably occupied by an array of Vietnamese families, young couples, and local gourmands. 

Of course, we judge no restaurant to be entirely satisfactory until we've had a chance to stop by for dessert. Da Vang offers a dozen different types of Vietnamese sweet treats, including multiple types of chè (traditional Vietnamese dessert soups, puddings, and beverages).

The dessert menu is full of uncommon (to us, anyway) ingredients such as mung beans, gelatin, lotus seed, longan, and sweet rice, so with recommendations from our server, we ended up with three desserts: chè khoai môn, a pudding made with sweet rice, taro root, and coconut cream; chè dau tráng, a separate pudding with white beans, sweet rice, and coconut cream; and chè trái cây, a drink served over crushed ice, with fresh fruit, mung beans, and green gelatin. 

We started with the chè khoai môn, which like chè dau tráng came in a lidded plastic cup that would have been perfect for a to-go order. Da Vang is casual enough that we didn't mind eating out of to-go cups while we dined inside, and once we dug our plastic spoons into chè khoai môn, we forgot about the spoons altogether.  

The sweet, dyed-green rice was complemented by soft coconut cream. The two together were enjoyable — but there was taro root to contend with, too. Cubed and buried deep inside the chè, mostly at the bottom, the taro was not something we fell in love with. With a mild flavor and the consistency of soft, wet chalk, we felt the taro provided textural variation in an otherwise straightforward rice pudding, but not much more. On the upside, there wasn't much of it and we devoured the rice and coconut cream happily. 

The next dessert we tried was chè dau tráng. While beans of any sort rarely make appearances on the dessert menus of Western cuisines, beans are not uncommon in sweet treats from many Asian countries. We found chè dau tráng with its sweet rice (not colored this time), whole white beans, and the same coconut cream from the previous chè, to be an enjoyable mixture of sweet and savory.

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Unlike the sparse taro root in chè khoai môn, the beans were numerous and distributed throughout this pudding. Their texture lent a firmness to the soft rice and coconut cream, without altering the creaminess of the dessert. Although the two were very similar, we preferred the chè dau tráng of the two desserts. 

Our final dessert was chè trái cây. The most interesting of all the treats we tried, chè trái cây was made with mung beans, fruit including a red maraschino cherry, gelatin strands, and milk, served over crushed ice. It was the only dessert that came in a glass, and was cool, sweet, and refreshing.

While the white beans in chè dau tráng were whole, the mung beans in this drink were softened and lacked their skins. They were soft and sweet, allowing the ice to provide texture in their stead. The Jell-O strings were surprisingly firm and were simultaneously crunchy and chewy. We ate most of chè trái cây with a long spoon and finished the sweet milk with a straw once most of the treat had melted. 

The desserts at Da Vang might not be quite as standout as the restaurant's hot pots and noodle dishes, but they're definitely worth trying. The cold and refreshing chè trái cây is especially worthwhile, while the other chè desserts are also satisfying. Maybe next time we'll grab a few of those lidded cups to enjoy on the go. 

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