Saturday, January 26, 2008

Thach Che Hien Khanh - Westminster

A thick encyclopedia could be written about Asian sweets and desserts. There are as many different kinds of treats as there are species of tropical flora. The Vietnamese dessert called che, by itself, has subphylums I have not yet begun to explore.

Dry and soupy. Slippery and sticky. Brightly-colored and dull. Cold and hot. These are just some contradictory word pairings I think of when trying to describe che. Most often, it will be sweet. But it can also be savory and salty. Starches like tapioca are used, but so will sticky rice. Fruits like banana will be stewed to a pudding consistency. Others will get a prodigious amount of coconut milk. Also, artificial food coloring isn't taboo, it's required in the recipe.

Thach Che Hien Khanh has all kinds of che. But one night, I just wanted something I can suck through a straw on the drive home. I looked over some sample cups -- provided in case a non-Vietnamese speaker like me just happened to wander in -- and pointed to the one with the brightest color combo.

I asked how much. "Three dollar," the lady answers.

Then she assembles the one I will drink. She ladles in onyx black tapioca pearls first, then slippery, slime green squiggles, followed by some crunchy, faux pomegranate seeds. Crushed ice goes on top, some syrup, and finally a nice, generous pour of coconut milk. The white liquid snakes down through the ingredients, and fills up the cup to the brim.

Before consumption, the drink must be thoroughly mixed to distribute the sweetener and milk (as I demonstrate in the before-and-after photos above). I have found that it helps to wait until the ice melts a little.

With the first sip comes a comforting surge of coconut milk. It's creamy sweet with the lightest touch of saltiness. Then as the solid pieces of the concoction travel up the straw, there's chewing involved. The boba has the bouncy bite-resistance of bubble-gum, the red bits are crunchy like water chestnuts, and the green stuff wiggles around like a worm -- wait, didn't I compare che to species of flora? Maybe I should include fauna too.

Thach Che Hien Khanh
9639 Bolsa Ave., #A
Westminster, CA 92683

To read Wandering Chopsticks' post
on Thach Che Hien Khanh,


At 10:39 AM, Blogger Christine D. said...

Oooh, I love getting the 3 color che here! I'm not into all the other che with seaweed, taro, plantains, etc. and I get bored of the corn thing and the one that looks like green slugs.

Mmm, I'll have to stop by here when I visit CA!

At 11:48 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Not too fond of Hien Khanh.

1. It's more expensive than many other places selling che. No buy 2 get 1 free deal here.
2. The love their coconut. Most things they make have too much of it.

The to-go place next to it has acceptable che with better prices and less coconut.

At 4:13 PM, Blogger Diamond Dog said...

I love all food. I am very adventurous. But the one food I can't stand is milk. I like cheese and ice cream and yogurt, but I can't stand milk by itself. This is what I said in my blog about this drink:

I tried a drink like this at a Food Festival. I tasted some and it tasted like 7 courses of milk (with chunks). I am the wrong person to give a review on this as I hate milk so much. Welcome to milk Hell. Just kidding. Other people may like this. It reminded me of what your sink would look like if you were cleaning up after a 2 year old's birthday party and I just couldn't get past it.

Speaking of 7 courses, I tried Pagolac and the 7 courses of beef based on the recommendation from Elmo!

First of all, if you don't know what you are doing and don't speak Vietnamese, you are screwed. We had to watch people at the other tables to figure it out.

If you want the table top volcano grill thing where you grill your meats, that is not included in the 7 courses. Its extra and needs to be ordered separately.

It doesnt come out course by course. It starts out that way, then everything at once, then the soup and salad thing.

The food was good and it was fun. But that big meatball with the rice noodles in it....It was fine in the wrap with veggies. But then I made the mistake of eating it on its own. It tasted like cat food on the bottom of a shoe after you walked across the pier in Newport!!! Oh my god it was gross.

But other than that, it was good. Don't know if I will return but glad I did it once. Thanks for the rec.

At 7:09 PM, Blogger Nguyen Duong said...

nice find, elmo. haven't been to this one yet. we usually go to van's bakery to get the sweets. i think andrew zimmern summed it up best about vietnamese food...'it's a contrast of tastes, textures, and temperatures.' che is no exception.

At 8:44 PM, Blogger STran said...

Well this is cool, I've gone to this place. I go eat banh cuon at the place next to this. Then I go here for dessert.

I love this place, I always get that sticky rice with the beans and coconut milk. It's delicious. =)

At 7:30 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The popularity and loyalty to Hien Khanh che is because of their fresh coconut milk, which is scraped and pressed from real coconuts. Price point is certainly important with Vietnamese, but budget is put aside when it comes to HK's quality of coconut milk and sticky rice. That's why HK always has customers, especially on weekends, where the line goes out the door.

I'll eat che from almost anywhere, but when I'm closer to HK, it's worth the extra 75 cents to $1 to have a rich and creamy coconut milk topped 3 color che in a cup. The plumpness of their white beans are really good too. When I bring HK che to work , all my Viet ladies drop what they are doing to make sure their che up is eaten or put aside for later.

The cool bit of info is that the HK brothers all used to be successful engineers, but left the corporate world to sell che. Just doing what they love! Thanks for the reminder Elmo, it's che time!

At 3:58 PM, Blogger Wandering Chopsticks said...

How could you walk away with just one cup? I always buy several and store them in my fridge for later. :)

BTW, even with the 3 for 2 deal at Banh Mi & Che Cali, I think their che is too sweet. I gladly pay just a smidgen more for better quality che from Hien Khanh.

At 5:48 AM, Blogger Juliet said...

I love that kind of stuff! Especially the three bean one! Now, why can't those places be as commonplace in America as Starbucks? That would rock!

At 6:34 AM, Blogger Beach said...

Che is better at the original HK on Westminster between Bushard and Brookhurst. Next time try their "Com". It is flavor green rice from the North. It is my favorite.

At 11:40 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

it seems like a super version of boba. sounds awesome.

some enterprising vietnamese person should make a "che" t-shirt with a cup of che rather than a picture of che gueverra. i'd wear it.

At 1:09 PM, Blogger Bill said...

One of my favorite che place...I think you get what you pay for.

At 5:20 PM, Blogger elmomonster said...


I'm not too crazy about plantains in dessert either. Unless its fried!


I hear ya. Cheap is good. A favorite of mine is Banh Mi Che Cali. Not just because it's got the B2G1 deal, but it's easy to pick up and order. I almost tried the place next door to HK too. Next time.

Diamond Dog,

Glad you enjoyed Pagolac. What you said is true. We would've been screwed if it weren't for Beach (see him commenting below). He's The Don of Little Saigon (it's a term of endearment).


I agree with that Zimmern statement. But the man needs to learn to appreciate durian. Otherwise, I like him and his show.


Been meaning to try that banh cuon place. Gustavo Arellano wrote it up a long time ago for the weekly. Sounds awesome (but I heard they don't allow pics inside).


Engineers, eh? No wonder I felt a kinship to them (just kidding). Anyway, that makes sense about the coconut milk. It tasted fresh.


I would've done more, but I had too much leftover Lao food to finish (same trip as Vientiane post a few weeks ago).


You are so right. Lewis Black said it best. You know it's the end of the universe when you walk out of a Starbucks and then see another Starbucks across from you. Let's hasten that with more che places.


Dang it! I didn't even know about that one. It's like whack-a-mole. Of course, this is why you are the Little Saigon expert!


I'd buy it too. Perfect for those who might know what che is and no clue on who Che was.



At 6:30 PM, Blogger Chubbypanda said...

My life became sadder once the doctor outlawed coconut milk. Stupid bad saturated fat... Gods, I miss coconut milk.

At 8:32 AM, Blogger Kathy YL Chan said...

Oh maaaan, only when you leave SoCal do you realize just how much you're missing out on...any good che (quality and price-wise!) is terribly difficult to come across here in nyc!

At 5:40 AM, Blogger elmomonster said...


That blows! Actually, you can have the thing without coconut milk...but really, there's no point to it then. Coconut milk makes this drink.


Ah, but you have cafes and dessert shops that are open 24 hours. That's something OC will never have. Unless it's called Denny's.

At 11:39 AM, Blogger melissac. said...

You know, I wanna be adventurous and try che, but something about it is just so foreign and frightening that I cringe at the thought of it. It doesn't look like a dessert, it looks like a science experiment.

At 1:03 PM, Blogger elmomonster said...


Actually, yours is a kind description. I've heard it compared to gummy bear vomit. Which, I'm sorry to say, is dead-on.

At 1:05 PM, Blogger elmomonster said...


I forgot one more thing though. As weird as it is, it's completely vegan. No animal products (if it's not custard) of any kind.


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