Walking through an Asian supermarket is an exercise in expansion of one's culinary mind. It's a dangerous practice; you never know just when you're going to discover something you can't live without. My life is immeasurably richer because of Botan rice candy, Thai curry paste, dou fu faa (soft tofu pudding with ginger syrup) and black silkie chickens.
Walking through one of Orange County's two Thuan Phat supermarkets, though, means having to walk past the hanging suckling pigs, the ducks lacquered with sugar syrup, the dim sum takeaway counter... and Vua Kho Bo.
Vua Kho Bo--literally Vua's Dried Beef--ought to be a pilgrimage for all lovers of beef jerky. While I like the stuff sold at the Orange County Marketplace and have even been known to set to on a piece of commercial, Jack Links-type jerky, Vua Kho Bo beats them all.
First, there's the selection--there's at least two dozen different flavors and kinds, from so coated in chile powder that the seeds can be seen from yards away to sweet, tender teriyaki, from lemongrass to vampire-repelling garlic. My wife loves the dried beef liver--an acquired taste, for sure.
Second, they're remarkably free with the samples, perhaps because they know they'll get a sale after a taste. If you want to taste a dozen, taste a dozen. They'll even serve you some of the tea they sell, in hopes that you'll fall in love with eight-treasures tea or jasmine iced tea, and perhaps even buy a tea set.
Third, this is good jerky. It's not bone-dry, but it's not so moist that it's going to mold either--it is kept out in covered tubs, like all jerky. Eaten alone, it's just chewy enough to make you work at it, but it's not overwhelming. Warmed up a little bit with some rice and a little fish sauce, you could stir-fry a vegetable and call it dinner.
Finally, it's one of the most accessible stores to non-Vietnamese. All the labels are in Vietnamese and well-translated English, the staff all speak perfect English, and they're genuinely nice people.
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Most of the jerky is $18-$20 a pound--and a pound is a lot of jerky--but be aware that it's nearly impossible to get an exact amount, so if you order half a pound you may get three quarters and be charged accordingly.
Besides their website (vuakhobo.us), Vua Kho Bo has four locations:
15440 Beach Blvd. #143, Westminster (in the Thuan Phat supermarket); (714) 898-7778.
13861 Brookhurst St., Garden Grove (in the Thuan Phat supermarket); (714) 537-3889.
9321 Bolsa Ave., Westminster (free-standing); (714) 890-5368.
9717 Bolsa Ave., Westminster (free-standing); (714) 775-7166.