Now, I grew up in the "culinary" world, and have been exposed to all sorts of foods from all sorts of places, so it's a RARE thing when I find something on my plate that I've never had before. And, given that I've ordered the same dish as I had today several times previously (although, admittedly, not in a year or so), I was very surprised to find stuff in my Muc Xao Hanh (squid with onions, or, more directly, #26) that I was initially unable to identify. Tempting fate, I loaded one of these strange small green pods (looking something like an over-sized elongated caper or a short miniature okra) onto my fork and bit into it ... Cardamom!
I recognized the flavor immediately, but was amazed because I'd never encountered this spice in its fresh form. Back in my "Indian Sweet Cookery" phase, I'd frequently shelled out the seeds from dried Cardamom pods to grind up for various puddings, Barfis, etc., and I'd never even thought that it came any other way (well, except for powdered). Needless to say, I was delighted (it was quite a burst of delicious flavor). Emboldened by this discovery, I also ventured to taste the other "mystery ingredient" on my plate, small rectangles of black/brown woody looking stuff ... again, one bite and I knew ... that was chopped up bits of Star Anise, which I likewise could not recall having encountered "in chunks" like that in a dish like this. Both of these ingredients brought depth and subtlety to a dish which also featured Jalepeno peppers, white and green onion, and (if I'm recalling correctly) some cilantro.
The best part? This is on their Lunch Special, where for $6.95 you get Spring Rolls (or Eggrolls), a cup of a very nice chicken/spice broth soup, and your entree ... such a deal! Unfortunately, that deal is only Monday through Friday (11am-3pm), and I kept missing those windows of opportunity (which is why I'd not been there for a while). Anyway, if you're looking for some great tasty food and a very good deal for a mid-week lunch in Chicago, keep Quang in mind ... they're also easy to get to, being just a half block north of the Chicago/State Red Line El stop!