Saturday, October 13, 2007

A Culinary Tour of the World: Part II

From China we now go to Vietnam. After much searching on the internet and in the phone book, I finally found a restaurant that serves some Vietnamese dishes. The Sunny Palace serves Asian cuisine. Having never eaten any foods from this culture, I asked the hostess/waitress what she would recommend I try for my first foray into Vietnamese food. She suggested I start with the Bahn Hoi, so I ordered it with pork and waited for my meal to arrive. The restaurant’s menu describes Bahn Hoi as a “Special Vietnamese Dish Served w. Fresh Lettuce wrap, Onion, Bean Sprouts, Mint, Cucumber, Soft Rice Noodle & Peanut Sauce”.

The food arrived and I asked for chopsticks. Did I mention that I believe you absolutely must eat Asian food with chopsticks? For me it is all part of the experience. If you have never eaten with chopsticks, either pick up a pair the next time you are at an Asian restaurant and take them home with you, or buy an inexpensive package at the grocery store. Then practice in the privacy of your home. You will find that some foods are actually easier to eat with chopsticks than with a fork. Once you feel comfortable with them and confident that you can eat with them, try to eat with chopsticks the next time you are at an Asian restaurant. Be aware that there are some general rules of etiquette that must be followed when using chopsticks.

The waitress placed a large platter in front of me and then added a second smaller, empty plate. She brought the peanut sauce and left me to my meal. It looked wonderful and smelled delicious. Several leaves of lettuce adorned the platter, with bean sprouts and julienned strips of cucumber next to that. A pile of sautéed onion and pork strips sat nestled next to a bed of cellophane noodles. My problem now was how to eat this. The description had said that the lettuce was a wrap, so I began by placing a bit of each ingredient in the center of the leaf and attempted to roll it into a nice wrap. The lettuce was crisp, so wrapping it crosswise caused the rib to crack. Wrapping it the leaf lengthwise resulted in a messier package. Now that I had assembled my meal, how would I eat it? Do I use my beloved chopsticks? Do I pick it up with my hands and eat it that way? Too embarrassed to ask the waitress, I compromised by doing a bit of both. Perhaps not correct, but effective. I will say that I greatly enjoyed my meal and would definitely have it again. As the waitress had promised, it was a very healthful meal and I could feel good about eating it.

I have to say that the funniest part of my adventure to Vietnam was after I left the restaurant and was in the grocery store. While I was choosing some produce, a lady came up to me and asked if I had just been at the Asian restaurant. It was enough to make me feel like a celebrity. Either that or she had been secretly laughing at my attempts to eat an unfamiliar dish.

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