Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Vietnamese Food

Nam-Son is a restaurant near my parents' home that serves Vietnamese food. It used to be run by someone named Avina and her mother. Their food was above average but not something that qualified it for repeat visits. Due to health-related problems, Avina and her mother sold the place to a new set of owners. And their food is delicious.

Whenever I approach the restaurant, I'm always struck by how unassuming the front is. It is located in a small plaza where the main attractions are a Fry's supermarket and a Bank of America. If I didn't bother to glance over that corner of the plaza three years ago, I would've easily missed it. On this day, I walked in and noticed that the place is a little darker but full of brilliant colors: blood-red tablecloths that remind me of Chinese New Year's; bleach white tiled walls covered with large photographs of Vietnamese sub sandwiches, each one a burst of orange carrots, green spinach, and white mung bean sprouts.

There was one other customer who was enjoying a bowl of pho, something a poet once called the soul of the Vietnamese. He had bare sprigs of Thai basil, cilantro, mung bean sprouts, and lime wedges spread across his entire table.

I sat down and looked over the menu. It hadn't changed with the new owners. I ordered some comfort food: spring rolls, a beef curry stew that came with a loaf of French bread, and a honeydew boba. Boba is a cold tapioca and tea drink that supposedly originated on the streets of Taiwan and spread like influenza among East Asian countries. In the decade since its invention, the flavors of boba have moved beyond sweetened tea to include guava, jackfruit, lychee, cantaloupe, coffee, and, one of my favorite fruits, honeydew melon.

The spring rolls were tight; their contents remained within the diaphanous rice wrapper with every bite. The fresh mint leaves, dried pork, and snappy rice noodles melded with the fish sauce into a blend of contrasting flavors and textures. As I finish my last bite, the waiter arrived with my bowl of beef curry stew and a loaf of French bread. Saliva flooded my mouth. The bread had a crisp and chewy crust; the crumb was tender and blinded me with its steam. The bowl held a pool of brilliant, earthy orange liquid, a hue that reminded me of the embroidered ceremonial robe of the Qianlong emperor, and dotted with slivers of tender beef and golden chunks of deep-fried potatoes. I had to pace myself with sips of the honeydew boba--itself a mildly sweet slush punctuated with big balls of black tapioca--or I would've burned my tongue.

As with all good things in this world, my meal came to its natural conclusion. I paid my bill and left Nam-Son knowing that that drab-looking restaurant still held many treasures waiting to be rediscovered.


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