Sunday, August 31, 2008


After exploring around the backpacker district yesterday, we ate a showcase vegetarian dinner near the chaotic traffic circle south of Bình Thạnh Market. As I understand it, we were in the building of a popular local catering company which every now and then, for one month only, shows its stuff by opening their vast showroom to the public. The selected cuisine this month was vegetarian versions of traditional pan-Asian dishes. I don't usually like buffets very much, and this was no exception, really; but it really was interesting to see so many different kinds of traditional foods. This buffet was vast, arrayed on frilly tablecloths in two large rooms--a steam tureen and vat and crock pot landscape, all neatly labeled with the Vietnamese names of the myriad dishes. I was particularly impressed with the veggie shrimp dishes, mostly curried soups, with orange soy curls molded into the chitinous reticulation of a natural arthropod. To me, they tasted like firm gluten--some kind of savory Thai circus peanut soup. The fake sushi was also that bad. But many of the dishes were much, much better: tasty ragouts featuring eight different kinds of mushroom, bánh xèo and faux phở bò bars brimming with chili and basil and bean sprout sides; a whole table of tapioca dessert soups, noodles, or bubbles for tea; gallons of freshly squeezed lime juice. I had a really good time and learned a little I didn’t already know about local food. So what if the food we ate was a little sub-par? The very best thing about the whole experience was that the dining hall, at least for the hour we were there, was dominated by a large table of polite but dangerous-looking lilac-robed and bald Buddhist nuns who never looked at me or spoke. [Cavin]

Then, a 0 sided conversation ensued...

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