A Taste of Viet Nam

I have a theory about restaurants – if it has people in it, then the food must be good. Be warned, this theory doesn’t work too well in Mumbai, where a restaurant should be judged by the line waiting outside, and not the people within, but it works a treat in Perth. I explained this theory to Robyn and a Chinese colleague last week, as we strolled down Albany Highway, looking for a good place to eat. We opted for To To, a Vietnamese restaurant that seemed to tick all the boxes – good food, good crowd, good prices (and, to my Chinese friend’s delight, a menu with Chinese subtitles).

“I hope you know what you’re doing,” said Robyn, referring not to my wonderful theory, but to the fact that I was using the chopsticks like drumsticks. I put the chopsticks down. Sometimes, its tiresome to have to be dignified in a restaurant.

Robyn and my Chinese friend, Shaoli, proceed to show me how to use chopsticks. Robyn has an Aussie grip that’s uniquely hers alone. Shaoli clicks her needles together in a way that reminds me of crabs and knitting needles. She can’t understand how Indians manage to eat rice with their fingers. I can’t figure out how Chinese eat rice with chopsticks. Still, by the time the food arrives I have somewhat successfully invented the Indian Hold and managed to lift the napkin with my pair. Mercifully, the waitress supplies a fork and spoon. Is this is a delicate hint to let me know that I don’t stand a chance with the chopsticks?

My first and only other experience of Vietnamese food was a few months ago at Viet Hoa in Northbridge, when a German friend threw a farewell party. We booked a table in advance – the restaurant is very popular. To my relief, the menu came with English explanations – I’m still trying to figure out what some of the words mean though – “pho” makes me think of the latest KFC burger ad.

“What do you mean by ‘raw’?” asked my Iranian companion, eyeing the said ‘pho’, which apparently has raw beef in it.

“Um…not cooked,” said I. Inside I’m thinking furiously – how can you possibly have a raw meat dish?

 Meanwhile, the Iranian is hastily revising his choice and ordering a plateful of stir-fried vegetables and tofu. He would have done my mother proud – and his too, I’m sure. I find it amusing that both of us, Asians, avoid using chopsticks.

I’m a little bemused at the little bowls which stand for plates in Viet Hoa, and very impressed with the generous helpings and artistic presentation in To To. Pun intended. The food is worth it in both places though I discover, at To To, that I absolutely cannot stand jasmine tea. Surely you can’t call anything other than tea “tea”? The “pho”, however, remains an unsolved mystery.

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