The other day my wife took me to an off-the-beaten-path Vietnamese restaurant in Issaquah, Wash., where she suggested that I make my choice between No. 19, BAHN HOI GA NJONG TOI or No. 16, which was BAHN HOI CHEY, or maybe I would like BAHN HOI NEM NUONG, or perhaps No. 37, which was BAHN HOI CHA GIO.
It had taken me dozens of years of skiing and filming in Europe to learn the difference between SCHNITZEL ALA HOLSTEIN and STRUDEL MIT SCHLOG. Laurie expected me to read Vietnamese at first glance.
She was trying some of her Vietnamese language skills that she learned when she was a stewardess flying the wounded back from Vietnam when the waiter replied with a very thick Brooklyn accent, “We got an English language menu if yose want it. It describes all 217 different dishes that our chef can fix ya in less than seven minutes.”
All of the numbered dishes my wife had already suggested, I would describe as Vietnamese burritos.
Instead of hamburger, chili sauce, onion, cheese and all of the good fat building stuff in a Mexican burrito, here is what I was told that BAHN HOI contained: basil, mint leaves, cucumber slices, lettuce, bean sprouts, vermicelli cake noodles, radishes and pickled carrots.
The various sub categories such as GA NJONG TOI, CHAY, OR NEM NUONG, were a few of the many different main ingredients in the Burritos.
Number 19 was grilled and sliced chicken breasts. Number 6 was a vegetarian burrito with tofu. Now there is a real nothing. To me, tofu tastes and looks like a cup of custard with nothing in it to make it edible. We could order tofu baked, boiled, or broiled, or we could pass on it, which I always do. It goes down a little like Jell-O and is as nutritious as opening your mouth and running into the wind.
NEM NUONG turned out to be barbecued pork meatballs. I never have been able to barbecue meatballs without them eventually falling apart and becoming part of the charcoal briquettes themselves.
BOI LUI are beef sirloin rolls.
I opted for No. 19 and Laurie opted for No. 6.
Now comes the do-it-yourself, build-your-own burrito trick.
They supply you with a couple of six packs of what look like paper thin tortillas, a plate full of garden vegetables about five inches high, and numerous small dishes full of lethal looking sauces. All of this, along with the largest finger bowl I have ever seen.
I really had to depend on my wife for guidance.
When Laurie told me the tortillas were rice paper, it made no sense to me. When I was in the Boy Scouts I used to build kites with rice paper, but I never tried eating my kite for lunch.
I watched her pick up a transparent Vietnamese tortilla and slide it into the large bowl of hot water. The hot water softens tortillas up so you can now move them over to a plate and start filling them up with whatever you unknowingly ordered. That is if you know how to use chopsticks. I had BAHN HOI GA NJONG TOI and Laurie had BAHN HOI CHAY (I think.)
I watched in awe as my wife wrapped a complete dinner salad up in a transparent piece of soggy, flexible rice paper, added some broiled tofu and then dipped it into an ugly looking sauce of some kind. She ate it like a popsicle that she had just dropped into a pile of grass clippings, except one of the bean sprouts was about two-feet long and had gotten hung up in her pile of sliced cucumbers and mint leaves.
After the third or fourth Vietnamese burrito, I was beginning to like them.
After we each ate a six pack of Vietnamese burritos, I paid the $39.43 luncheon bill (tax and tip included), and headed for the car wondering why I was still hungry. I felt “appetite neglected” and contemplated franchising the Vietnamese restaurant I had just left.
McDonalds was laughed at when it first started, and I have been laughed at for some of my other ideas as well. But I need a slogan for my new restaurant chain. Somehow I don’t think there will be a big market for it, if I simply call them what they are.
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