The friendly folks at my hotel were completely confused why I did not want to eat there. First of all, the whole purpose of this trip to Phan Thiet is research for a magazine article. Research for me means getting down and dirty with the locals including at their favorite food joints rather than overpriced hotel food. Ms. Phuong at the front desk began to catch on to what my mission entailed and arranged for a taxi to haul me to an undisclosed locale about 15 minutes away in Phan Thiet town.
I blindly hopped in the car thinking this journey was going to end up in the ditch or in other words at some overpriced, underwhelming tourist pleasing restaurant. I must say Ms. Phuong came through since the taxi set me down in front of an open front, fan cooled place exuding that ever important street food vibe.
I stood out front and basked in all that is right about a proper Vietnamese feeding hole the average Westerner would dare not enter. The vibe shooting out of Kim Anh Quan’s faded concrete walls at 28A Trung Trac Street gave me high hopes for an amazing meal. Large amount of motorbikes out front…check. High turnover of customers…check. No westerners…check. Very basic, highly functional furnishings…check.
The food was great though the birdseye chili peppers have left me throughly confused. Normally these suckers sear the feeling out of both lips and tongue and leave in their wake a slow to heal afterscorch. I slid a few into a dish of soy sauce and these tiny little red rings failed to infuse the salty liquid with any semblance of burn. Several minched chili peppers littering my plate of bò xào lăn or beef with onion did not even come close to lighting my mouth off in a blaze of pain either. What gives here? Are these just duds or have I grown a tolerance like some spiceaholic?
Though this two buck dish registered maybe a 2.1 on the Richter Scale and lacked that certain oomph, I am not complaining. I enjoyed the slices of beef wok stirred with citronella, garlic, pepper, onions and allspice. What the sauce lacked in heat, a basket of fresh herbs including Thai basil and mint made up for with each chopstick pinch of cow. I enjoyed experimenting with different taste combinations and unfortunately ran out of meat. Now if only in America we valued fresh herbs as much as the Vietnemese.