I am starting to nibble around the edges of District 3 more and more. Sure, I’ve ventured in for delightful delicacies such as grilled crickets and fertile duck egg, but overall this jam packed district remains virgin food territory. In front of an elementary school on Le Quy Don Street near the corner of Vo Van Tan, a woman has set up a small grill with a table of condiments and ingredients. She produces some sort of Vietnamese enchilada, and a steady stream of grade schoolers was snapping these things up as fast as she could make them one at a time. Since kids in general shy away from anything causing tastebuds to recoil in horror, I bit in hopes that this would prove just fine.
This little sidewalk spits out one bánh trứng tráng after another with rice paper disks as their base. Normally crisp rice paper is water moistened and then rolled up into a fresh non fried goi cuon spring roll. This one takes the same rice paper but it is laid flat, topped with items that test my boundaries, and grilled until crunchy. It’s like a one of those Mexican Pizzas from Taco Bell but totally Vietnamese.
First, two small quail eggs are broken out of their black and white speckled shells and smeared all over the paper. I just picture what quails look like and see that image in the yellow yolks swirling around the white rice paper with the woman’s salmonella laced finger. Minced pork, shrimp, and chopped scallions are then tossed on top, and the whole enchilada is thrown on top the hot coals. As it cooks, various sauces are squirted on, and I politely declined the mayo. Mayo in this sort of tropical heat? Are they nuts? If mayo based potato salad at a picnic in Alaska can fell a lumberjack with ptomaine food poisoning, I can’t even imagine what rolling the dice here could bring.
Do people around here have iron stomachs or something? If you saw what mayo does in the heat over here, you’d banish it from your diet forever. Some sort of yellowish sheen metastasizes on top and then what remains underneath begins a slow curdle of death. Enough on that. You aren’t here for science experiments.
But for whatever reason hot sauce is ok though in my nonscientific mind. I figure the chili peppers kill off any creepy junk that could fester inside that filthy bottle seemingly recycled daily for the past decade. Yes, I tell myself that and I want to remain a believer. A guy’s got to do what a guy’s got to do to keep this food project rolling. Otherwise this would have stalled out after meal number three.
Vietnamese pizza minus the mayo is a decent street treat. Once off the grill it is folded in half and held inside a newspaper sleeve. Who knows where that paper has been in its journey to this food stand, but in any case I will eat bánh trứng tráng again for sure. And can you imagine someone just randomly setting up a grill in the middle of a downtown Manhattan sidewalk? This is what I love about Vietnam.