This morning I succumbed to laziness for a change and did not really want to venture far. Besides, some looming rain clouds looked like they might unleash a damper on any expeditions into Saigon’s craziness. Green Corner in my apartment complex offers its take on local specialties and a hand written special on a board out front called cơm gà rô ti seemed about as interesting as my morning was going to get sequestered here in the compound.
Roti chicken and rice sounded full on Indian so how in the world a Vietnamese takeaway joint specializing in instant ramen dishes and smoothies could make an attempt on curry piqued my interest. And isn’t roti a type of bread anyhow?
Ordering was the usual frustration. Pronouncing“cơm gà rô ti” to the best of my abilities just solicted the blankest of blank stares from the staff. Repeating it over and over elicited just giggles and hands over mouths. OK, so here’s the deal. When someone speaks broken English we can decipher whatever it is the person is trying to convey. So how come contextually can Vietnamese people never figure things out unless we pronounce it spot on? I mean I am standing in a restaurant. I obviously want food. I asked for something very close to one of their limited menu items. Over here do they have the concept of “putting on the thinking cap” to figure something out?
Now fully irritated, I finally tapped on the sign, and she said “cơm gà rô ti.” Carefully (and I mean carefully) mimicking her words once again just brought on the blank stares as if I had dropped down from Mars. I pointed again to the words and to which she boldly proclaimed “cơm gà rô ti.” I repeated after her and she became even more confused. A second girl finally figured out I wanted this chicken and rice and moments later she handed me a neon pink plastic bag holding a Styrofoam box and container of soy sauce.
On the way home I began smelling the overwhelming scent of bitter saltiness and thought what in the world have they cooked. The smell stank stronger and stronger and I finally noticed somehow the lid had sprung from the soy container. Of course the bag had a hole just big enough for a steady drip of fermented black liquid to escape in all its annoying glory. I did some rearranging to stem the flow but had already left a tell tale trail down the hall. At least it stopped on the tile floor right in front of someone else’s door down the hall should the drip police come knocking.
I placed the bag in the sink and carefully extracted its contents. This roti chicken did not seem Indian at all. Peeling away the skin revealed some nice piece of meat which did pleasantly surprise me. Rather than some chunk of the bird hacked to death and thrown on a plate as is the norm here, this benign beauty would have been at home in America. I can’t vouch for what type of seasoning was on that skin though as I skipped that rubbery mess 100%. While walking in front of the building I had passed a group of chickens and a mental image of biting into them persisted in my mind. And yes, only in Vietnam is livestock right at home in front of a nice highrise building in the city.
As it turns out ro ti is not Indian at all but “roasted.” I liked it well enough to look for it again. Perhaps next time the ordering will be a little more easy going.