Google Says It’s Bò Xào Măng – 9 of 365

My apartment building is like a bubble safely encapsulating us away from all that is truly Vietnamese.  Were I so inclined I could easily stay within this highrise complex and never leave except for work.   After all KFC and Domino’s and a small grocery store stocking all the best from the west such as peanut butter and Pringles line the ground floors of all the towers.   But I don’t want to miss out on a once in a lifetime chance here to dive into a new culture so different than my own.  Luckily for me a small street food joint sits almost hidden away in between two of our towers and provides a relatively sanitary introduction to the local dishes.   This one storey light blue building looks so out of place flanked by 30 storey highrises with their western fast food outlets, and I hope progress in our neighborhood doesn’t one day leave it behind.

For 22,000 Dong or about one George Washington, Cafe serves up lunch to a steady stream of office workers and locals.   As with just about every other restaurant of its kind, bowls and plates of interesting (to put it mildly) selections of questionable palatability line the two shelves of a metal cart with glass walls on three sides.   Nothing is kept at a proper serving temperature so my advice is always get there early and get it while fresh.   Just like at fried rice in Hanoi, the women at this restaurant know my face and I don’t have to tell them I prefer takeaway with one meat, one veggie, steamed rice,  and a small bag of soup.   Yes, they fill a tiny plastic baggie with boiling liquid, twist the top and seal it with a rubber band.   Plus they even throw in a banana for dessert.  How can you beat this for just a buck?

The Daily Selections

Queuing up is not a familiar concept known in Vietnam so survival of the fittest reigns supreme when ordering food.  I stand my ground, don’t let anyone cut in front of me, and point to my one meat selection.  Minutes later I have my plastic bag full of food, wooden chopsticks, napkin and spoon.   Since I can’t even pretend to be an Anthony Bourdain-like food adventurist with an iron palate and desire to try anything and everything, I have actually walked out of Cafe 91 when the choices are too local.   Sometimes a guy just doesn’t want to eat fatty fish floating in orangish gel or pig chunks complete with the skin.   Maybe one day…baby steps here.   Tiny little baby steps.   Actually I am more crawling at this point.

Some beef chunks with bamboo strips looked halfway normal and I could actually envision a surly worker ladling heaps of it onto plates at the Atlanta Airport’s Panda Express on Concourse E.  I pointed to it through the glass and my selection was made or so I thought.  The woman hesitated and just looked at me, but yes, that is my final answer.  Give me my beef with bamboo dammit!  She motioned to some pig knuckle looking things as if I wanted these instead.  Come on now, just give me my freaking beef and bamboo so we can call it a day.   Funny thing about Vietnam is that many times they will try to give you what they think you want and not what you actually tell them you want.   I must be pegged for a member of the random pig parts crowd.

Cafe 91 Tucked Away Between the Highrises

I asked a bank worker what I had just ordered and she just covered her mouth and giggled.  Ok, that was helpful.  Thank you.  Does anyone else here speak enough English to tell me what I ordered?  Man I learn to need some basic food Vietnamese here.  On the way back to my apartment I stopped by the front desk and showed her my selection and asked her to identify it.  After the obligatory giggle complete with hand over mouth, she simply said, “meat.”   I pressed her a little further and she said, “meat with vegetable.”  Yes indeed, we are getting warmer ladies and gentlemen!!  I was rounding second base and looking to steal third.   She giggled some more and said she didn’t know.   I think I embarrassed her actually because she didn’t know how to say it in English and now I felt bad that I had made her giggle.   Giggling is a defense mechanism used by women here to show discomfort.

So what do we all do when we need quick info?  We turn to Google and within seconds I had a match.  I do believe what I ate is called bò xào măng after comparing pictures.  It’s simply meat cooked with fish sauce and salt along with sautéed bamboo shoots.  bò xào măng …Simple in its execution but flavorful in its consumption.  Meat with a little nugget of fat on one end of each strip could have used some tenderizing but for a dollar who’s complaining?   Some of the watery sauce had been ladled over my steamed rice and I think I scratched every last piece out of that white styrofoam box.   I do like that sauces in Vietnamese are not the thick sugary variety we find back home at the Chinese buffet.   Over here we enjoy light liquidy broths that add a nice balance of flavors but don’t overpower our metabolism and waistlines with calories and fat.

I can see already that we will be exploring Cafe 91 together many times more one bite at a time.

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Categories: Vietnamese Food

2 Comments on “Google Says It’s Bò Xào Măng – 9 of 365”

  1. Luan
    February 14, 2012 at 9:05 pm #

    it’s not beef. it’s Pork braised with bamboo shoot =D

    • February 14, 2012 at 9:10 pm #

      Thank you for letting me know it oinked rather than mooed. It was tasty either way.

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