Barbecue in a Garden – 36 of 365

Combo #5 Before Some Heat

What is a stereotypical meal in America?   A hamburger delivered through a car window and inhaled while driving?   A microwaved Lean Cuisine eaten at a coffee table while distracted by the TV?  Weekends maybe we pony up to the trough at a restaurant with menus whose glossy pictures don’t quite match the product delivered to the table.  Half the time we are in such a rush that eating just quells the rumblings in our bellies.  Eating sometimes seems more a monotonous necessity than a sensory experience bringing us together.

Well how about a meal where the cooking process is as much a star as the food itself?   Yeah, I know we go out to eat to escape the pain in the butt cooking an be, but give this one a chance…  Eight of us found such a dinner at District 1’s Barbecue Garden (8/4 Le Thanh Ton) while dining outdoors at a table with built in grills.  Imagine my delight at sitting on a grown up chair under giant trees adorned with strings of lights rather than a foot high stool at a cramped downtown lunch counter.   As much as I am happy going down the dollar a meal street food trail, I do enjoy a more elevated dining experience from time to time as well.   The nicer restaurants in Saigon offer great value for the money and the good fresh food.  Besides, ordering off a menu in English at the Barbecue Garden seems so novel and mindless compared to pointing at street food selections and using other methods of sign language to secure a basic meal.

Grilling It All Up

And speaking of ordering, I know I’ve bashed on picking dinner by number from picture menus back home, but over here why don’t we just let that slide.  Combo #5 for 159,000VND (or about $8) beckoned with its glossy photo of beef and cheese, beef with five spices, beef with lemongrass and chili, beef with honey (you get the picture…no asking where’s the beef here), vegetables and steamed rice.   Our individual platters of raw marinated meats arrived and so began this unique food journey.  On your marks, get set, grill would best describe the scene of eight hungry people racing to crowd their meats onto two red hot cooking surfaces built into our table.

As our sizzling meats smoked and spat grease, I got to thinking about how these table grills only an arm’s length away would for sure be a law suit waiting to happen inside some American suburban stripmall.  I can see the headline now…Moron idiot tests the heat by directly placing his hand on it and has been awarded 5 million dollars for his stupidity.   Then I can see the next person kicking over the natural gas canister under the table and finishing off the restaurant in a fireball mess.  Yes, the fact this dining concept couldn’t even begin to work back home makes cooking my own raw meats so much more fun.

In a former life, using the same chopsticks to transport this raw meat to the grill and then the cooked strips back to my tiny rice filled serving bowl would have caused me a fair amount of distress.  But over here in Vietnam no worries indeed…my formerly uptight food standards have dropped to about nil.  I just remind myself the soup guy next to my apartment is the multitask king as he bare handedly touches raw meat, money, and a dirty rag all the while preparing my Pho.  All of us expats over here are probably immune to most anything thrown into our bodies since a steady diet of God knows what has surely built up one hell of a resistance.   At least that’s what I tell myself.  And perhaps the food back home will prove to be too clean and sterile for our bodies to digest and we will need sufficient time to detox.

I will be back to self-cook more combo platters off the picture menu.   Indeed the beef with cheese sounds like some sandwich off Arby’s dollar menu but these thin pieces of stuffed meat turned out to be my favorites.  Actually come to think of it, their taste is a lot like a Philly Cheesesteak minus the bun.  If only I could have dipped them in a side of Arby’s Horsey Sauce.  Maybe time and distance have given my memory a warped perception of how a cheesesteak (and packets of fast food sauce) really taste and this isn’t a good comparison.  I will have to resample both next time I am home to see.  But for now let’s just stick with it.   No matter what the taste compares to a continent away, all I know is meals with friends at places like Barbecue Garden are perfect for slowing down and actually enjoying both food and company.

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Categories: Vietnamese Food

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