I stumbled upon a woman’s blog entry extolling the virtues of casual dining in America. Evidently Chili’s is expanding America’s immense girth one calorie at a time with some Triple Dipper Menu where “3 Appetizers + 3 Dips = 1 Happy You.” I don’t know about this one. They expect me to spend $10.49 plus tax and tip to ingest gut busting loaded potato skins and mayo based dipping sauces? Sounds to me like a recipe for massive bloatation and certain convalescence at the Jenny Craig clinic. But what do I know? I am an ocean removed from all that hot mess.
The author waxed poetic about how much her three children enjoyed the Honey-Chipotle Shrimp, Boneless Buffalo Wings, and Southwestern Eggrolls because they just love trying new things. My gut tells me a kid will eat anything fried up and drenched in breading and greasy crunch whether at Chili’s or not. Oh the stress of eating out in America…To get fat off the fried chicken or the egg rolls, that’s the question. Do we need to buy this family some plane tickets to Vietnam and school them on what fresh and healthy dining really is?
How about we try something a bit lighter and a whole lot easier on both wallet and waistline alike? A glossy picture menu at Chili’s may be worth a thousand words but actual bowls of live snails, clams, shells and more laid out on top of a metal and glass counter at the Ben Thanh Market are worth a million more. What better way to sample a Triple Dipper than Saigon style with fried mangrove periwinkle with coconut sauce, scallops that went from pulsing live on a platter in the humid market heat to meeting a fiery demise atop a grill, and garlic sautéed snails rounding out a winning $5 tapas trifecta.
A cheese slider with pickles and mayo may be self-explanatory, but periwinkle shells indeed make for a more complex meal. With no idea how to fish out meat hidden deep in the cylindrical shells, I just stared at the bowl. The cook laughed and said, “You suck!” I had to chuckle a bit since she had no clue she had just unwittingly hurled an insult without knowing it. Or does she? Hmmm. She then once again shouted out, “Suck, suck, suck. More suck like this. You suck.” Yes lady. I know. I really am sucking at this. Finally she grabbed one out of the bowl, brought it up to her lips, and held it sensually between her thumb and forefinger while loudly vacuuming out a piece of meat. Oh, now I get it! The buttery taste of the meat mixes so well with the thick and spicy coconut sauce once we get the hang of eating this odd mollusk.
I got to thinking how many miles of jogging would be required to erase one Triple Dipper combo ordered in conjunction with an equally supersized entrée. As I walked an hour home I couldn’t help but smile since tapas at a market stall are lighter, more satisfying and easily burned off by the time we reach the front door. Who doesn’t love guilt free dining?