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Tuesday, June 10, 2008

An Impromptu Feast of Food and Friendship

"Sharing food with another human being is an intimate act that should not be indulged in lightly." ~ M.F.K. Fisher, An Alphabet for Gourmets

***

Tonight I just had one of the culinary treats of my life. Not only was it a night of delicious food, but even more memorable, it was an unexpected experience of sheer generosity and welcoming and sharing.

You might remember my little friend C. Tonight I was keeping The Boy company at the salon while he got a manicure, with little C chatting up a storm (she and The Boy get along famously, like two peas in a pod). She was telling us in great detail about her first visit to the bowling alley.

As The Boy was the last appointment, C's mother and aunt were closing up shop while C's dad, grandma and grandpa waited so the family could go home after a long day. C's aunt Mai asked us if we had any plans for dinner, and then invited us to join them for a "real" Vietnamese meal.

What a treat.

They took us to a restaurant called Tay-Giang (2543 Noriega). Mai said that it's one of the only Vietnamese restaurants in town that they think is truly good enough to visit often, and to bring guests.

Since our experience with Vietnamese food only extends to iced coffee, pho and spring rolls, we were excited to hear about the extensive menu, with specialties we would never know to order or that aren't even offered in most Vietnamese restaurants.

As C's aunt ordered in rapid-fire Vietnamese to the waiter, The Boy attempted to practice his nascent Vietnamese to the delight of our hosts. Almost immediately, the first treat arrived, my fresh coconut drink. Of course, I had been expecting a drink in a glass, but to my astonishment, the drink came right in the coconut, just as nature had intended! Mai explained how to drink the water inside with a straw and then eat the meat with the small spoon.

Then came dish after dish of the most incredible food. I stopped taking pictures after the first few dishes (they were very amused that I am toting a camera around for all eventualities) but seemed pleased that I was documenting our feast.

Mai explained how to soak the translucent, hard rice sheets in the bowls of hot water to soften them, and then how to roll the delicious fried catfish with the fresh mint leaves, basil, pickled onions, mung bean sprouts, carrots and cucumbers. Already a fan of fish sauce, I am now enamoured of the preserved fish sauce with garlic, which Mai wasn't going to let me try until I convinced her I would like it.

Plate after plate of glorious food, full of fresh vegetables and vitality, kept arriving to our crowded table. But more lovely than the food was the sharing of information: about this food compared to the food in Vietnam (sign me up and I'm already saving for plane fare), the people of Vietnam, the money exchange, the weather there.

Every question we asked inspired a smile from our hosts and sometimes a giggle. In between questions, we stuffed ourselves silly.

At the end of the meal, we were not allowed to pay for our portion. They insisted: No! We wanted you to know what real Vietnamese food is like.

Real Vietnamese food and real Vietnamese hospitality. My tummy is full and my heart is fuller. Who could have guessed that a little nail salon in a nondescript neighborhood would bring such a wonderful exchange of culture and thoughtfulness? Sometimes I feel my life is truly, truly charmed.

19 comments:

Relyn June 10, 2008 at 11:25 PM  

I think your life is truly, truly charmed because you are truly, truly charming. You have an innate curiosity and the skills to express it in a pleasing manner. You have a real interest in people and a gift for friendship. It's no wonder you find charming, lovely people everywhere you go. Sounds like The Boy is just like you.

NYC Tango Pilgrim June 11, 2008 at 8:25 AM  

TB,

This post is just in time to help me selecting my lunch options: Vietnamese beef noodle soup it is.

:-)

Johanna June 11, 2008 at 8:25 AM  

Serendipity. It's how the Universe rewards us for being "good".

What a marvelous experience. Thank you for taking us along.

Vanessa June 11, 2008 at 10:01 AM  

Good food happens to good people! :-)

tangobaby June 11, 2008 at 10:32 AM  

Dear Relyn,

Curiousity does help, I'll admit. And The Boy is certainly a willing accomplice and friend-maker.

Hi TP,

Be sure to give me a report on how that lunch turned out. I wonder if you can get the coconut drink where you go?

Hi Johanna,

I think being there around dinner time probably helped, and that they like us. But whatever it was, I'm surely grateful for the opportunity. Now I'm racking my brains on the best way to say Thank You!

When you come here someday, I can take you to this place and I'll know just what to order.

Hi Vanessa,

I like that! Words to live by. I am going to try to be as good as humanly possible.

studio wellspring June 11, 2008 at 11:58 AM  

to spend time with such lovely people and eat such a wonderful meal ~ lucky, lucky girl! and so well deserved. ;o) thanks for sharing the evening with us so we could dine vicariously thru you.

My Castle in Spain June 11, 2008 at 12:05 PM  

Oh..the coconut drink must taste delicious!
I love about hearing people meeting other cultures..and food is a beautiful way to do it...

I miss the Vietnamese little restaurants in Paris. here in Spain, Vietnamese food is hard to find...

Have a lovely day!

ps: perhaps you saw this movie "l'odeur de la papaye verte" by Tran Anh Hung ? (the scent of the green papaya)

pps: thank you for your sweet comment and adding me to your blogroll. an honor for me.

My Castle in Spain June 11, 2008 at 1:30 PM  

Lala again...
just read your Flamenco posts..You enchant me! i love the way you talk about your hands...
You make me feel like resuming flamenco classes. I stopped because the "zapateo" was getting really tough for me. the day we started to practice el "redoble" oh la la...

Enjoy it guapa!
:-)

Psyche June 11, 2008 at 2:21 PM  

I was going to say what Relyn said, but she got there first and said it better!

Christina June 11, 2008 at 2:51 PM  

Would it be fair to say, your meal was enchanting? That's how it sounded to me, my friend :)

karey m. June 11, 2008 at 8:58 PM  

aaargh! my internet connection over here has been crummy...and you've been so darn prolific! i haven't read, like, three of your posts! WHAT IS WRONG WITH ME?!

how pathetic. i've printed them out to read on our vacation!

see you in a few...

tangobaby June 11, 2008 at 9:26 PM  

Hi Ms. Wellspring,

As you know Little C, I know you can imagine that we had a very nice time indeed. She was in high form and liked that we liked all of her favorite foods.

Hi Lala,

Oh, I'm so glad to see you here! What an honor for me, too. I think your blog is lovely. Truly lovely.

I have not seen the Scent of Green Papaya but I know it by reputation. I will be sure to see it. The only film I can recall seeing that was set in Vietnam was The Lover, but that was some time ago.

Hi Lala again! ;-)

I am glad you are enjoying the flamenco posts. I wish I could do the dance the justice it deserves because it is so very powerful and beautiful.

I had to laugh about the redoble! My god! That kills me. I just cannot do it at all!

Hi Psyche,

I am always glad to have you pay a visit!

Hi Christina,

It really was. We were treated like royalty and it felt like quite an honor.

Hi Karey,

I still am blown away by the post I read on your blog today. I may have my prolific moments, but you are so amazingly gifted and wise.

Have fun on your vacation! I'm curious to read all about it, and grateful that you actually are taking me along with you.

TheElementary June 12, 2008 at 11:47 AM  

I remember Vietnamese food in San Francisco.
If there's one thing I love more than pictures of people's bookshelves, it's pictures of people's food :) And of course I love M.F.K. Fisher and anybody who reads her is a true food lover. It's the simple pleasures in life; kind people, good friends and delicious food. I don't want anything else.

tangobaby June 12, 2008 at 1:03 PM  

Hi TheElementary,

I do love M.F.K. Fischer too, especially Gastronomical Me. I daydreamed about her bohemian student adventures and love life, as well as the food education.

I will be sure to keep taking food photos, as well as book lover porn, with you in mind.

I would have taken more food photos at the restaurant because the food was so beautiful as well as delicious, but the necessity of eating it right away instead of staging shots was overwhelming.

tangobaby June 12, 2008 at 1:04 PM  

I cannot believe I just spelled M.F.K. Fisher's last name wrong.

I think I need some Vietnamese food.

TheElementary June 12, 2008 at 1:09 PM  

I read M.F.K. Fissccher too. Oh dear. I need Vietnamese food as well.
;) That worked out nicely. I'll try to persuade Spouse...

Al_Pal June 14, 2008 at 2:20 PM  

Sounds luscious!
I'll have to try that place! :D

paris parfait June 16, 2008 at 2:39 PM  

What a special treat! I love stories like this and experiences like this ... reminds me of my days living in the Middle East, where hospitality knows no bounds. xoxox

tangobaby June 17, 2008 at 9:37 AM  

Hi TheElementary,

I know I'm a little behind here in the replies, so I hope you got your Vietnamese fix and perhaps a little food literature too with Mary Frances.

Hello Al_Pal,

Welcome and thank you for visiting my blog. I hope you do try that place, since you're a local. I can't begin to tell you the names of what I ate, but I can assure you that it was all delicious!

Hi Paris Parfait,

Maybe when you're here next, I can take you and we can try some of the dishes together? Wouldn't that be fun?

xo