This summer, James and I will travel to Vietnam and Japan for three weeks. We will stuff avalanching piles of personal effects into one undersized suitcase, beg friends and family to watch our feline companions, and fly into the future via time zones. Until then, New York City will have to feed our anticipation.
Vietnam, as you are likely aware, was ravaged by American forces during the Vietnam War (known to the Vietnamese, with good reason, as the American War). But way before the Americans even considered this long thin country a threat to Democracy, Vietnam was occupied for over 1,000 years by the Chinese and about 100 years by the French. Culinary influence? Of course.
Searching for a Vietnamese dining experience in NYC, I did not want a fancy Asian fusion restaurant. Banh Mi Saigon Bakery had great reviews and is said to serve the best and least expensive Banh Mi in the city. Located in the back of a small jewelry store, more of a deli than anything else, the Saigon Bakery was full of hungry customers.
So what is Banh Mi? A baguette stuffed with pickled vegetables, some sort of protein (in this case seitan), and fresh cilantro. Basically, a sandwich. The bakery offered minimal options for seating, so after taking a few exploratory bites in the confines of the jewelry store, we finished our sandwiches in Tompkins Square Park.
James loved his Banh Mi, and I thought it was okay, maybe a little too slimy for me. I’ll have to acquire a taste for slimier textures before our trip.
We took the time to peek into a few of the fish stores in Chinatown,
and headed to Sakaya for a free sake tasting. We were expecting to try a few different kinds of sake and were slightly disappointed to find only one. However, it was delicious, and the owners of Sakaya were fantastic. Needless to say, we left with a bottle of our own.
Continuing the Japanese theme, we walked a short distance to Cha-An.
We have both been here several times for tea and dinner, so this night, we decided to split the dessert sampler.
I started with genmaicha tea,
and James ordered Scarlet Glow, an herbal blend.
And then came the three course dessert. Unfortunately, the waitress did not tell us what each dessert was, and they were not listed on the menu.
Something that tasted like strawberry shortcake and a chocolate ball thing:
If you do decide to visit Cha-an, don’t miss the bathroom. The woman’s restroom is equipped with a hi-tech toilet! As you approach the seat, the lid lifts automatically.
The seat itself is heated, and a controller lets you customize your personal preferences. Rear cleansing? Rear cleansing soft? Front cleansing? Dryer? Oscillating, pulsating, rinse cycle? So many choices.
Banh Mi, sake, tea, and toilets of the future… I think we are ready for our travels.