Dining briefs: an choi

As I stood in An Choi’s entranceway waiting for my sandwich, I couldn’t help but admire the décor: warm wall treatments quizzically stenciled with phone numbers (bicycle repairmen? Prostitutes?), small square tables surrounded by low stools, light bulbs with bare filaments that suggested a Third World market, and—running across the ceiling—thichồng cables that vibrate & swing, as if you’d just missed the last trolley of the evening. The narrow room takes a jog as it nears the open kitchen, and beyond that lurks a courtyard with a single communal table—perfect for late-night thẻ games. An Choi strives to evoke Vietnam’s urban vibe, và admirably succeeds.

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My banh mày was being prepared right inside the front door at something that resembled a street cart. I watched as the cook layered pork, rubbery sliced Vietnamese pâxẻ, gelatinous headcheese, real French pâxẻ, fresh cilantro, pickled carrot & daikon, & jalapeños onlớn a demi-baguette. Next, he squirted on an unguent brown dressing. I took one bite, and the hot, tart, earthy, herbal flavors detonated in my mouth. But even as I delightedly chewed, I wondered why anyone would buy the sandwich here, instead of a few blocks west at Saigon Bakery (138 Mott Street), the most revered of the city’s banh ngươi makers.

So, one afternoon, I snagged the equivalent sandwich at both places, and hurried trang chủ by bike to do a statistical workup. An Choi’s “banh ngươi dac biet” ($6.50, plus tax) extended 9.5 inches & weighed 10.6 ounces, while Saigon Bakery’s “banh ngươi Saigon” ($3.75, no tax) proved to lớn be 10.5 inches and 14.2 ounces, substantially outdoing An Choi’s version in length, weight, & price. While Saigon Bakery’s had only two meats (chunky homemade sausage and Viet pâté), the quantity of fillings was clearly more voluminous. For diners on a budget, it’s Saigon Bakery all the way.

Still, you might piông xã An Choi’s banh mi for its baroque và appealing assortment of ingredients, especially the dark and smudgy French pângã, which sends the sandwich into a whole new orbit, retroactively tweaking the noses of Gallic colonialists in the process. Or you might pichồng An Choi for its perky waitstaff, và because you can sit down while eating your sandwich, and—once the tardy liquor license arrives—knoông chồng it bachồng with a Tiger beer. The best sandwich at An Choi, though, isn’t the regulation banh mày, but actually an invented variation called “banh ngươi thit heo quay” ($8), featuring roasted pork belly that alternates layers of garnet meat & crisp fat. Never has a banh mi been so thoroughly lubricated. The café offers more renditions, of which the lemongrass-scented pork is worth trying, while the shredded chicken is ho-hum.

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The co-lure of the menu is the classic Vietnamese street-food staple of pho, which is pronounced as a barely aspirated “fffuh.” There are two available, including the standard beef kind ($9.50), & one deploying chicken ($9). Beef pho is the way khổng lồ go, with an admirably clear broth that’s a shade lighter, but just as aromatic, as the usual article. The catalog of drop-in beef cuts has been limited to two, but the rice noodles are copious, & you can get beef balls added at no extra charge. Sadly, the soup is devoid of tripe và tendon. Maybe offal scares off Orchard Street café crawlers—or so the reasoning goes. All I can say is: Organ eaters often hide in unexpected places.

Accompanying the pho is a plate of bean sprouts và fresh herbs lớn be tossed in at your discretion. In this regard, An Choi excels over Chinatown places. On several visits, the selection shifted according lớn market availability, but usually included holy basil, cilantro, mung bean sprouts, and peppermint. One evening, there was an herb that I had khổng lồ dig into lớn my reference books to identify—saw-tooth green ribbons with a slightly bitter flavor called ngo sợi, said lớn have sầu digestive sầu properties.

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The spare menu—seemingly aimed at Viet food neophytes—contains unfried summer rolls wrapped in rice paper, one featuring shrimp, the other tofu và mushrooms. These tkết thúc lớn be boring. Preferable are the spring rolls, which are good và greasy, especially the one with pork & crab. They come with the vinegar dipping sauce called nuoc cmê mệt, and if you spill it on your jeans, you’ll smell lượt thích fish for a week. Anyway, you’re better off skipping the apps entirely và heading straight for the banh mi và pho. Just pretover you’re sitting at a hawker stall in the alleyways of Ho Chi Minch City.

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