I’ve been thinking about appearances lately. Not my own, quite obviously, because that is a one-way ticket to Sadtown. I’ve been thinking about the appearance of other things that have nothing to do with me, and how some things appeal and some don’t. For example, put me in a white sequined top and a black lace hoop skirt, and I look — not like the bag lady who got dressed out of the dumpster behind the Playboy Mansion, but like the weirdo who mugged the bag lady who got dressed out of the dumpster behind the Playboy Mansion.
Meanwhile, my friend Tutti looks like a fairy princess ever-so-slightly tweaked after a few shots of pure unicorn juice.
Tutti is, of course, a designer (those people tend to know how to put themselves together), so it may be a bit unfair to compare my dress savvy with hers. However, I — like everyone else in the world — do eat. And like many other eaters drawn to street food, I like to pretend that my focus on stuff cooked in a dingy shophouse by a crotchety old man, or slopped onto my streetside table in the sweltering midday heat, makes me a deep person able to see into the depths of whatever is on the plate in spite of my dire surroundings. The more pain, headache and heat I encounter in the pursuit of this meal, the better — I have truly earned it, this steaming, bowl-shaped reward that must be won from the clutches of the frowning dragon behind the fiery wok.
There is a special name for me, this mix of masochist and Indiana Jones wannabe. And it is called … Sucker.
Because, while I’m not drawn to white tablecloths, baby-faced waiters, and rolling trolleys heaving with sweets, and though I’m suspicious of buzzy loud dining rooms, dry ice, and long queues (except in Japan), I do have my own culinary Achilles heels. For example, I am a sucker for a grumpy old man who tells me how to eat his food. If he is wearing a stained apron and do-rag, and there is a tableful of hungry-looking customers cowering nearby on a bank of plastic stools, all the better. Some other things I love:
— Fire. Some place with big fires underneath hot woks that leap up into the sky as the chef — invariably in some sort of beanie — tosses his ingredients into the air. Smoke is a plus, but I draw the line at the surroundings and/or bystanders catching on fire.
— Geriatric servers. If a place has servers that are in the 65+ range, I am almost guaranteed to patronize it. If they yell at me when I ask questions regarding the menu, then they’ve got themselves a repeat customer.
— And last but not least, repurposed dining rooms. This is my biggest weakness of all. I remember going to the original Jay Ngor, and being shunted into a “dining room” still lined wall-to-wall with other people’s dry cleaning. Or a moving heaven and earth to find a Chinese seafood “restaurant” called Charoen Pochana, located all the way across the river and completely invisible save for a handwritten sign set directly in front of the door (hidden inside a residential courtyard).
Now, these places can step aside for my new favorite place to brag about, Vietnamese & More, which is located on the bottom floor of a condo deep in the bowels of Sukhumvit 16. What was once a living room is now a spruced-up little restaurant, complete with tidy tables and slippers for patrons who leave their shoes at the door. The twee bouquets of plastic flowers, the laminated menus — I love it all. The menu itself, a terse selection of Vietnamese favorites alongside more fusion-inspired creations, I like: not too unwieldy, tightly focused, but not full of cliches. So alongside the summer rolls and pho, you get noodle dishes inspired by places as far-flung as Korea, a “Gangnam-style” stew that resembles Spaghetti-Os but full of kim chi flavor. And of course, there is the banh mi, a collection of cold cuts, moo yaw (steamed pork sausage) and gunchieng (Chinese-style sausage) encased in a good baguette, a handful of julienned carrot and radish, and slicks of mayo.
It’s open every day but Monday, and appears to serve all day long … but check first by calling 089-890-4890. Located on Soi Pai Sing To next to Monterey Place condo.