Normally when you read restaurant reviews, they’re full of nonsense that’s not relevant, such as decor, what types of wine were on a list, or what sort of livery the servants were wearing. I don’t really care too much about any of that. My concerns number but three:
I don’t care if the help salaamed me when I came in, or if there was a hair on the dish. I’m not worried about a cockroach on the floor or if the clock on the wall keeps the right time. I repeat, my concerns number but three:
All else is mere detail.
Let’s explore the veg restaurants of Vietnamese beachside resort Nha Trang! First, in the tourist quarter, there are all sorts of restaurants advertising vegetarian (or ‘vegetarien’) dishes: however, this is standard junk along the lines of pizza, pasta, salad. I can get that anywhere. I am concerned with something else.
AU LAC. (28C D. Hoang Hoa Tham, Nha Trang) This place has a menu, but the standard meal is rice-with-things-on-top. Usually you get two or three scoops of vegetables, and two or three scoops of fake meat. You would need two of such meals to fill up. Thankfully, you can order pho or some other soup as well. The rice dish does come with soup, usually a watery mung-bean soup. I’ve also ordered “mi”, a type of soup which the first time I got it was similar to Singapore ‘mee’, but every other time has been quite different. There is a serve-yourself cooler of iced tea and the noodle-boiling stove is coal-fired. There’s nothing special about the food here, but it’s cheap and vegetarian. It’s usually pretty hoppin’ and once in there was a group of rowdy Israelis. Prices: rice-with-stuff-on-top (they call it “ri”): 12,000 dong (60 cents), soup same price.
LAC VIET QUAN CHAY (D. Huynh Thuc Khang, Nha Trang). I was the only diner in this place, but it was midafternoon, so the locals were probably sleeping and the Russians were at the beach. The only thing they seemed to have was rice-with-stuff-on-it, more expensive than elsewhere at 15,000 dong (75 cents) but of better quality. Here they put some salady vegetables on the rice, and the actual stuff on a separate plate. They also give you an essentially tasteless dipping sauce and a side of cold soup, again of the mung-bean variety. They have a sign on the wall claiming to serve other food, but I saw no sign of that. I saw a wheeled banh-mimobile in the corner and asked if they served banh mi. The woman looked at me funny. I figured maybe they only wheeled it out at night and asked “tonight?” — the woman said “We close at 8:30, gets slow. You want to come back, ha ha!”– so I’m not sure about that one. They also have a serve-yourself water cooler. Rice plate: 15,000 dong.
AN LAC. (55 D. Ngo Gia Tu, I think). More rice-with-stuff-on-it. Nothing special here. In fact, I thought I smelled sewage during the whole meal; it turned out to be something on the plate. It was like mashed stinky tofu. I like stinky tofu, but this stuff was no good. I did eat it all, though. There were also some Indian-looking Muslims eating in there. Nothing special. Rice dish: 12,000 dong.
BANH MI CHAY cart (east end of Thap Ba, east of Po Nagar). Outside of one of the temples on this street are two carts selling banh mis (aka Vietnamese sandwiches). Of course, you can get these on any corner in Viet Nam, but always with tinned meat and other gristly things. Imagine my surprise to see two banh mi carts, both with CHAY in giant letters on them! You get about 5 kinds of fake meat, mint, some sweet sauce, a number of crunchy things, pickled things, etc, in your demi-baguette. Absolutley delicious! They sell this crap in Seattle (veg banh mi) and the ingredients are: raw, floppy tofu, mayonnaise, and a sliced mild pepper. Oh wow! I’ll take this local version any day. Top notch! One of the ladies running the cart will let you sit in her chair and eat while locals walk by and stare at you and make comments in Vietnamese, if your experience is anything like mine. Sandwich: 10,000 dong (50 cents).
Honorable mention: CAY TRUNG CA fruit-shake cart on unknown road. Sorry, find it yourself. “Mix” is what they gave me, 10,000 dong (50 cents). There are tables with plastic chairs you can sit on. It’s on the side of the road. Iced tea is at each table too. In “A-Mart”, the local tourist market, they are hawking “fruit shake, no sugar no milk!” when you walk in. I want sugar, I want milk. This roadside stand gives you all that!
BONUS: I’ve been carting a bag with me for about 14 years. I got it in 1997 or so from the REI in Spokane on Monroe. I hauled it every day to college and to grad school. I took it to nearly every state in the U.S. and a good chunk of Canada. I’ve taken it to dozens and dozens of countries. It has gone with me to Taiwan, Palestine, Croatia. It’s made many, many trips to France, to India, to Italy, to Turkey. Well, two years ago one of the zippers stopped working and last year in Thailand the other became quite tempermental. This led to my bag bursting open on the streets of Bangkok and my toothbrush flying out– a taxi drove over it, and the dude got out to apologize! Anyway, I finally got it fixed today after passing a sign advertising clothing repair in an alley off of D. Hung Vuong. The fellow fixed it up good as new after about 45 minutes, and asked for $1.