Monday, January 07, 2008
Pork-Eating Jew Meets Chicken-Eating Jew. Jews Win. Vietnamese Win. An American Story.
It's our last days in the US, so we had to go through our list of "last wishes before leaving the USA" tour. It started yesterday at Katz's Deli... and since Katz's is almost next to my buddy Frank London's pad, we teamed up for a stab at their pastrami. I am Jew as He is Jew as We is Jew and We all eat Pastrami... Katz's has been extensively documented here, so we will move on... Today, Fumie had to do a few photo shoots, one of which was the banh-mi Vietnamese sandwich place at 150 2nd street in the east Village. Again - Frank lives nearby, so we needed to have a photo model to stuff food into mouth. Frank deftly locks up his bike. He may be World Music's #1 Jewish music producer, but the man gets around NYC on a bike. And a cell phone. .Bánh mì . Vietnam used to be a French colony, and so they learned how to deal with things like crusty french baguettes and pates. But they were still Vietnamese, and damn good cooks. The genesis of the bánh mì sandwich stems from the French countryside "salad sandwich" which consists of lettuces, tomatos and sometimes vegetables as well as dressing served on a baguette. The sandwich is a product of French colonialism in Indochina, combining the French ingredients of baguettes, pate and mayonnaise with native Vietnamese ingredients like coriander, hot peppers, fish sauce and pickled carrots. Ho Chi Minh used to be a pastry chef at Escoffier's in Paris. Uncle Ho worked as a chef in England and the US as well during his student days, and his politics may have been influenced by Marcus Garvey while living in Brooklyn... but this only tells us about why the Vietnamese were so successful at national liberation movements. What is important here is the fusion of the French breakfast tradition with Vietnamese cuisine. The French may have been imperialists, but they left behind pate and crusty baguettes. This is good. You take a crusty, fresh french-style baguette, spread fine french-style pate - nobody really knows where these banh-mi pates really come from, and nobody really cares - and then you add some roast pork, ham, or maybe chicken or sardines... and carrots, cilantro, sriracha sauce... the Vietnamese not only defeated the United States in open warfare, they also re-invented the concept of the "sandwich" Bravo, Vietnamese! Bravo!Frank, to his credit as a Klezmer musician, doesn't go "whole hog" about eating pork. He chose a chicken banh-mi. I went for the classic pate and ham version. Frank has an amazing ability to maintain non-porkedness in the face of immense treyf-ness.This ability to maintain a four thousand year tradition of kosher eating is important in a city like New York, which attracts immigrants who have come from places that have perfected non-kosher eating into a seductive art. Walking downtown from the East Village towards our next Vietnamese rendezvous, we pass markets offering loads of non-kosher goodies.Mmmm... frogs. Well, damn... frogs are tasty! And who eats frogs? Why, the Cantonese and Vietnamese! Browsing among the Chinatown offerings we ended up at the New Bo Ky. (80 Bayard St.) I was there on my last days in NY last year. I always seem to leave NY by eating here. Why? Because it is so gutsy, no bullshit, authentic and cheap. That's why.This is an extremely good, extremely cheap, very North Vietnamese place. There are a lot of things on the menu that originate in the southern provinces of China where there is a significant Vietnamese minority, and if the menu is any indication, they don't like to pay a lot for their food. The New Bo Ky is famous as one of the cheapest restaurants in the entire City of New York, definately in Chinatown. Twenty bucks will stuff you with some excellent, absolutly authentic Viet cuisine.Do not miss the special pho. It is a beef soup with rice noodles, but at New Bo Ky there are some kind of inexplciable innards added. I have no idea what these things may be. They are white, transluscent, and a bit crunchy, and they definately come from inside a cow. Who the fuck cares what part of the cow it came from... They are good to eat, though. Probably not kosher. I don't care. Oh well. Hell, here I come!Now, if you are in Hungary, you should understand that we could not finish this meal, and it cost us Ft 3,400 for the two of us. This was a fásza nagy lakomás for the price of two Big Mac Happy meals in Budapest. We win. You lose. And in three days, we will lose too!Fumie in front of $20 worth of food. The best spring rolls we have had in the US. The best greens to have come out of any Asian kitchen. And then, the $3.50 plate of "Mixed Country Meat." When I ordered this, the waiter patiently explained, without much command of English, that this consisted of ears, toungue, and other stuff - he did this by pointing at ears, tongue, and other stuff on himself. It isn't like we asked him "please show us where the bad man touched you... using this anatomically correct doll...This is the ultimate in "You No Like That" Asian dishes. But guess what? It was fantastic! But soon it will come down to that last Nathan's Hot dog at Newark Airport, and then... burek on Tereza Korut!