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Let's eat.

From Big Sur's killer cliff-clinging eateries to Salinas' unparalleled produce, this blog aims to sniff out all things Monterey County can stomach, via picture and prose, curiosity and appetite, hand and mouth.

Monday, May 3, 2010

Of Sandals and Sandwiches

Of all the things I love about Vietnam—the little Hanoi beer shops with warm cups of local suds and tiny plastic chairs right there on the side walk, the relentless flood of mopeds, the absurd deals on tailored suits, Saigon's industrial bustle, the fact that their currency is called dong, and you get millions of dong for your dollars—I like a little shirtless senior I met by the river in Hoi An the very best.

We shared no common language, but we shared a plastic table by the river and an afternoon, sipping on fresh push-cart pho and pouring each other beers in short glasses. For as little as we had in common, I am still amazed how much we made one another laugh. When it was time to leave, he offered the barefood backpacker I was at the time his turquoise sandals. After extended protest, I realized it would be a greater insult to deny them. They turned out to be the best I've owned, carrying me across Laos and Thailand (and California a few times over).

The Next Best Thing About Vietnam is as easy to identify: the Vietnamese sandwich. I was there on a shoestring budget, so the $20 cross-country bus ticket and these well-less-than-a-buck mysterious goodies on French baguettes were lifesavers. For as much as I ate them at ubiquitous, often-improvised roadside grills, I never stopped to figure out what was in them beyond fresh herbs and sliced veggies—whatever it was, the tofu-cheese-like textured bulk of the meal was damn good. What I do know for sure is that they've never surfaced around here.

But now three month-young Chopstix (899-2622) on Fremont has added them—to an already rockin' lineup of boba teas, rice and noodle dishes, solid phos and DIY yogurt bar that continue to pack people in—and they arrive fast, 8 inches long on a worthy baguette, and only $3.25. I tried the barbecued pork, which was crisp, crunchy, fresh and fragrant thanks to shards of carrot and pepper, cilantro and onion. I encountered more fat and gristle than I'd like, but hey, the thing is still a steal. The vegetarian, with veggie ham and tofu and the pile of greenery, translated to less taste but less rough spots.

But there was no traditional mystery Vietnamese option (there's steamed pork and meatballs and more but everything seems slightly Americanized). I asked young owner Mikey Nguyen why there wasn't the one I was looking for.

"There is!" the already happy-as-hell 30-year-old entreprenuer told me. It's just not on the menu. The mysterious ingredient? Pâté.

I'll be back for that—and not just because Mikey offered to let me pay him for my sandwiches next time since they only take cash (though I thought that play was damn classy in an old-school neighborly way). Next time I want to wear my turquoise sandals.