White Girls Want Good Food, Too
I’m a Caucasian female. I’ve even taken it so far as to be of the blonde-hair-and-blue-eyes variety.
Sometimes, this is viewed as evidence that my delicate, Americanized palate should be fiercely protected from all manner of flavor and texture, lest it be ravaged by the fire of a thousand suns. After all, should my delicate palate be ravaged, my litigious, American instict might be, subsequently, to sue.
This is evident when I used to visit Nit Noi, this Thai restaurant down the street. I’d order Putt-Thai Korat (pad thai, essentially) and request it “spicy.” I’m often charmingly met with the question, “A little spicy?” to which I reply, “No, very spicy.” It often arrives a few steps up from bland.
I’ve since realized that the concept (and execution) of “spicy” varies drastically, depending on whose mouth from which it is spoken.
I don’t take offense–stereotypes are often based on fact. However, broad assumptions are one thing, and specific requests are another.
Speaking of, at the same restuarant (which has “Café” in its name), I asked for a coffee once, and the guy behind the counter told me they didn’t have any. When I shot him my most quizzical look (I’ve been practicing) and inquired as to why they were named “Café,” he replied that, yes, they had coffee, but it was “strong.” I told him to bring it on.
And you know what? It wasn’t strong so much as it was sticky sweet. I’m not sure if it was altered for my delicate, Americanized mouth sensibilities, but holy mother sweetness. I couldn’t stop puckering.
The adorable matriarch of Cali Sandwiches reminds me of my childhood best friend’s mother (also Vietnemese)–small and domineering, but in the most lovable way. I typically frequent Les Givral’s or The Teahouse for banh mi or vermicelli dishes, but today I thought I’d try Cali. I attempted to order the bbq pork sandwich (#1 on the chalkboard menu, not the printed menu), but was quickly steered away in the most hilariously stern manner.
“No,” said the adorable matriarch. “No, you don’t want that. Too much fat, and skin.”
“Oh,” I said, blue eyes wide and frightened. “I didn’t realize. What’s my alternative?”
“The #8. This is what you want.”
My delicate, Americanized sense of hospitality was reeling. Did she just tell me I didn’t want what I wanted? Did she just tell me to order something that seemed vaguely unexciting in the extreme? “#8: Grilled/seasoned pork.”
I blinked, and I stuttered. As my delicate, Americanized mind wondered if I would still get that quintessential bbq sauce on my terribly dry-sounding sandwich, my delicate, Americanized mouth opened and said, “Yes, yes I think I want that.”
I took my seat. What had I done? There was the potential for no sauce. And sauce was the very reason I was indulging a banh mi craving. That, and the crusty French bread. Mmm.
Sandwich arrives, and the adorable matriarch smiles at me. I melt. Such good intentions; I love her instantly.
There’s no sauce, but there’s no fat or skin, either, which proves to be a very good thing. Thanks, matriarch. The pork tasted dried but not dry, which is an interesting sensation. The extras–cucumber, carrot, and cilantro–were bright and fresh. It was a solid sandwich, especially with some self-applied squirts of Sriracha throughout.
Mid-squirt, I realized something: my motherly little matriarch helpfully left off the jalapeno.
Whew. Thanks for looking out for me.