Com Nieu Sai Gon, Ho Chi Minh City
Did you ever see that Vietnam episode of A Cook's Tour where those rice things were thrown through the air after the waiters smashed the clay pots that they were grilled in? This branch (59 Ho Xuan Huong Street, District 3, +84-8-9302888) was presumably a bit more upscale than the other location, but it still featured the theatrics for this dish known as com dap dau hanh nuoc tuong. Yes, it was a gimmick, but I was suckered in.
It turned out to be a bit of a disappointment. Accompanied by a scallion and sesame topping, I had expected something spectacular, especially given my penchant for scorched rice as well as those seasonings. To my surprise, the dressing turned out to be sweet, and hence wasn't anything I particularly went nuts over. The rice was crispy, but a bit too much. At least it was only 15,000 Dong (US$1.15). Could the other dishes be any form of consolation at least?
Well, we did get a number of other items that fared fine, such as some prawn rolls, pork knuckle, and a bean sprout-filled pancake/omelette-type thing called banh xeo. But none of these were any runaway hits for me, and some of the other items, such as an allegedly sour soup called canh chua, again turned out to be too sweet (they filled the thing with pineapple slices). Some tiny fish in a clay pot didn't quite hit home either. I'm still glad that I came to check out that rice thing though.
On a side note, there were several different varieties of leaves accompanying many of these dishes. I certainly like sweet basil and mint leaves, but one leaf called diep ca must be an acquired taste, as the tiniest whiff of it makes my face clench up. I can't even really put my finger on what it smells like; apparently it has been referred to as "fishscale mint" (whatever that means), but I think that "soap" would be a better way to describe the smell. Then again, that's what naysayers say about cilantro, which I absolutely love...perhaps "pesticide" would be a closer description then. Hopefully one day I'll get over the taste of this thing (like I once did with shiso leaves), but for now, at least I can now physically identify it to be able to remove it before ingesting.