Every country takes the food of their immigrants and makes it their own. In Italy, it’s “Italianized” and mild. In America, it is supersized. But, as the US is a country of many immigrants, the food melds and blends seamlessly across menus.
Case in point, I recently went to Pho-Cue in Atlanta, Georgia. It is a hipster vibe-y place that could easily be in Oakland, California, or London, England. The staff have tattoos and shaved manbuns. The food is a mix of Vietnamese food, pan-Asian food, and American barbecue.
The barbecue was too strong for the pho soup but I like that they tried. The banh mi sandwiches were gigonormous.
The best thing were the pork belly “chips” — because why not take a fatty pork belly and deep fry it? It’s almost the American way.
After living in Rome, it was nice to get both pho and barbecue of high caliber.
Who knew that this would be a thing? But, just as TexMex is trending, so is Vietnamese food, just in a quiet way. The selection is not great here but this is what I have managed to find:
Thien Kim Roof Garden, Via Cassia 927: Located on the roof of a strip mall out to the north of Rome, way too far for me.
Banh Mi, Via Otillia 10: the only banh mi in town. They get their food products (beef jerky, bread rolls, etc.) from Thien Kim. The owner, Mara, is married to a Vietnamese man. The restaurant opened in October 2022, just two blocks from the Coliseum. They serve rice noodle bowls, banh mi sandwiches, summer rolls, papaya salad, and rice ravioli. Check them out. They are delicious. Also many vegetarian options.
Nunu, Via Varese 38/40: Good food. Not sure what their soup is like. Indoor and outdoor seating. Located near the train station.
Pho 1, Via Meruluna 115-116: I wanted to like this popular place. It was okay but the soup was not soul pleasing.
Mekong, Via Enea 56a: I have not been here. They are only open at night. The reviews show mixed reactions and the owners are aggressive online so I’m too afraid to eat here.
I know that it is the general convention that dishes, food, is best tasted at the source. I think that does some disservice to the diaspora and fusion food that has evolved over the millennia. That said, here is a list of food that I often crave. Actually, for many of the dishes, I prefer in their newer form. But, then again… some I prefer at the source.
Ceviche — I like the classic old fashioned version. The Peruvians love fusion. They are a fusion and so is their food. So now one can find “warm ceviche” and ceviche not made with fish.
Danish hotdog — I prefer them in Denmark. The actual hotdog is special, the ketchup is different, the dog is served with crunchy fried onions… New York pizza — also, one of those things. Some say that the New York pizza is like a Neopolitan pizza from Naples, Italy. We shall see… Hamburger — Some of the best I’ve had are in the United States. American beef and lack of gristle in the mix. Banh mi — I’ve had good ones outside of Vietnam. Pho — Also, good in the certain parts of the United States. Very bland in other places. Korean BBQ — If one sticks to the pork belly, then it’s fairly easy to get good Korean barbecue in many countries. I think that many people think that bulgogi should be made with a high grade of beef and grilled at the table. Traditionally, bulgogi was created to use bad cuts of meat that required marinating. Usually the slices are so thin that grilling at the table dries them out. Some places use good cuts of steak and then one can dip them in sesame seed oil and salt. This is a delicious way to eat barbecue. Chicken wings — Oddly, some of the best barbecue wings I’ve had were in a pizzeria in New Mexico. Dim sum — can be good in many places outside China.
Laksa — so far the best I’ve had, and even some of the mediocre, was in Singapore and Malaysia. What can I say?
Most of all, the food of other lands transports you to them.
Oddly enough, yes, but that’s not the important thing about this restaurant. Viet, located in San Borja, on Avenida Aviacion 2590, is a nice restaurant, whatever the food. It’s got a nice ambiance, it’s easy to find on Aviacion, and the staff are very friendly. The restaurant is open 12:30-11 Tuesday-Saturday and 12:30-4:30 on Sundays.
I’d say to those who have been to Vietnam or know Vietnamese food from the U.S., don’t use those standards (for good and bad). The owners are Chinese Peruvians who decided to open a Vietnamese place. Why not? The place has been in existence for three years and the owners are thinking of opening a new location in Miraflores. I hope that they do.
The pho (here they have a pho roll — as in the photo — so you can eat pho soup as a handroll) is not aromatic but it’s still a nice clean broth which can work wonders if you have a cold. That’s how I convinced a sick friend to join me. She got the chicken pho and added some Sriracha to make a chicken soup with kick!
I liked the service as the staff cut up food into shareable portions, recommended child-friendly berry ice tea, and made us feel tended to but not bothered. The tables are stocked with hand fans to cool down your soup or your face. There are coolie hats for selfies, and for those who care, I think I counted ten Asian looking people in there. Plus lots of families.
I’ll be back. I’m still missing a few items on the menu. The crepe, done here as an omelet on rice in a Korean earthenware pot, had coconut rice with mango and shrimp. I think this may have been the hit with my Peruvian guests. I liked the desserts including the sushi style mango sticky rice.
The one dish that I would have liked is papaya salad. I will have to try a Thai place for that, I guess.
100 restaurants in Bogota. No, I have not been to 100 restaurants in Bogota (like I did in Dhaka)… yet. I might get there accidentally. In Bogota, an emerging foodie city, there are thousands of restaurants. Here are my reviews of the ones I’ve tried to so far (though this list is not of 100, it made for a catchy title)… Strange to think that just a few weeks ago, I wondered what types of food I would not be able to get in Bogota). As usual, I have used my own rating system for this collection of bakeries, food stalls, restaurants, pubs, and other eateries. Abasto, Carrera 6 # 119B-52, Usaquen (11/13): Good and friendly service. The staff are as diverse as the goods offered. They offer food, fresh vegetables, fresh bread, cheese, candy, honey, jams, and so on. The crumble a la mode is delicious. Their bread is the best I’ve had in Bogota. It’s yeasty and actually smells like bread. Plus, I bought a roll of goat cheese (at a hefty $20) which was moldy and rolled in black ash. It was yummy and actually tasted like goat cheese.
Afternoon Tea, Carrera 15 No. 94-51 (12/13): Super friendly staff. Delicious, pillowy clouds of wheat, baked goods and bubble tea. It’s got an elegant interior (hip in the way that Bogota seems to like) and it is conducive to staying a while with friends. Afternoon Tea opened July 13, 2014 and I think they will become a hugely successful chain. Agadon, Carrera 13, No. 85-75, good for “American” dishes (12/13): Good fried winglets (called “alitas fritas” on the menu) appetizer. These are less breaded than the “fried chicken wings on waffle” which is a main course. The “alitas” cost about 13,500 pesos (about $7 U.S. bucks) and the “fried chicken wings” cost around 20,255 pesos (about $10). They also are known for their burgers. The baby back ribs fell off the bone and were pretty good. But, what was different here was, first, that bottles of Sriracha were on every table, and second, their pork belly buns. These “bun pork belly” are served in very authentic pillowy buns with pork belly slices that are fatty and livery. Supposed they are served with kimchi inside but it was more like a salad. Two buns per serving cost 20,255 ($10). This restaurant is one of the better restaurants around. Good for a date night and good for friends. I’ll be back in daylight with my camera! Antigua Santafe Sabor de Antano, Calle 11, No. 6-20, Candelaria (11/13): It claims to have the best ajiaco soup in the world. Located in Candelaria, this place could be much more touristy than it is. The juice (with milk!) was sweet and I’d never had that kind of fruit before so it is another one to add to my list of new fruits. The soup was filling and good. The use of “guasca” a local herb, adds a unique thickening agent and flavor to the soup. Adding my own avocado and rice just makes it even nicer. Burger Market, Calle 93, No. 13B-56, near Parque 93 (9/13): They grow some of their own vegetables. The burgers are acceptable. Tomato soup is made from their own tomatoes. El Oasis, Calle 47 with Carrera 15: (10/13) It’s a few open doors and counters like a mega-stall. “Best” empanadas in town. The picante “aji” sauce is really hot (on the Scoville scale). Who told me that things weren’t spicy in Bogota?
Gran China, Calle 77A # 11-70 (12/13): This place is owned by Taiwanese people and Chinese people eat here. It’s elegant in the old school Chinese restaurant way. Calle 77A is a sort of open plaza but the restaurant is tucked away and their sign is not visible from Carrera 11 so you have to wander down the street on blind faith, although I followed my nose. If you are Chinese and you know how to ask for spicy, you might actually get spicy here! They don’t seem to have a website but you can order delivery via domicilio.
Mercado, Parque 93, Calle 93 (8/13): They have salads, meat on a stick, ceviche, etc. Nothing special but okay. Portions are not huge. It is child-friendly.
Miro, Avenida La Esperanza, Carrera 43A, paella (5/13): It advertises “La paella desde 1963” which of course makes you wonder if the paella is from 1963. The best thing was the shrimp bisque. Museo de Tequila, Carrera 13A #86A-18 (Zona Rosa), Mexican food (6/13): It’s a sensory overload of Mexican kitsch. The “margarita tradicional” is served with a flower in it (a daisy which is a “margarita”) so it’s pretty and strong. While I liked their iPad visual menu, the service was too argumentative for my liking. The chips and salsa were small portions and getting more than ten nachos was a whole extra serving, at cost. The servings were unreliable. I didn’t like the weird miniscule quesadillas (the four quarters were about the size of two iPhones) but the burrito was a normal size portion and cost between $13-16 (I can’t recall exactly but I think it cost about the same as the margarita).
Restaurant Ramen, Calle 26C # 4 – 42 , La Macarena area, Japanese (6/13): I was hopeful once I saw the name. At least it was not obviously instant noodle (although I do like instant noodle — just not at a fancy ramen restaurant). The restaurant served deep fried fake crab pieces as a free appetizer. This seemed like a good sign. But, the ramen, tonkatsu, sushi roll, and salad were not Asian but the Colombian diner found it good. I could not finish my soup because the flavor was too bland while paradoxically, the egg was too salty.
Los Sanduches de Sr. Ostia, Calle 79A, #8-82, Andino mall and other locations, sandwiches (11/13): This place is famous for having the most “authentic” banh mi sandwich in Bogota. The banh mi is a good pork sandwich but it is not a banh mi. It lacks the pickle in the vegetables and there is no sriracha. It also has a green cream sauce which is definitely not Vietnamese. Next time, I may buy it and doctor it to make authentic. The bread roll was good and airy. Sushino, Avenida La Esperanza 44A-63, sushi/Japanese (3/13): The best thing was the lemonade. I tried the “Hong Kong” ceviche, the California roll (which were shaped like tear drops), and the “Eye of the Tiger” roll which involved several types of raw fish. It was all slightly off and dirty. The upstairs has two dining rooms of which the one is supposed to give the feel of a small bamboo forest patio but instead feels a bit like a zoo cage. The Ugly American Bar and Grill, Calle 81 #9-12, American food (7/13): Another swank bar cum restaurant. It’s in a basement so dark that reading the menu was done by light of an iPhone… but, everyone looks even paler and thinner in the darkness. The menu is fairly basic with some classic “gringo” foods. They didn’t have several of the items on the menu but my fish of the day was a white flaky filet. The Brussels sprouts had too much honey on them but were still very firm (I had to spoon them as I couldn’t get a fork into them and I didn’t want to launch them at my table mates in the dark). They didn’t have cheese cake or red velvet muffins… and the large slice of chocolate cake was so bland and boring that it was left on the plate! The best dessert they have is the “popcorn mousse” dessert. It was caramel corn in a jam jar filled with marshmallow fluff, some chocolate sauce which detracted from the dish, and topped with a caramel candy wedge. Wok, Parque 93 and other locations, pan-Asian food (9/13): Their menu is the size of a magazine and includes everything from ramen, curries, maki rolls and sashimi, pad thai, larb salads, and so on. They also offer various juices and grown-up drinks. I had to try the “inca roll” which consisted of a deep fried fish finger inside a rather bland roll. The outdoor seating is heated so that it’s not unbearably cold to dine outside. The interior is all blond wood and glass. They take credit cards and the toilet is clean. The clientele are the usual “boot-wearing, jean-wearing, involved with our own hipness” selves of Parque 93. There are still some restaurants out there that I’ve heard about… I’ll get there.
In the frenzied days before my move to Colombia, each evening involves, sometimes twice, a “farewell and hasta luego” dinner. Each evening, the question is the same, “what type of food will you not be able to get in Colombia?” That’s something we’ll find out, but for now, my farewell meals have included: Vietnamese pho, banh mi, Chinese hot pot, Korean barbecue, American hamburgers, Italian pizza, British pub fish and chips, donuts, and coffee cake topped with coffee flavor ice cream.
During my time in Washington, DC, I have enjoyed exploring the eateries, and of the the new restaurants I’ve tried, I’ve most enjoyed the new “it” restaurant, Rose’s Luxury. The last time I went there, the tattooed-swears-like-a-sailor-waitress remembered me from my visit in February… and then she guided us through most of the menu, including drinks. I didn’t think all the dishes were worth it but since they change their menu on a continuous basis, there is usually something you’ll like, but it may not be on the menu the next time. Sometimes the dishes really work and the staff (with *#&&^% added for emphasis) are eager to explain how to eat the dishes to get the full alchemy of the flavors.
Okay, maybe this posting was just an excuse to post food photos.