I have always wanted to be one of those people who loses their appetite when they're upset. These are the people who snarl phrases like "How can you eat at a time like this?!" in movies. These are the people who burst out of their depression cocoons looking like beautiful, lithe butterflies complete with jutting hip bones. I am not one of those people. I emerge from a bad mood looking like a two year old: crumbs in my hair, smeared chocolate on my cheeks and brie on my breath.
So today, when I was hit with a bad case of the the blues, I pointed my Prism in the direction of the International District. I took my melancholy self out for a meal that I have been saving just for me. I needed to be alone. Well, alone with a plate of Vietnamese noodles.
Huong Binh is the perfect place to go when you're in a funk. The wait staff is sweet, but not overly chatty, and chances are you won't run into anyone you know. Stuffed into a Jackson Street strip-mall, the only decorations are a string of Chinese lanterns and a random, but oddly comforting, "I Love You" poster featuring a giant red rose.
I ordered the Banh Uot Nem Nuong, rice rolls with pork meatballs, and added a skewer of charbroiled pork for good measure. This, my friends, is serious fast food. I opened my book, read a single page, and Tada! a tray of food was placed before me.
Turns out, a single page was all I needed. When eating alone, I usually occupy myself with a book, a magazine, a soy sauce label, anything really. But this meal was so entrancing, so flavorful, so delicious - I felt compelled to pay strict attention to the textures, the flavors, the assembling - and simply enjoyed my lunch, distraction free.
Rice rolls are actually long sheets of soft, squishy rice noodles folded into bundles. In this case they were sprinkled with crushed peanuts, green onions and topped with warm skewers of tender pork meatballs (I expected the dense, rubbery, fat laced, bouncy-balls usually found in pho - and was relieved and delighted by these juicy orbs) and chunks of grilled pork. A huge pile of cilantro, Thai basil and lettuce leaves comes alongside the dish, prompting you to create different combinations of herb-lettuce-noodle-meat until the plate is licked clean. A little bowl of tangy nuoc cham rounds out the meal, and it was liberally spooned over everything, along with generous dabs of fiery, brick red, hot sauce.
With every tongue awakening bite, I felt myself relaxing and feeling just a little bit better. By the time I got up to pay my $6.50, I was able to communicate with humans again. I told the lady with the bright red lipstick and heavily painted eyelids how much I enjoyed the meal. She chirped: "Oh good! You need try more! You come back tomorrow!"
Tomorrow! I ran across the street to Saigon Deli and handed over a $5 bill in exchange for a BBQ pork banh mi and a pack of five rice noodles rolled with shrimp. You know, just in case I'm in a bad mood tomorrow.