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Jade Hidle: Top Chef Serves Up “Authentic” Vietnamese Food

Swiffer now has a mixed family featured in one of its recent ads. So, I should have known not to trust Cleveland area food reviewers. However, after my pleasant discovery of Vietnamese American space in Washington, D. Without a cultural compass in the city, I turned to Yelp!. My previous experiences with Vietnamese restaurants on Yelp! I do not know how to cook Vietnamese food. At all. Vietnamese cuisine is something that I buy, or Yelp!.

Something struck me as off when I saw a cocktail menu propped open on the table. Never have I had a cocktail at a Vietnamese restaurant. Only water, tea, soda chanh, sua dau nanh, and the occasional rau ma. Cocktails belong to the sphere of happy hours with coworkers and acquaintances. The wall sconces glowed blue and a signed Indians jersey hung in the entryway.


Aside from the staff, no Vietnamese people were dining in the restaurant. I pushed the cocktail menu to the edge of the table. Unlike my experience of easy conversation in Vietnamese while I was in Washington D. She was quiet for an extra beat, and when I looked up from my menu at her, the skin on her nose was crinkled, her lips parted as if words were caught between her mouth and the air. She responded to me in English. As I mentioned in my last post about D. I had no problems, was talking and joking with people easily in Vietnamese.

But, this Ohioan was not having it. So, I followed her lead and proceeded to speak to her in English. I should have known I would have to fill up on candy bars after the meal when the waitress asked me if I wanted white or brown rice with my dish.

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I ordered. But before she had a chance to walk away, I asked her if there are many Vietnamese in Cleveland. Pronouns are tender strings of letters. Was she being honest? Had I offended her? Did I come off as too touristy? I felt as though I had been turned into that in the span of just a couple of minutes.

From this ambiguous fissure in our conversation, my own struggle with authenticity surfaced. Once she walked away to submit the order to the kitchen, I flip-flopped over questions. Maybe the assumption that she should says a whole hell of a lot more about me. I will pretty much eat anything, which a friend once told me is a quality of being a first-born child, but I refuse to eat onions, those filthy crimes against nature. Sprinkled atop the bed of onions were three separate chunks of fish in a sugary brown sauce. I want to pull skinny bones out of my big, ravenous bites into that filet.

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Hungry, I scooped a chunk of the fish into my mouth and felt transported. Not to home, though. To Panda fucking Express. Desperately needing flavor, I gave in and ordered a Lichitini off of that suspicious cocktail menu. If there are any readers out there who own or work at an establishment serving drinks, please a protest against this hybridizing nomenclature of drink names. Moreau-like mixings of words. Suspicious Lichitini. After all, here was an immigrant community obviously doing well in pricey real estate in a downtown metropolitan area.

Maybe this is adventurous for some eaters.

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