On Friday my boss took us all out for lunch to welcome me and our new graphic designer who started on Thursday. (A young guy who, incidentally, reminds me a lot of my youngest brother.) Even though I have had a lot of jobs over the years, I doubt I have had more than a few welcomes – so this was really nice and I totally appreciated the gesture.
We drove a short distance to what turned out to be a favoured Vietnamese restaurant in Chiang Mai – My Vietnamese Food Restaurant. It was completely packed out. I think it’s on Huay Kuew Road a bit past the university heading towards the mountain, but don’t quote me on that because I haven’t developed a good mental map of the city yet.
I actually love eating Vietnamese food wherever I can find it in the world, even if it’s often not quite what I know of as Vietnamese food. And the feast we had on Friday was no exception – it was great, and I ate far more than I needed. ‘Aroy,’ I said. And one of my workmates replied, ‘You think everything is aroy!’
The food wasn’t strictly Vietnamese food and it all looked and tasted a bit different. And yet it was unmistakably Vietnamese in its spirit, and different to normal Thai food. They had changed a few of the ingredients and the format and the accompaniments, but there was an emphasis on freshness and raw vegetables which is what makes Vietnamese food my favourite. Apparently the owner is a woman who is half Thai and half Vietnamese and that says it all – this was definitely fusion even if it does claim to be authentic. Still, I know I’ll be coming back when I feel like a hit of Vietnamese flavours, and will work my way through the menu to see what else they have. But better yet, I’ll be making some of my own Vietnamese food soon. I bought a thick stack of rice paper from the restaurant and have promised to invite all my workmates over to my new place for dinner one night. It looks like I can find all the ingredients I need to make a very authentic meal – and luckily rice paper rolls is one of the things that I can make well because the only thing that’s slightly complicated to make is the dipping sauce.
Over lunch we were talking about our housekeeper (mee baan), Oot, was urged to come to lunch but she declined. The Thai word for explaining this reluctance, which is associated with status, is krengchai. My boss, an English guy, was saying how when you first get to Thailand you always end up having a half hour conversation about what this word means because there’s no direct translation into English. But in fact I knew straightaway what they meant because we have the same widely-used concept in Vietnamese. So it turns out that while some things are difficult to translate into English – some of these Thai concepts translate very easily into Vietnamese.