I don’t know how the Vietnamese got a hold of jalepeños and cilantro, but I’m so glad they did.

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(Note the stoop handrail)

Author’s note: it’s been pointed out more than once that I misspelled banh my in the original posting. It has since been changed. Thank you to everyone who helped!

 

Being a twenty-something young professional, I can’t always go to fancy restaurants (more so out of boredom rather than price… You’ll see why in later posts).  This time, we went to BaLe in little south Philly Vietnam for banh my, or Vietnamese deli sandwiches. The deli part refers more to the fact that there is a table for non-refrigerated items like delicate flower cookies, an open refrigerator for sausages and preserved meats and the counter for ordering food. No tables, no chairs, no

nothin’. Also, good luck trying to tell the difference between fried tofu and chicken. It helps to know what fried tofu looks like, which my accomplice did not. So after ordering our sandwiches, we set out for a place to eat them. Now, imagine south Philly for a second. Bring up those memories of parks and benches and general ‘welcome, sit for a while’ atmosphere. Now realize that idea is a lie. There are no benches, only stoops. And what’s more, Murphy’s law dictates that halfway through your banh my, the owner of said stoop will come home to find you. Luckily, he will be very nice about the whole thing and invite you to continue eating.

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Also note the significant lack of chicken.

Fortunately, once you get over that awkwardness, you begin to appreciate the Vietnamese affinity for jalepeños and cilantro mixed in with your typical fresh vegetables (carrots, lettuce, cucumber, etc.). I’m not a culinary anthropologist, but I would love to know how jalepeños and cilantro made it all the way to south east Asia. Maybe they were always there and it was Central America that benefited from the import. Honestly, I’ve never looked into it, but I want to. I think fusion cuisine is a little weird, to be frank, it always seems forced. But that’s probably because I don’t know the history behind it. For example, Chifa: Peruvian-Chinese cuisine. What? But it comes from Chinese immigrants and the story behind that sounds so fascinating.

Anyway, the sandwiches were a good call: cheap, fast, new. But they were every bit the quality one would expect from a fast, cheap deli. Not bad by any means, just not winning a James Beard anytime soon. I still recommend it if you’re in the area and looking for a quick lunch. There’s also a highly recommended Pho place behind it. Unfortunately, you’ll never see me there because, well, beef broth.

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Of course, always end your night with a few beers and some warm blueberry bread pudding with whiskey-caramel sauce from Royal Tavern. It’s only right.

And then it hit me…

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I’ve been a vegetarian for roughly ten years. My best friend from high school likes to remind me of the days when we shared popcorn chicken wraps freshman year only to come back the next fall and I could no longer partake in our weekly ritual. It was a traumatic time, but I still hold on to the fact that processed chicken pieces are kind of gross if you think about them for too long.

Since then, there has been a lot of research- books, movies, wikipedias on the true definition of Veganism- but the fact has remained that I never looked back. I never once missed meat. I used to love lobster and it is true that one fateful filet mignon did it in for me. But enough of the past, on to the future!

Just because I don’t like meat doesn’t mean I hate happiness. I love happiness. In fact, I love it so much, I wanted to share with you my adventures in finding Philly’s best vegetarian foods. And, so that things don’t ever get boring, I’ll try to bring a long a meat eating friend whenever I can (that same friend from high school calls it a “meat partner,” she’ll appear from time to time).

The first place we visited was Watkin’s Drinkery, probably the most gastro-pubiest gastro-pub I’ve ever been to. My friend’s direct quote was, “Oh no, you’re a vegetarian, aren’t you? I wouldn’t have brought you here if I remembered that.” And as expected, my choices were limited, but that doesn’t even matter because I had what is arguably the best grilled cheese sandwich of my life. It changes weekly and I was lucky enough to have the havarti with dill and red pepper relish. I was  a little hesitant about the relish because I am a grilled cheese purist, but it was amazing and just acidic enough to cut the cheese without overwhelming it. My meat partner had the haddock fish and chips with an enviable amount of fish-less crispies. And everyone knows the little fried bits of nothingness are the best part.

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Needless to say, I won.