I met D for lunch and a movie today. We’ve been exchanging phone calls, but I hadn’t actually seen her in about two months. I had nearly forgotten her disarming (to use a euphemism from the movie we saw) smile and the way it flickers between her eyes and mouth.
We ate at a Vietnamese restaurant called Mai, owned and staffed by Vietnamese. We shared a pomelo salad – chunks of fresh pomelo, steamed prawns, steamed pork, dried cuttlefish, sesame seeds, chillis and fresh herbs – followed by a plate of cha ca. The latter was not served Hanoi style (on a hot plate, accompanied by rice paper) but in a bowl, with steamed rice noodles and an interesting fish-sauce-based dressing. I asked for some extra fish and rice paper, to relive a bit of Hanoi.
The owner of the restaurant was apparently watching us, because she strolled over and said, “you must have been to Vietnam, because you are very familiar with our food.” It was a nice observation, if not completely true, and as though she knew it, she kindly offered a few pointers to enhance my education.
My beverage was lime juice, which is my favourite potable in Singapore. It’s always a little too sweet, but when served with lots of ice, it becomes better and better as it cools. Beverages here in general are corrosively sweet. Some of them – bright greens and pinks – even look like liquid candy. And just try getting an unsweetened cup of coffee or tea outside a café or Chinese restaurant.
Asian desserts, on the other hand, are barely sweet at all. Chinese pastries are puffy and breadlike with just a hint of sweetness. Many Indian candies have the consistency and taste of pie crust. And Singaporeans moderate the sweetness of ice cream, for example, by serving it in a slice of bread. Actual white bread (with a little food colouring added). Now that’s an ice cream sandwich.