He arrives at our table. Short, stout, pristine. Dyed and slicked with shine his jet-black hair glistens and frames an aged face. Almond eyes glisten. English vowels are clipped and chopped to the minutest proportions as he notes down our menu on a fresh, sharp cornered notepad cupped in wrinkled hands.
Near our table sits a Vietnamese couple surrounded by many platters that bely nostalgia for homeland. One platter has been intriguing me even up until the old gentleman stands guard by our table , butleresque. I can’t stop exclaiming to Mr Divageiger about it. Leaves of lettuce, assembled like crispy green clouds almost float off the plate in gregarious ebullience. Mr Divageiger keeps misunderstanding my subtle verbal explanations and I can hardly gesticulate and start pointing. So I give up and instead watch them roll the leaves, expertly. Rolling and dipping, rolling and dipping.
As our order is taken the couple crunch their way through the platter. The old gentleman’s signet ring glints at me. Etched gold with an asiatic image embossed into deep red stone, it grips his right ring finger. Polished. Stately. The fate of tonight’s Phô seems assured.
Chilli infused steam winds it’s way through my nose. I reach for the condiment dish and ladle fresh puréed chilli into my bowl. I load the little porcelain spoon several times until my bowl resembles a red carnelian sea. Bean sprouts are strewn, lemon is squeezed, the Vietnamese mint perspires its musky sweetness as my spoon meets the broth. It’s good to be home. For this is the taste of home for me. Good Asian cuisine served by a gentleman of old school Saigon reminds me of how far I have travelled in a week. Continental Bulgaria is eons away from Melbourne and its little Saigon. I declare we ought too visit Saigon, see it for ourselves, get lost in its French Colonial architecture and not so French smells.
I explore the bowl like an unchartered territory. I’m pincering crab-like with chopsticks chewy balls of seitan suggested to me as a meat substitute by the old guard Mr Saigon and flicking them into Mr Divageiger’s clay pot. Bartering in a sense for lemon grass infused beef morsels. But only morsels, please darling or I feel unfaithful to vegetarianism. Toying with my rice noodles, I spot it.
“Corazon, there is a vegetarian octopus in my soup!”
As I retrieve tentacle after tentacle, I laugh raucously. Imagine that…