Thursday, February 2, 2012

Which rice vermicelli is authentic?

I went to Pondok Indah Mall (PIM) 2 today for lunch, and somehow out of many restaurants lined up on the 3rd floor, I decided to eat at Pho' 2000.

Pho is always one of the few Asian food almost always available in big cities in the US. I haven't been to Vietnam in my whole life and I don't know what is authentic there, but since most of the owners of pho restaurants I visited in the US were Vietnamese and most of the imported Southeast Asian groceries come from Vietnam, I was assured that the food was authentic.

Now, I'm back in Indonesia, a fellow region of Southeast Asian countries where our foods are somehow very similar. I expected the pho I bought in Indonesia to be closer to the real thing, but when I stepped in to Pho' 2000 I was rather disappointed.

I ordered a small bowl of beef pho (they call it 'baby size' there), and a bowl of grilled beef rice vermicelli. We didn't notice that the restaurant claim they neither use MSG nor bouillon. Well, it might be a good thing, but on the other side we started wondering if the taste of the soup would be bland. And we were right.

The soup lack the 'kicking factor', and tasted just like soy sauce water with some beef stock. The soup is very clear, earning it some plus points. And it didn't have that much oil floating on the soup, which makes it healthy. But on the hindsight, it made the taste really bland.

And the vermicelli. Oh. This was the main problem. The grilled beef was nice, the sauce was nice, but the vermicelli was wrong. Or I should say, different from the ones I ate in the US. The one I ate in the US is more sticky, smoother, and thinner, and it breaks more easily. The one I ate at Pho' 2000 was the kind of rice vermicelli commonly found in Indonesian dishes.

While it makes sense to adjust the ingredients to Indonesian taste buds, I still feel that it's somehow wrong.   I guess this is the bad part about sharing very similar food ingredients: cooks feel that the ingredients can be substituted with similar but different item. But again, I have no idea which rice vermicelli is authentic.

I guess it's not that the vermicelli dish was bad. It's just that when the stuff you ordered did not meet your expectation, something just didn't feel quite right.


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