I’ve been eating that delicious Vietnamese soup called pho (pronounced feu) for at least 10 years, mostly at one of my favourite Vietnamese restaurants in the heart of downtown Chinatown: Sai Gon Palace, 454 Spadina Ave. just south of College.
Recently, I had a Calvin Trillin moment at this popular, spacious no-frills eatery with the semi-open kitchen. A creature of habit, I am a regular here with a regular menu choice.
On this day, however, Trillin’s sage advice about checking out what others, especially Asian diners, are eating in an Asian restaurant came to mind. As I was about to order my usual #1 – a big bowl of broth filled with thick rice noodles, beansprouts, rare and well-done beef slivers, beef tendon, tripe and beef balls – I noticed a man at the next table enjoying a thick soup I’d never seen before. “What is he having?” I whispered to the waitress who was about to order me the tried-and-true #1 without my asking for it. “#21,” she replied succinctly. “I’ll take that,” was my adventurous comeback.
The dish arrived. It was heaven in a bowl: the usual light, aromatic broth and noodles but, in this case, inundated with rib-hugging shreds of rich beef brisket laced with tangy, slightly chunky tomato sauce and crowned with two huge hunks of bright orange boiled carrot. It was accompanied by the usual Thai basil leaves and lime wedge which I sprinkled and squeezed on top respectively.
Dear readers, you heard it here first: #21 at Sai Gon Palace is a fusion of Vietnames and Jewish flavours that gives new meaning to the word sublime! At $6 a pop, it’s also a bargain-priced meal-in-a-bowl.