“This better be worth it,” I said to myself waiting in an hour long line on a hot (and rare) San Francisco evening. Granted, things looked promising- tiny red plastic infant chairs and cardboard boxes turned tables sprawled outside of a warehouse at 20th and Shotwell, sliced chili peppers and limes condimenting tables. Camping stoves on collapsible tables formed a makeshift kitchen, to which the line snaked. People were waiting for delicacies at Rice Paper Scissors, a Vietnamese Pop-Up restaurant that is sounding increasingly popular these days.
While waiting, I overheard many conversations mostly centered around travel, when people were last in Vietnam, how they take their phở, how much they miss the sweet sticky chaos that is Southeast Asia… which is exactly how I felt.
Some hate the tiny plastic furniture, cat pee beer (dee-licious!), and MSG overseas. But for me, it was one of the most endearing and enjoyable parts of Southeast Asia. I’ll take an extra helping of that shiny, sparkly, crystalline seasoning, please. You can sprinkle it directly in my mouth if you’d like. Say what you will about MSG, but it electrifies flavors in a way that salt cannot.
I took a bite of my Bahn Mi, on a crusty fusion French/Vietnamese roll (thanks, Imperialism). Rich umami flavors of pork pate, charcuterie, and BBQ pork warm the palate (sans MSG), while pickled carrots, daikon, and herbs add a fresh and green liveliness.
The coconut sorbet was sweet and rich, with black sesame powder dusted on top. It was too sweet, but the sesame powder added a savory element that brought the sugar down a notch and it was pleasant on the warm spring night.
Valerie Luu and Katie Kwan, the Vietnamese-American minds behind the operation, wanted to showcase what they love about Saigon Street Food- not just the food, but the “down-to-earth atmosphere — all the while having fun on little red stools.” Their vision is “not just grabbing some street food and leaving – it’s about hanging out, taking a moment to enjoy the food, company, and ambiance.”
I’ve got to say, that’s exactly what I did. And, that night lit my travel fire again (as tends to happen every 6 months). Yep, those little red stools and Bahn Mi gave me the feva… and the only prescription is more street food. Or Vietnam. And that can be arranged.
The only question is… where to next?