|Mì Quảng chay - Vegetarian mi quang|
The longer I stay in Vietnam the more I inch toward typical Vietnamese habits. This is most apparent in my cravings for white rice. A Vietnamese might surely suffer rice withdrawals if they were deprived the satisfaction of their daily consumption, as the saying goes "cơm là vợ, phở là bồ". For me, this new desire needs to be satisfied 4-5 times a week. Couple my new-found craving with my body's need for veggies in general, leafy greens specifically, and I've found myself in and out of many a quan chay, or vegetarian restaurant.
I've been to about 12 vegetarian restaurants in Da Nang, either immediately stopping at a newly spotted one to sample their veggie vittles, or making a mental note to return later, which I always do. Sad to say, but Da Nang's vegetarian cuisine (I can't say Vietnam's vegetarian cuisine as I only thoroughly know Da Nang's; and I have to assume, as with everything else from one Vietnamese city to the next, the differences are most likely striking) isn't exactly haute cuisine. But the bar is raised in this country that many people travel to for the food or, like myself, find it hard to leave because of it. Despite being on a lower rung of the Vietnamese cuisine ladder, a stop at a quan chay is necessary because some meals, some days, I simply don't wish to consume any meat. I might go to one quan chay for the rice, another for the mi quang, and still another for the pho. One of my old standbys for a plate of rice is Tam Phap.
There's something about eating in a hidden restaurant down a narrow Vietnamese alley that superficially satisfies the ego, like you're the only foreigner who knows about the place. Tam Phap is down such an alley on Tran Quoc Toan street. Here, I come for com chay, which is served on cafeteria trays, separating your dishes in case your one of those picky individuals who don't like to mix their food; or one the those neurotics who can't even have their different side dishes touch.
Keeping in step with all vegetarian restaurants, the tables' accoutrements lack nuoc nam but include soy sauce, sweet chili sauce and chao, pungent, fermented bean paste that vaguely resembles blue cheese in some of its qualities. I sparsely drizzle a bit of each over my rice before taking up a spoonful and, as deftly as a foreign hand can, top off my spoon with one of the six meat-free delights from awkwardly held chopsticks.
My favorite delights, which are nearly ubiquitous to all com chay, are roast pumpkin and eggplant, two items not often found in your typical quan com binh dan. In addition to these, one is served a bit of tofu, cooked jack fruit, and a mixed salad of thin fake meat rings, shredded carrot and onion with a bit of herb, and the whole salad saddled with small green beans. Fake meat at vegetarian restaurants is the deal breaker for me: it's an unnecessary addition and if there's too much or it's of poor "quality," then I probably won't return. But the "meat" here isn't overbearing and hides itself in the salad medley.
And what rice meal is complete without a cup of soup? The side soup is chock-full of leafy greens and sprinkled with small mushroom caps, with a clean broth, sans oil.
Tea and communal glasses aren't served on the table, but a big glass of iced tea is brought to you at some point in your meal, a much more sanitary practice than the shared glasses that are left on the table and reused by patrons.
The menu also boast the usual suspects of noodle dishes, plus vegetarian pizza which, the owner says isn't always available, but typically is on those busy quan chay days of the new and full moon, when a good portion of the population forsakes meat for the Buddhist tradition of eating vegetarian.
This food isn't going to blow your mind, but it's well prepared and rises above the simple nature of its components. You'll walk away full, but not bloated, and only slightly lighter in the wallet, as vegetarian fare is ridiculously cheap in Da Nang.
|Cơm gà chay - Vegetarian 'chicken' rice|
Where: Quán chay Tâm Pháp
Down a little alley at 25 Trần Quốc Toản St. (on the left side)