Food in Mouth


Pho and bo bia and google

Do you ever order that thing on the menu that you just have no idea what it is? There is great comfort and joy to eat an expertly roasted chicken with crisp skin and juicy meat. Conversely, it's exciting to order the dish that you've never experienced, and let your taste buds experience something new. But if you're one of those people with internet on your phone, then you can totally look up everything on a translated menu. Recently I visited a Vietnamese restaurant on Bowery Street and they had specials listed on the table. They were translated phonetically without any English descriptions of the dish itself. I asked the server what all of the items were, but he spoke so fast and I couldn't understand shit. So I turned to google.


The one item that intrigued me was the 'bo bia' because it was priced as an appetizer. I wanted pho on that particular day and only a minor addendum to my meal was needed. Obviously, if the menu had not been translated phonetically, there's nothing that google can do for me. If I had been in a Chinese restaurant, and sitting in front of an all-Chinese menu, I would have been flummoxed.

They didn't include any descriptions of 'bo bia' so I typed into to my phone and waited for Google to retrieve results at dial-up like speeds. The top result said that bo bia is Vietnamese spring rolls with Chinese sausage! Well of course I had to order that and see what it was all about. Most places serve Vietnamese spring rolls with shrimp. Maybe I just prefer the familiar version with shrimp, but these just didn't impress that much. I was more proud of the fact that I confidently ordered from a part of the menu that had no English, but the food itself was just ok. It may just be their version of bo bia that disappointed me, but if I see it again elsewhere, it'll certainly be on my order.

Pho was the main dish for my dinner. This a solid effort, although not remarkable one way or another. You could easily discern the beefiness in the broth and that was pleasurable. But the beef eye round on the top of the broth was not that tender. Where as the thinly sliced eye round disappointed, the brisket and tripe stood up to the taste test. I'm not a good judge of good or bad pho because I actually enjoy the version you find in Manhattan Chinatown. More discerning eaters usually shit on the Vietnamese places in Manhattan, and favor places in Brooklyn.


Recently I heard about a couple of new places in the East Village and in the LES that feature $8 to $10 dollar pho. Usually in Chinatown, it costs $6 or less. It's weird to hear about ones that cost $8 or more. My first reaction to hearing about it is whether a pho novice like myself can distinguish the quality in the $8 dollar bowl. I'm completely dismissive of the assertion that someone can tell you there's better ingredients, and then you taste it and agree. I fully believe if it's better ingredients, you should be able to taste it without them telling you about it. While most of us like to believe that we are the arbiters of our actions and taste buds, we're also easily swayed by commercials that tell us something is more sophisticated. This Grey Poupon commercial wouldn't work if people rely solely on taste buds and don't care about mimicking the heightened sophistication of using a foreign sounding mustard. I think about things like whether $9 pho would taste better or worse in a disposable bowl and whether handpulled noodle joints would benefit from a shiny decor of a more expensive ramen place.

This week I heard about this story from NYTimes about a proposed legislation in NYC that would disallow new fast food restaurants with 1/10 of a mile of a school. This is an action that's in response to the report last month that obesity and proximity to fast food were linked [NYTimes]. I think it's a fantastic idea. Honestly, I'm pretty surprised by the kind of uproar that it's caused. See here and here. This is so obviously a good idea that I'm just at a loss why people aren't just overjoyed that someone wants to take the results of a credible study and apply it to the way we govern. And use that to help society as a whole. It just seems like a no brainer.

What about you? Would you support legislation that would help reduce obesity? We're talking about affecting your wallets directly. You'll waste less tax dollars on fighting the obesity health issue in this country. This is about whether you want to solve problems the way smart people do it. Do you want to listen to people with data [read: President Obama]? Or do you want to take a stab in the imaginary WMD dark [read: President Bush]?

Tu Do
102 Bowery.
New York, NY 10013

Map to find Tu Do

Posted by Danny on

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  • It's a tricky thing, this attempt at combating obesity with legislation. When I was doing a lot of reporting for Syracuse City Eagle in January, everyone was all in a tizzy over Governor Paterson's proposed tax on regular soda. Did it bother me? No, but that's because I drink Diet Dr. Pepper. (mm.) Also, oddly enough, he had proposed a tax on gym memberships as well.

    Anyway, I think the difference between people who overeat/eat bad foods and people - well - like us, I guess, who love to eat and respect food is how we think about the act of eating. I don't know as if any legislation can change that.

  • That first sentence of my second paragraph made no sense. Whatsoever.

    What I was trying to say, in way too many words, was:

    "What makes 'us' different than 'them' is ... "

  • @Rochelle,

    It seems that people are always hesitant that legislation should affect the choices that we make. When the legislation is clear on helping society as a whole, we all favor it. Laws restricting speeding and drunk driving come to mind. With behavioral scientist/economists doing more and more research on what alters our behavior, I feel like people need to be more open minded about new possibilities. The study they did is like any other well-designed experiment, with hypothesis, and adjusted for variables. I hear counter arguments like we should educate the kids more, or that bodegas would replace the fast food places or whatever. Yes, we can educate people more on healthy eating and yes bodegas can also be bad, but this legislation, which is FREE to us btw, can have an effect. And it seems like what turns people off is the fact that it involves government intervention. My view is that if it works, why not? If this problem really is as serious as we all say, then we need to tackle it from all fronts, not just the most high falutin solutions.

  • I'm wary of ordering things I've never heard of. But I do loveeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee Pho! -=D

    I have a question about hand pulled noodles, which place do you like best? Cause my friends and I wanna visit a place on saturday and wanna goto a yummy(er) one lols

  • Interesting legislation. I work in a pediatric hospital and there is a McDonalds in the building. There was a study a few years back that showed patients who were in hospitals which had McDonalds in them thought that the food was healthier than the patients at other hospitals which did not have a McDonalds in it.

  • @wonders,

    I really love the hole-in-the-wall nature of Super Taste, with their plastic disposable bowls and awesome dumplings. They don't do fried dumplings though. Lan Zhou Handmade noodles has good fried dumplings and they make the noodles out in the open, if you're into showing that to your friends. They're all good, so you can't go wrong :)


    haha, I love it. Do the patients think enjoyment = healthy? hmm... french fries are healthy... mmmm...

  • Why not just enforce an age limit similar to alcohol and cigarettes? You have to be 18 years old to buy your own cheeseburger. Hahaha!

  • Oh, I agree - I'm not discounting it. Just offering the idea that after physical change comes a change in thinking .. hopefully. :O)

  • Thanks Danny!! We're debating on Super Tasty or Sheng Wang since they're close by. I liked boiled dumplings too, especially the veggie ones from vanessa dumpling house on eldridge! -=D

  • Not having fast food restaurants near schools is probably, more or less, the "right" thing to do. The problem is, you're not going to "solve" obesity by legislating a single factor. There's a list of factors that contribute to obesity. To play the devil's advocate-- What if a healthy fast-food restaurant wants to open near a school? The fact that they are "fast" will prevent them from opening near a school, even if they serve tofu burgers? The second problem, which is not specific to this proposed legislation, but to politicians and people in general, is that studies, even if statistical significant, need to be taken with a grain of salt. There's (supposedly) a correlation between driving red cars and higher rates of car accidents. Does that mean we should ban red cars? This is a silly example, but the point is that banning things doesn't always solve the problem (e.g. drug policies... but I stop here).

  • @AC,

    You're right to say that there are many factors that contribute to obesity, and that legislation won't 'solve' the issue. To address your issues one at a time though...

    When people hear about studies like this, they often like to play devils advocate. The reality is that since the study was conducted on current situations that exist; the people who lived in situation A benefited while people in situation B did not. That's really all we're talking about here, and that perhaps slight changes in how we zone commercial property near schools can alter people's behavior.

    As for the red car issue. The proposed legislation is to impose a rule that doesn't restrict personal freedom, while helping individuals. With regards to speeding, what people have found is that when you install enough cameras and notify drivers of cameras, people tend to speed less. That doesn't prevent you from speeding, but instead changes the way drivers view the act of speeding. There's a HUGE difference here.

    What these proposed legislation is to still allow for freedoms. You can go eat fast food, you just have to go out of your way to do. You can drive red cars faster than drivers of non-red cars, but we'll have cameras watching your every speeding violation.

    I think people tend to misunderstand the point of the legislation and the degree to which the legislation would impede on our personal freedoms. When people's freedoms are violated, they rightly should get angry. In this case, I think the legislation merely incurs an inconvenience on fast food lovers, while passively helps the obesity problem.

  • I've never bad bo bia before. WHAT IS WRONG WITH ME?! Even if you said it was kinda meh, I think I would prefer the chinese sausage to shrimp. :)

    I'm not discerning enough to be able to tell if Manhattan pho sucks. ;_;

  • If it's any consolation Robyn, I've never even seen bo bia at another place before. Maybe there's just something wrong with all of us!

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