In Hoi An, Vietnam there is a restaurant written up in all of the guidebooks I have seen called Café des Amis. It’s run by a Vietnamese owner/chef named Mr. Kim, who by his own proclamation has “the best food in Hoi An.”
There is no menu. You have a choice of vegetarian, seafood or meat. Once you choose what general variety of food you want for the evening, you get a three or four course meal of whatever Mr. Kim is serving for that evening. No options. No changes. And you have no idea what you are going to get until it hits the table. As a bonus, Mr. Kim or one of the other servers also shows you how to eat each course (chopsticks with one, spoon with another, chilies on this one, etc.). My dinner wasn’t that fabulous, but the entertainment value was high. By the way, the set cost for my dinner and beer was about $7 U.S. dollars.
Mr. Kim also has about 12-14 books that are stacked out front at the table Mr. Kim sits at soliciting prospective patrons that walk by his waterfront location. His pitch is two-fold: “best food in Hoi An” and “where are you from?”
“Where are you from?” is one of those lines that you get used to hearing in Vietnam and elsewhere in Southeast Asia. Almost everyone asks you: shop owners, hawkers at the local market, tuk-tuk drivers, or kids begging. Once you say “the United States” or “Germany” or “Japan,” invariably whoever has asked you is able to say something in your native language and give you some fact about where you are from. It annoys some people, but I think it is very a creative and ingenious way to try to get you to stop and talk.
Mr. Kim’s “where are you from” pitch comes with a very unique twist. I told him I was from the U.S. He asked where in the U.S. and I said Texas – I find it a lot easier to just say Texas, rather than Arkansas, because so few people know where Arkansas is. He nodded and walked away to his books. About three minutes later he came back with one of the books and put it down on my table.
The books are full of comments from previous customers raving about the food and Mr. Kim has an almost photographic memory of the home locations of everyone that has written in them. He’d opened one of the books to a comment from someone that signed from Dallas and went on and on about how great the food was. I read it and flipped through the rest of the book slowly, reading comments from people all over the world. A few minutes later, he brought me another book with another comment from someone from Texas.
In case you can’t read it too well, let me retype it in its entirety:
“While on business in Da Nang, I made the short trek to Café des Amis on the recommendation of my fiancée-to-be, an ever so-slightly voluminous Swede who knows a thing or two about inconspicuous consumption. In any event, although the much vaunted ‘Goat Cheese Sandwich’ wasn’t on offer today, the four-course seafood outlay was simply spectacular. Morever – miracle upon miracles – I actually enjoyed a Tiger beer served at something appreciably less than ambient temperature.”
I am a typical guy in a quite a number of respects. One of those is my love for quoting various movie lines at a frequency that seems to discourage my ability to find a woman that will put up with me. In this case, let me go with a classic from “The Princess Bride. . .” ‘I don’t think that word means what you think that word means.’
You think his girlfriend – and what the hell is “fiancée-to-be” mean?? – would like to be described as “voluminous?” As my good friend, Ken Kendrick, would likely chime in at this point – “yes, quite Rubenesque.” And conspicuous consumption, inconspicuous consumption – guess that’s about the same thing. “Seafood outlay??” “Ambient temperature??” Really?
Such an effort to impress with one’s linguistic skills. I got the feeling that this particular individual was proud of their excellent college education and wanted to make sure that everyone else that read this particular comment would be impressed also. This was all verified when you scrolled down to his signature:
Get your guns up! Go Red Raiders!