When we talk about the 13th, we are using the shorthand for the Chinatown of Paris (which itself is a bit of a misnomer because almost every Asian ethnicity is represented here).  Specifically, we are referring to the abundance of food choices in this arrondissement, most of which could be had for a real bargain when compared with the prices in the central part of town.  More than just cost, however, one can find here the authenticity that is often lacking elsewhere.  While some people may not think of eating anything but “French” food when they visit, by doing so, they would be mistaken and selling themselves short of the multicultural experience that is this modern-day capital.

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Four Baguettes
Le Bambou
70, rue Bandricourt
Closed Mondays
M° Tolbiac

Euro - 8 or less
This is a story about a restaurant that never opened, or so it seemed to us for a long, long time.  Tucked into a side street off of avenue d’Ivry, where one would not even think to look, every time we thought of checking it out we were greeted by the same halfway-down steel rolling door.  Because of that we knew that the establishment was not shut down, just merely closed whenever the likes of us came about.  Also because of the rolling door we could not catch a glimpse of the operating hours to even determine whether there were any such things.  Why we kept coming back was another entirely different mystery altogether.

But we did and finally struck gold late one Saturday afternoon.  We waited with a small crowd outside for a table; the inside was not necessarily small, just over subscribed.  We got our table but as we made our entry, a waiter materialized out of nowhere and whispered, in Vietnamese, into Riot’s ear:  “You’ve got to eat fast, we’re closing soon.”  After all of that, now, we had to eat fast?
  You might recognize the basket but it’s not what you think:  The banh bot loc (6€) with its experience-enhancing dipping sauce.

We shared a tight round table with a group of youngsters whose own meals took up most of the available surface, leaving nary any acreage to us.  We got two bowls of pho – pho dac biet (7.20€, small) and pho tai (7€, small) – and an order of banh bot loc (6€) to start.  The former came in rapid succession, the latter arrived oddly in a dim sum basket (well, it sort of made sense, being a steamed dish and all).  The crafty waiter, who had minutes before jotted down our orders onto the paper table mat (à la Chartier), drew a big circle encompassing our steamy bowls and basket.  That would be our share of the prime real estate.

The pho itself was amazing with the highlight being the flavor-rich broth whose deep, dark shade set it apart from all the other bowls of Parisian pho.  (Riot’s mom always said that the broth was the best part – by which she meant both tasty and nutritious – of a bowl of pho:  “Leave the noodles and meat but you must finish the soup!”)  In between hurried bites and messy slurps, we dug into the appetizer of steamed tapioca pockets filled with shrimp and ground meat; their dipping sauce made a terrible mess of the bamboo dim sum basket.  While Nez’s pho was only accompanied by rare slices of beef, in Riot’s spéciale bowl, the additional fattened cuts further enhanced the already delicious soup.  Before Riot could scoop the last drops from Nez’s already emptied bowl, the same phantom waiter returned and took everything away.  We could have sworn he only inquired, “Terminé?,” as he was already walking away with our bowls.
  Look at the shade of that broth:  A small bowl of pho tai (7€) with its rare slices of beef lurking just beneath the surface.

  The kitchen sink, or all the parts that are fit to eat:  A small bowl of pho dac biet (7.50€) with its complete bovine accompaniments.
  Now, this is a salad:  A very tasty goi du du kho bo (6.50€) of shredded green papaya and Vietnamese beef jerkey.
We were left with an instant longing for more but had to appease our taste buds with the equally good glasses of trois couleurs che.  Across the way at our communal table, a female voice said in an authoritative English:  “In America, bowls of soup are small unlike these.”  Our eyes suddenly widened in unison and both shouted:  “Which America is this girl from?”  Riot additionally fought in vain to suppress an unfortunate mental note to check if the inane speaker was herself shapely, like her image of these bowls of pho.  We left before we were kicked out, still floating from such an incredible pho experience.  (Of course, if we took Riot’s parents here, they might just say, “What’s the big deal?”  Or, they might glide out the door post-meal with huge grins on their faces, like we did.)
  A complete meal in one go:  The com suon bi, rice with grilled pork, shredded pork skin, and, yeah, the vegetables too.
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