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
   
Comme au Vietnam
134, rue de Tolbiac
01.45.85.61.72
M° Tolbiac

 
Euro - 9 to 16
Situated at the fringe of the “Asian area,” just steps from the Tolbiac métro station, Comme au Vietnam felt like an ugly stepchild in the company of all of the neighborhood’s many restaurants.  No one ever seemed to stop in.  The worried looks on the proprietress’ eyes said exactly that when, by virtue of its location, she should be happy to be the first eating establishment would-be diners passed by, entering the area.  Even the industrious recycling of a Vietnam Airlines cardboard cutout model out front to showcase colorful photos of the food did not help bring in hungry mouths.

The Tolbiac métro station is the gateway to our Asian dining in Paris and Comme au Vietnam is one of the first dining experiences that we raved about early into our expatriation.  Inexplicably, we also walked by this restaurant many times but never stopping to give it a try.  We were thoroughly pleased when we actually did.  In a virtually empty room decorated with black and white photos of Vietnam (taken by the proprietor/chef) and painted a pleasing shade of green, Riot had himself one of the best interpretations of bun cha Ha Noi (10€) ever.  On a large platter, long leaves of lettuce straddled a generous helping of vermicelli and a pinch of pickled carrot and daikon.  But the main attraction, what pulled them all together, was a small bowl of steamy, succulent strips of pork expertly grilled and then let drowned in a bath of blended fish sauce.  When the meat and vermicelli ran out, Riot worked the remaining sauce down to the last sliver of green vegetable.  Nothing is wasted when it is this good; nothing is wasted when we are this hungry, always hungry in this town.
 
 
 
 
 
  Good until the last lick:  The diva of the bun cha Hanoi (10€) was a bowl of succulent grilled pork in a bath of flavorful fish sauce.
 
 

 
 
 
Not to be outdone or deprived, Nez ordered and received a mouthwatering banh xeo (8€, small) that she did not hesitate to declare the best she had ever tried.  (Recall that Nez has a healthy suspicion of adjectives in general, and superlatives in particular.)  Riot had himself invited to try a small morsel and immediately agreed with Nez’s assessment.  It had just the right thickness (airy without being delicate), crunchiness (crispy without being brittle), and combination of fillings (not too much, not too little of everything).  Maybe we were just two hungry kids enjoying a good meal in a city with more good meals than we ever had money to buy.  (Maybe so. When Riot’s dad was in town in October, we took him here, because it was one of the few places he hadn’t been to and because it was just by the métro station, and he ordered a bowl of pho. His opinion? “Just so-so.”)
 
 
 
 
 
  Hard not to reach for that superlative:  Nez declared that this banh xeo (8€, small) was the best she has had.
 
 

 
 
 
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