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
Song Huong
129bis avenue de Choisy
M° Tolbiac

Euro - 8 or less
You often remember the first and last of most things and everything else in the vast middle is melded into an unrecognizable glob.  On our latest foray into Paris, this was the first Vietnamese restaurant we visited.  Coming here after a not-too-painful visit to the Préfecture de Police to get started on Nez’s carte de sejour, we feasted on food that evoked memories of distant lands with nary a thought – for once and refreshingly so – of when this sojourn in Paris would come to an end.  We did, however, pray that the curse of the horrible exchange rate would be lifted with all deliberate speed such that a bowl of bun bo hue at 7.50€ did not come out close to $12.

Many months later, after lamenting to our friend Jean-Louis about the inability to find a good banh beo place in this city, he said that there was indeed one.  When his email came, we open it with bated breath only to discover that it was in fact a place we had already been to.  But because the craving remained we decided to head on over to the 13th once more.  It did not disappoint.
  The Atlantis of our culinary pursuit:  This establishment’s take on banh beo (4.70€) delightfully satisfied our craving.

Arriving in the early evening, we had almost the entire place to ourselves.  Riot’s Vietnamese struck a sympathetic chord with the polite and gracious server who brought us the delights for which we had returned.  For starters, Nez had banh beo (4.70€) and Riot banh bot loc (5.20€).  The banh beo, little steamed rice cakes with a healthy complement of scallions and crispy fried shallots and doused with the requisite fish sauce, was a wonder of flavors.  So simple and yet so intricate at the same time.  The banh bot loc, an almost translucent dumpling made from tapioca flour was stuffed with tiny morsels of pork and shrimp and topped with the same sprinkles of scallions and shallots.  Interestingly, it came with it own dipping sauce that ran with a viscosity similar to honey.  Both were lovely and came close to our benchmark for this genre of Central Vietnamese food (a joint in San Jose).  At the very least, they satisfied our yearning.
  More Central Vietnamese food find in Paris:  The banh bot loc (5.20€) came with its own distinct dipping sauce.

But that was only the starters, we did not ride the train this far not to be stuffed.  Nez continued with a bowl of pho (6.80€) because Riot’s mom was not there to clarify that pho was a northern dish and this place appeared to specialize in central dishes.  But never mind, it was good in any case although not comparable to the best pho in Paris served right next door at Pho 14.  Riot, who had heard his mom’s admonition countless times, went with a bowl of bun bo hue (still 7.50€).  “Spicy?” the server asked.  “Yes, very spicy.”  The server was doubly pleased by Riot’s response.  It was an excellent rendition of a Hue classic, especially on a cold January day, and Riot stuffed as many vegetables into his soup as he could.  We finished our meals with the de rigueur che, also called the trois couleurs at this establishment.  It refreshingly cleansed our palates as we counted all the possibility of condiments made available right on the table:  salt, pepper, fish sauce, soy sauce, vinegar, hoisin sauce, and sriracha sauce.  Who could ask for more?

We no longer concern ourselves with the travail of the exchange rate (though it’s gotten a lot better) and we always try hard not to think about the end of Paris.  Instead, we focus on all the things in the vast middle.
  The girl has to get her pho:  A bowl of pho (6.80€) for Nez to fortify against the freezing cold outside.

  Take a good look at that broth:  Riot gleefully devoured his bun bo hue (7.50€) down to the last drop along with all those herbs and vegetables.
  The dessert came first:  Count the three colors of our che that was delivered at the beginning of the meal without us having to ask.
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