Edible Dives: Saigon Fast Food
Dip your toe into the waters of ethnic cuisine at this local Vietnamese restaurant.
One of the things I love most about this country is the diversity it affords in food.
The truth is, what I ate growing up lacked diversity: most nights were your typical meat-and-three or Americanized versions of Italian staples like lasagna or Mexican favorites like tacos. When we ate out, it was at American chains like Olive Garden or P.F. Chang’s or Joy of Tokyo. My experience with food growing up was strictly (white) American, one where the food I consumed was the direct result of corporate assimilation. So I knew very little about other cultures and their cuisine. This ignorance was not deliberate—my parents were not using dinner to nefariously sheild me from non-white cultures. But the result remained the same.
Only recently have I developed a curiosity for cuisines outside of my upbringing, frequenting establishments such as Las Meras Tortas or The Pita House or Saigon Fast Food. And at the latter, I’ve become a regular.
You can find Saigon on North Pleasantburg Drive, hidden in the façade of a three-store shopping strip. There’s no street-side signage and the sign above the door is easy to miss. Inside is only one room, the kitchen separated from the dining area by a counter where the register is set up. The walls are a green and maroon reminiscent of some time before Reagan. The lighting is poor. When you walk in you are immediately assaulted by the scents of pho spices and seafood. There’s a television in the corner playing episodes of How It’s Made on an endless loop. You find your own seat.
When a menu is brought to your table, you can feel the weight of its twenty-plus, laminated pages. With that weight you will begin to feel the panic that is so familiar to us as eaters when our options aren’t limited to three or four. If you’re like me, you’ll stick to the basics. And that’s what I’d recommend: an order of dumplings and the chicken pho. At your table, you can add the bean sprouts and the mint leaves and the jalapeños. Squeeze in juice from your limes. And eat.
I go to Saigon not just because the food is incredible. For me, the place is a bridge that covers the expanse between my white American identity and the foreign cultures that exist around me (in this case, Vietnamese American). More often than not the entire family that owns and operates the establishment is present and their conversations are loud and not in English. I eat and listen without understanding, an experience not unlike what an immigrant to our country might have. It’s uncomfortable, but I find a sort of serenity in it.
It’s in that serenity I feel most American.
*A tip for when you order: pho is pronounced “fuh.”
1011 North Pleasantburg Drive, Greenville 864-235-3472