Most of the time, I have a lot more fun deciding which Vietnamese desserts to buy than I do consuming them.
There is a wonderful Vietnamese eatery in Chicago called Ba Le Bakery. They make their own baguette style bread and offer a number of tasty sandwiches. My favorite is barbecue pork topped with daikon radish, cilantro and jalapeno. Though I return for the sandwiches, I spend most of my time scanning the ten feet of refrigerated cases dedicated to sweet puddings and drinks. The large plastic cups are clear and showcase various bright colored concoctions, often with odd shapes floating within. Most of the time, the staff can’t really explain to you what they taste like or what is in the drinks. For some this may be a turn off but it makes me want to sample every last one.
Lately, we have been watching recorded episodes of Anthony Bourdain’s No Reservations. The foul-mouthed foodie travels the world exploring various cuisines. Though it isn’t the basis of the show to eat bizarre foods, he doesn’t shy away from Korean chicken butt soup or squirrel pot pie from the Ozarks. I am not easily persuaded into eating odd animal parts but I do love trying new foods and flavors.
Most of the drinks and puddings at Ba Le include various gelatinous substances , sometimes coconut milk, mung bean, tapioca, fruits, herbs and flavorings. My “swamp juice” was called Mu Chom. When I asked what it was in an effort to differentiate it from the others, the lady at the register told me, “It’s Vietnamese.” Um, thanks. The ingredients list read, sugar, jellow, pandan leave flavor, herbal leave. Hmmm
Mu Chom was overly sweet with a slimy, slick liquid that held suspended “jellies.” Though I usually enjoy pandan flavor, this dessert was not my favorite. They usually never are. But, that doesn’t seem to stop me from spending $3 on a new concoction each time I visit. Since I can’t make a living traveling the world like Anthony Bourdain, I suppose $3 buys me my own small culinary adventure right here in Chicago.