Vegan ramen is hard to find. Until one day, drifting like sailboat without motor under a pagoda gate off the Argyle train stop, I find the Tai Nam Market, a Vietnamese grocer. Vietnam is known as the setting for the ugly part of the 1960’s, the land people left in mass exodus and “…China, right ?”
Ramen is savory but I amble toward plastic cups filled with fresh-made, sweet pudding called chè. Beans, sticky rice, fruits and cassava float in coconut milk. In the chaotic back-and-forth banter at the registers, I buy chè đâu with beans. Next week, chè chuôi made from bananas and tapioca. Following week – chè thưng made with seaweed.
One whole aisle is filled with tea, real tea, inexpensive tea, piquant on taste buds. Oolong made of baked or roasted leaves and jasmine, green-tea base infused with flower blossoms. Scent of ginger. Sriracha in full supply – the sauce made famous by David Tran, who left his homeland by boat for the United States.
Who are the people in this neighborhood ? Graffiti and red-colored ornaments cover brick walls.
They’re not from China and do not write their language in Han characters. Visual art mixes traditional silk painting and bright-colored, impressionistic softness of European oil painting ; the legacies of French colonization still linger. Cooks boil and steam dishes rather than stir-fry. “Phở” neon-flashes in windows.
A sign advertises cashier position in grocer window – must speak Vietnamese. The people living here, near the train-stop, pagoda decor, have carved out their own space in a foreign city. It’s not “organic” or stilted café in gentrified sprawl. I walk home, carry plastic bag filled with vegan ramen on the cheap and tea, thức ăn chay, and listen to inflections of Vietnamese.
“Door Envy, Paris.” Photography. 2013. See more of my work in the gallery.