The god is in the details, so the saying goes. Recently, at the Bauhaus Archive Museum in Berlin, I learnt that the details make the design. This follows that god makes the designs? I’m trying to build a lead-in to my topic of small blessings but it’s veering off course. So without any further logical deduction or induction, I roll out the first of the things that have made my life in Warsaw that tiny bit lovelier.
The list (more items to follow) is not in any order of importance. Pi (from the “Life of Pi” by Yann Martel), a survivor of a shipwreck, said after many rough nights drifting on big waters that there was no point in picking out one particular night as the most horrible. He didn’t want to make a particular event the champion. The modus operandi of not ranking everything chimes with me. Every detail has its merits, so why make one of them the alpha-blessing? So, without favouritism, prejudice, bias, preferential-treatment, here’s the first:
1 Pho in Warsaw city center.
(Warsaw Insider, Autumn 2010)
“Nie ma,” said the proprietor.
“Nie ma?” responded the Polish customer, perplexed.
“Nie ma,” the Vietnamese repeated decisively.
“Nie ma” roughly translates to “we don’t have it”. Normally, “nie ma” would get the Ugly Capitalist in me fuming, but this exchange had me smiling. The customer was flabbergasted not to find any surowki (A salad. The Polish-Vietnamese version is shredded pickled cabbage, carrot and bits of chilli) with his fried rice. These jarring surowki are a nuisance, anyway. I’ve always imagined that they end up in landfills. So, it’s pleasing to find a Vietnamese sticking to his guns and refusing to budge to cabbage culture.
What drew me in to Toan Pho was a blown-up newspaper write-up on the wall. The headline was “The Stadium’s Soul”. Years ago, I went around the Vietnamese container-style booths asking for a bowl of pho, and was greeted with amused “nie ma” from the immigrant cooks. Then I found the beef soup noodle in the beat-up shacks at the bazaar by the Stadium in Praga. It meant using recycled disposable wooden chopsticks and eating from bowls that were only given a half-hearted rinse. In winter, my nose was dripping from the chill for the indoor heating was barely adequate. Now, as the construction of the Euro 2012 stadium gets underway in earnest, the stalls at the bazaar are being squashed together into a smaller area. The warm smiles are gone, replaced by traders pestering you with damskie buty (women’s shoes). The good news is there are a few more places on this side of the river that are doing pho.
Toan Pho’s bowls of soup rice noodle are highly satisfying for my Asian soul. I wouldn’t mind a bit more coriander with it, like on the picture in the review by Maciej Nowak (a Polish restaurant critic). What I also like is the chaos intrinsic to casual eateries in Asia. You find your own table or when it’s packed, hover near one where the plates and bowls are almost empty. Order your food at the counter from the owner who is more interested in the program running on the flatscreen overhead. The short menu is in Vietnamese with Polish decoding. Worry not, you can ask for the English menu. The boss yells out the names of the dishes when they are ready. If your Polish is wobbly, then hover near the kitchen; somehow, the man knows who has ordered what, and will nod at you if you have the rightful claim to the fried nem.
Toan Pho: Ul. Chmielna 5/7, tel. 888-147-307; Mon-Fri 9.30-23:00, Sat-Sun 10:00-22:00