Short stories: It’s not always about the ‘sexy’ dish
I had lunch at Mama Tran yesterday. A big bowl of comfort – phở gà, rice noodle soup with chicken. As I leaned over my bowl, I couldn’t help sneaking a shameless peek at the bowl of the guy sitting next to me. He had rice vermicelli with grilled chicken and spring rolls, which looked amazing next to my plain Jane noodle soup.
I had dinner at Mama Tran last Friday night. I ordered the broken rice with grilled pork chop and said yes to the optional free-range egg. The egg was sensational: a bursty, bulbous gooey centre and crinkly fried edges. The pork was presented in three pieces on the plate: a tender lemongrassy pork chop, an equally tender strip of pork like an off-cut, and a mystery chunk of porky something I happily picked up with my fingers and gnawed.
You know how sometimes a dish tastes much better than it looks? Leftover beef rendang, I’m looking at you. That broken rice with grilled pork chop wasn’t as ugly as a curry, but it definitely wasn’t pretty. Don’t get me wrong – the broken rice and grilled pork chop were delicious, and the nước chấm added an addictive afterburn to every piece of pork and vegetable pickle I dipped into it. But apart from the spectacular egg, I didn’t like my photographs of the dish. I showed the best of the bunch to my friend Prez and asked her what she thought. “You know what the trouble is?” she said. “You didn’t order a ‘sexy’ dish. It was tasty, but it just wasn’t ‘sexy’.”
She was right.
I went back to Mama Tran yesterday on my lunch break, camera in hand, in search of a more ‘sexy’ dish. But what I felt like was a bowl of phở. More ‘sexy’ perhaps, than the broken rice and the three-part pork chop. But next to noodles with grilled chicken and visibly crisp golden brown fried spring rolls… not really! Two visits to Mama Tran, and I failed to order a ‘sexy’ dish on both attempts.
As a blogger, I often feel compelled to order a restaurant’s unique, most famous, or most photogenic dishes – its so-called ‘sexy’ dishes. I usually visualise the photographs I’ll take – the innards shot, the sauce pour, the oozing soft yolk (also known as ‘the money shot’) – even before I get there. This is especially true when I’m travelled a distance to be at a particular restaurant that’s on my To Eat list. There’s no way I could’ve gone all the way to Quay Restaurant in Sydney and not tasted/photographed the snow egg, for example (it was everything I had imagined, by the way – but that meal was memorable for an unexpected reason).
But on certain days, probably actually most days, there are more important things in life than ordering the ‘sexy’ dish for The Food Pornographer – like eating the comforting dish for Cyn.
Shop 6, 36-40 Milligan Street, Perth
Telephone: (08) 9481 6688
Monday to Friday 7.30am to 4pm (kitchen closes at 2.30pm)
Thursday and Friday dinner from 5.30pm to 9pm
They were busy at lunch but wow, they’re speedy! And they sell A&W root beer too – my favourite soft drink.
Noodles for Books
On Thursday 5 December, I’ll be back at Mama Tran for Noodles for Books, a special fundraiser dinner for Room to Read, a registered charity in Australia which raises funds to help invest in local communities in Asia and Africa, with a focus on literacy and gender equality in education. The proceeds from Noodles for Books will go towards creating local language children’s books in Vietnam. If you’re a long-time reader of this blog you probably know my PhD was in children’s literature and that I love and have never stopped reading children’s books – this event has a special resonance for me.
Tickets are available now for $50 and will get you a three-course Mama Tran meal, drinks, and live music by Kristian Jones. There’ll be a silent auction, raffle and door prizes up for grabs.
I’ll be taking photographs on the night and blogging the event. If you attend, do come over and say hi.