by Nguyễn Mỹ Hà
Ba Mùa opened its doors in the closing month of the troubled year of 2020. We have dined there a couple of times already, with groups of colleagues-turned-friends. Conversations always last longer than we planned no matter where we are, and we always part promising to meet again more often, to talk some more, of course.
Food, for me, is not just food. It often reminds me of people associated with particular dishes. And there are plenty of popular dishes on the menu at Ba Mùa, with its talented chefs using fine ingredients and creating decorative presentations that will linger long in the mind.
The restaurant was lit up really well when it opened just before Christmas, looking warm and welcoming. Located just a block away from the always-crowded Ngon restaurant, Ba Mùa has an appeal of its own, with fewer customers, more tranquillity, and great food.
PLEASANT SETTING: The interior at Ba Mùa features a lot of green and potted plants.
Its smaller space gives you a greater sense of privacy, making you feel more comfortable to open up and share your thoughts.
The food here is almost like a catalyst for people to feel more at ease and start talking.
“When I was diagnosed with a serious condition,” a former colleague told me the last time we sat down, just before Christmas, “I was really worried. But my husband said he would be more involved in taking care of our girls and their homework, so I would have the time for doctor’s visits and therapy.”
I always value the trust people place in me by sharing this sort of information. I do nothing but listen, allowing them to first find the words to describe their feelings and then gain a sense of relief at having shared their thoughts and perhaps adopted a different attitude. The mood then becomes lighter, with them telling little jokes or talking about something that makes them feel happy.
I didn’t book a table, so when we walked past the restaurant and one of the staff opened the doors we decided to walk in.
Once seated, I asked if they had a Chef’s choice, or Plat du Jour, which is common at these types of restaurants. But the answer was no, so we began to browse the menu. We chose the Roast Beef in shallot leaves (VNĐ175,000) and Charcoal-roasted pork belly Huế style (VNĐ155,000).
The food arrived soon after, giving us just enough time to get settled and feel like eating.
The bún chả [fresh rice vermicelli with grilled pork], or charcoal-grilled pork belly slices, were well marinated. The chopped nuggets were wrapped up in a nice thin net of lard. The dipping sauce was delicious, but for me it didn’t taste like the bún chả I know and love. It has the same name, but it’s pretty much a completely different dish, in a Huế style, as the name suggests.
“I suffered from depression as a teenager,” my friend said, obviously in some degree of mental anguish. “I didn’t know it and my parents didn’t know it. There were people giving me a hard time, throwing harsh words my way and trying to bully me. I felt like calling it quits many times.”
It was a beautiful day, with the sun blazing in the sky after a long week of gloom and falling temperatures. The staff pulled back the curtains to let the sun shine in.
“Why do people smoke in here? Why do it indoors and in this beautiful place?” we asked. But the waiter explained that we were actually sitting in the smoking area. “At the back is a non-smoking area,” she said, as she brought my sweet dessert of Chè thốt nốt (VNĐ45,000).
CHANGE OF COURSE: Hà Nội is full of great bún chả options, but Ba Mùa’s Huế style bún chả offers a different take on the signature dish. VNS Photos Mỹ Hà
Everything looked better under the sunlight. The food even tasted better, I’m sure. The roast beef we ordered turned out to be delicious and so good with the thin little vermicelli buns. The original of this dish features roasted pork chops, which you can always have at the nearby Ngon restaurant. I’ve never had this dish in a beef version before, but can heartily recommend it.
“I feel fortunate to have found someone who loves me for who I am,” my friend said. “He knows my condition and knows when to be supportive or to help. He’s not from our culture, but we get along well.”
FINE FARE: Beef in shallot leaves served with thin bánh hỏi buns
“Why does Vietnamese culture allow people to make others feel small and unworthy?” she went on. “Why would they want to bully me and make me feel small when I never hurt them at all?”
I wish I had the answers, my dear friend, but I don’t.
“Just a while ago, my mother said I wasn’t fulfilling my duties as a daughter, which is true,” she continued. “On a good day, I’d let it pass. But on a bad day, it makes me feel really bad.”
“Have you asked your mother what she expects of you?” I asked.
Filial duties are an important part of Vietnamese culture, but they often involve different expectations. For some, it’s taking care of their parents, while for others it’s having children or continuing with family traditions. Many people feel a need to visit their parents at least once a week. It depends on every family.
But she just laughed off the question. “Oh, please, it’s not about negotiating, where everyone’s responsibilities and duties have to be clarified! Some days my mother is just like this, but on others she cares only that I’m happy and healthy.”
Got it, now let’s eat! VNS