Thursday, August 9, 2012

Thien An Sandwiches

I know, I know, I know. Since when have I ever been culturally sensitive? Since when have I branched out and tried things that I can't pronounced? Since when have I embraced ethnic food that isn't Mexican? It's been my secret shame for three years: I love pho, guys. I love it. I'd even go so far as to say that it's even better than chicken noodle soup when you're having a bad day, and that's why I sought out Thien An a couple weeks ago.

Here's what I think is really helpful about the place. As everybody knows, the only restaurants in downtown Houston are of the Vietnamese variety (or Jason's Deli). That means occasionally, white people have to eat ethnic food, regardless of how well we can pronounce foreign words. As well, despite the number of bowls of pho I've eaten in my life (hint: more than two) I really never have any idea what's going on when I look at a menu. "I want the one with meat in it," I usually offer up blankly. At Thien An they helpfully alleviate some of this pressure by providing pictures of all the meats you can choose to have in your pho, alongside their names in both Vietnamese and English. +10! Brisket, flank meat, and meatballs are all easily defined in pictures, making things clear for me in a way that normal words usually takes care of for regular people. I have this shirt that I bought on Busted Tees that's a picture of a unicorn and all of the cuts of meat have been divided and labelled across the figure; I think this is funny because it's a unicorn and the shirt's yellow and everyone knows unicorns are allergic to the color yellow, but regular people might find it entertaining because these are actual cuts of meat assigned to an allegedly mythical creature. I don't know about this sort of thing. Despite getting my education at the second finest restaurant management school in the country, I have no idea how to butcher any sort of animal and am completely lost at telling someone the difference between white meat and dark meat. So I'm really glad when I open up Thien An's menu and all I have to do is point at something that looks like something I liked in the past. It simplifies the experience for me and I think it helps to disguise my overwhelming ignorance in the face of the real world.

Here's what I don't get about Asian restaurants. I mean real Asian restaurants, that actual Asians eat at, instead of Panda Express, and Asian restaurant only Hispanics eat at. None of the sauces on the table are labelled! You're just supposed to know, I suppose, that the brown sauce is oyster sauce (I made that up, I don't know if that's true or not) and the orange one is God knows what. The only sauce anybody ever labels is the sriracha, which I think is awful! -7! I already know what sriracha looks like, thanks, mostly, to one night when I tried out an Asian inspired Bloody Mary recipe I made up myself, substituting sriracha for Tabasco sauce and soy sauce for Worcestershire. It was delicious, thank you for asking, until I allowed myself to be roped into a drinking game and ended up chugging a pint of it. It was several weeks before I allowed myself to look at tomato juice again, and I will NEVER forget what sriracha looks like. I could pick it out of a lineup with my eyes closed. Sriracha's name has been permanently etched into my heart, and not in the good way. So if we're going to be keeping things in the original bottle, please, let's not make that a priority, let's focus on these other oddities that Western raised Catherine has never mistakenly mixed with alcohol.

Let's talk about sriracha for a little bit longer. Have you heard this thing where people call it rooster sauce? I'm conflicted about how I feel about this. Right, people call it rooster sauce because there is an actual representation of a rooster on the bottle; why is this? I have no idea what these words on the bottle mean, I took Spanish in high school and have stuck with it into college. And then I'm still not sure... obviously I'll always find people calling things that aren't animals by the names of animals really charming and sweet, that's just who I am. But I think I've already mentioned to you that I'll never again consider sriracha charming and sweet. Sure, we've gotten back onto the footing where I can occasionally eat bits of it on my food; it's particularly delicious, for the record, on pizza. But no longer can I think of sriracha in the slightly condescending way that allows you to think of something as "cute". We don't have that relationship anymore. Now, sriracha and I are grudging peers. We're military generals from opposing countries, usually at war with each other, in a truce exclusively to fight against a common foe. We only unwillingly admit the strengths of the other. Maybe sriracha is a guy and there's some unresolved sexual conflict in this anthromorphography, I'm not sure, I just know that our relationship is complicated and I don't want to set anything off foot by calling sriracha cute ever again. So I think I've come to my conclusion: I don't like when people call sriracha rooster sauce. It hearkens back to days that I'm not comfortable remembering, when the two of us were much more carefree. -14

Back to Thien An. So I took my pho home with me, which is something that I love to do because I think the idea of soup to go is really funny and also I like eating in my bed in my pajamas because I'm in college and it's every college student's dream to never get out of bed. Every night before I go to bed I have to sweep out the crumbs, it's actually pretty gross I'll admit, but on the bright side I change my sheets more than anybody I know. Take pride in that, Mom. So I was sitting around all innocent, waiting for my soup to be ready, and I couldn't help but look in the cooler sitting next to me. Look maybe I'll eat pho in a restaurant who's name I can't pronounce, but I'm not so modern and hip that I know what Asian things are. So there was this jug in the fridge, and I swear guys, it looked like it was full of green milk. What is that? And then above it were these trays that looked like they held jelly seaweed salad. I recognize seaweed salad, I like the taste of it, and I really like the texture of it because it feels like you can just slide it down your gullet without chewing it. I like the texture of anything in which the first three words in my mind include the word gullet. It's my favorite eating word. Gullet. It just seems provocative in a way that I like. This jelly seaweed salad, though. You'd have to chew that. Gullet wasn't in the first fifty words that I thought while looking at it, and I think even a casual observer of Catherine Martin's life would be able to imagine at least a couple of those. It's not that I'm not willing to try new things, guys. It's just that I find myself a fish out of water in situations like this and I occasionally panic. I did not drink the green milk, and I think we only have myself to blame for this. The -14 goes to me, not Thien An.

If anybody has any sort of answer to the questions I've posed here, feel free to email me at Otherwise, enjoy your eating guys, please be more adventurous than myself. Thien Anh Sandwiches on Urbanspoon


  1. green drink= soybean milk, jelly is a vietnamese dessert, usually with beans and coconut milk added

    1. Hey! Thank you! Guess who just earned a permanent place as arbitrarycriticisms fact checker!