Why did the five spiced fried chicken cross the road? To give us the same delicious Vietnamese cuisine in a bigger and better building.

I congratulate Rau Ram Café’s recent opening. Formerly known among Vietnamese food lovers as Saigon Café, it gave us a taste of the noodle soup pho bo; bun thit nuong, a noodle and vegetable salad; bo kho, a beef stew; goi cuon, a vegetarian spring roll served with a peanut sauce; banh mi, the baguette sandwich overflowing with julienned pickled vegetables, meat and a smearing of pate; and Vietnamese coffee.

Sylvia, one of the partners of the restaurant, spent three months in Ho Chi Minh City studying the cuisine. When she put up Saigon Café, she made sure to cook according to how they did it in HCMC.

The old restaurant was an al fresco affair with a small area for customers who prefer to have a roof over their heads. It was cozy and made you feel right at home like you were just dining on someone’s yard. That someone’s yard was Sylvia’s. There was a sink here, the menu handwritten on a blackboard hanging there, a mixture of wooden stools and plastic monobloc chairs, and the comfort room was inside the residence itself. Saigon Café was located along the road where you turn left from the Marapara Golf Club gate.

Rau Ram Café is along that road, too, except that it has moved to the lot across Saigon Café.

The new café has a parking space to begin with, his and hers toilets, modern minimalist sinks for washing up, all wood furniture, mason jar hanging lamps, more seats, and local touches care of Jojo Vito’s creations. The handwritten menu got bigger (better to see you, my dear) with the same comfort food we have been enjoying these past two years.

Sylvia promised new dishes in the future. Whether it’s the near or the far future doesn’t matter for I still enjoy an occasional thit kho nuoc dua, pork stewed in buko juice until the pork fat is tender is served as a rice topping.

The banh mi is always a perennial favorite for it can be treated either as a light lunch paired with pineapple-lychee iced drink, or a filling merienda with Vietnamese coffee, or dinner on the go because one order comes with two sandwiches.

The balut in sweet chili sauce is highly recommended for balut lovers. Three shelled baluts are drenched in sauce. If you can help it, try not to eat this last when ordering several dishes for this is very filling and quite heavy on the stomach. Get one and share the rest. But if you have the appetite of a crocodile, go ahead. Kitchen, take note. I hope the five spiced fried chicken would be more five spicier.

Because Vietnamese cuisine is mainly made up of vegetables and herbs with meat usually as a flavoring, one can eat as much as he can. The menu also includes “foreigners” such as Malaysian Stewed Chicken (P149) and Thai Pork Curry (P157). The blending of cuisines and their respective spices and herbs make the smells in the dining hall divine. When I entered the hall, the scent of aniseed hung in the atmosphere.

One nice thing, too, are the prices. I keep saying that we Negrenses are a spoiled lot. We expect good food at as a low a price as possible. Even for pho bo that requires at least nine hours of preparation. The brats.*