Last Thursday, a good friend of mine came within an inch of her life when a telephone pole landed on her car, almost tearing through the windshield and crushing her flat. The police officer who arrived on scene said she was lucky to be alive, stating if it wasn’t for her Volvo’s indestructible frame she wouldn’t have stood a chance. Diana, in her usual chipper tone, relayed her near-death experience to me when I called to confirm our next-day plans for lunch.
But after a story like that, our lunch date seemed incredibly insignificant. But I guess Diana is a lot like me - food makes any crappy situation seem a little better. She still wanted to get together.
She came over to my apartment via rental car, and we headed over to Cantina Vietnamese Bakery where we ordered a couple bánh mì sandwiches and bubble tea. Bánh mì is a Vietnamese sandwich, which exemplifies France’s culinary influence on Vietnam during their 50+ year colonization. The silver lining to the injustices of colonialism is that it often produces some outstanding fusion cuisine.
At $3.50 a sandwich, the bánh mìs at Cantina are dirt-cheap. The soft and slightly crusty house-baked baguettes are filled with your choice of meat and topped with jalapenos, pickled radish, carrots, cucumber, and cilantro. The bubble tea was a huge departure from the powder-based concoctions you’ll find at most shops. I ordered the avocado version while Diana settled on the coconut. It was clear both smoothies were blended with fresh ingredients. The avocado bubble tea was surprisingly light and not too sweet. Perfect for a hot summer day. The coconut version was made for the true coconut fan, with a concentrated coconut flavor delivered by an ultra-creamy, smooth texture. They were the perfect accompaniment on our drive to our picnic destination.
Diana suggested we eat by the Kanawha Canal located right next to the James River. In all my years living in Richmond, I had never been to the section of the canal that flows under both the elevated railway tracks and the interstate 95 overpass. I’ve been told this is the only spot in the country where these three different transportation routes intersect.
We found a cozy spot by the canal and enjoyed our sandwiches. Our conversations were as carefree as the tour boats we saw mosey down the canal. It was a perfect summer day for picnicking, and the sandwiches were spot hitting. Diana’s grilled pork bánh mì was peppery and rich and my traditional cold cut bánh mì had slices of a gelatin based terrine studded with pork (the gelatinous texture is an acquired taste, but one I’m fond of). I was grateful for the day off, the picturesque weather, and good food. But most of all, I was glad I still had my friend around to enjoy it all with me.