I like to credit Thai Wasabi (now closed) in Lexington with starting my obsession with Asian food beyond the standardized American Chinese takeout fare. Their drunk noodles were unlike any I’ve had before, with thin noodles used instead of the flat wide noodles used at every other Thai restaurant. But it has been replaced with Saigon Moon, a Vietnamese place. I’ve never had Vietnamese food, and neither had my Asian cuisine obsessed friend Emily. She had winter break from work too so we met for lunch on a very windy Friday last week. After looking through the menu I was concerned because everything, EVERYTHING was meat, mostly pork, shrimp and beef.

When I inquired to our server about meatless options she told me that anything could be made with tofu instead (except for shrimp, of course) and let me know that the pho was beef based, but assured me that it was just the liquid, with no chunks of beef in it. Since both Emily and I were unfamiliar with Vietnamese food we just dove in and went with something that sounded good. We started off with vietnamese spring rolls with tofu substituted in for the pork. They arrived wrapped in almost an incredibly translucent wrapper like nothing we’d ever seen before. It was slightly gummy to the touch, but I went straight it for it anyways, dipping it in the sweetly tangy sauce on the side. The filling was sprouts, carrots, lots of fresh cilantro, and a slab of lightly fried tofu, which reminded me a lot of the flavors from the banh mi sandwiches I’d made recently. After initially tasting the sauce on the side we both opted to pour soy sauce in the remainder of the roll instead because we are addicted Americans who thrive on the NaCl (salt).

She chose the bun thit nuong, a marinated grilled pork, but substituted the pork for tofu since she is being very careful about her meat consumption lately. I had to have a bite, and found that the tofu was nice and crispy on the outside, with a great flavor that I can’t really describe. It came with a translucent yellow lemony sauce that the server cautioned us had fish sauce in it.

I decided that even though the pho was beef broth based to give it a try anyways with tofu since it was so cold out and I needed a thorough warming up (I occasionally allow beef or chicken stock or drippings only -no chunks, no flesh- in food when I eat out since I’d be missing out on a lot of great food otherwise, though I will not eat anything with pork or seafood juice in it either). You can even see the steam rising up in the photo below! It really did warm up my entire body. The base was flavorful but not overwhelmingly beefy (a plus in my book), and the soft tofu squares absorbed the flavor well. Mung bean sprouts provided a satisfying crunch against the soft noodles. I avoided the jalapenos since hey, those can be HOT, and only garnished my soup with the juice from the lime wedges.

Even though we were eating Vietnamese food, one of my favorite drinks was on the menu, Thai iced tea! I rarely order special beverages while dining out to save a few bucks on the bill but decided to splurge on myself and enjoyed this perfectly prepared treat. If you’ve never had Thai iced tea you’re in for a delectably creamy and flavorful sip. The creaminess comes from evaporated milk, and the exotic flavors come from a variety of sources.

In short, if you’ve never had Vietnamese food, don’t be afraid by the unfamiliar words and ask the friendly staff at Saigon Moon for help making a selection, and try the Thai Tea. If you like good ole Southern sweet tea, you’ll become a quick fan of  this version. It’s worth the drive to Lexington!

On an unrelated note, there will be a day of free yoga on Saturday, January 5 to celebrate the one year anniversary of Sun Spirit Yoga Wellness in West Columbia! There are plenty of classes that day to choose from, and a big sale on yoga packages as well. If you have never tried yoga, want to check out a different studio, or are an experienced yogi or yogini, come join us! It’s the perfect time to start or strengthen your yoga practice!