Sometimes Love Means Saying Good-Bye
Two weeks, four days, pouring rain on three of them, hundred of hours of planning, cooking, setting up and taking down. Camden was hard work, anxiety, exhaustion, anger, determination, joy, and pride, all bundled up into one experience. You see, food business is like show business. Regardless of what happens in our personal lives, of the things that we can and can not control, of what goes on behind the scene, what matters is that the show must go on.
And on it went, through bicycle rides from Islington to Camden with all our equipments in three bike trailers, gusty winds of late autumn that splashed rain on everything, heavy puddles that built up on top of the tarpaulin cover, wet shoes and wet socks, burned fingers and cold feet, fumbling in the dark to pack up, and feeling our heart sunk when somebody failed to show up, at moments when we really needed more hands to help.
But then again on it went, through the sunny Sunday that felt like Indian summer t-shirt weather, celebrating a birthday in exhausted exhilaration, the joy of discovering making banh mi with electrical appliances instead of our usual gas stove, the excitement in churning out consistently strong, sweet coffee, meeting face-to-face with those who follow us on Twitter, seeing the group of Vietnamese-Australians who come out for the pop-up stall, smiling when whole families who had never heard of banh mi came back for seconds, and explaining to Parisians how a Vietnamese baguette is different.
Camden was meant as a three-week pop-up stall. It could have been longer and it has turned out to be shorter. We wanted it to turn into a relationship, because you have asked Bánhmì11 to go West, to be closer to a tube station, to open on more days. But for now it looks like Camden was a fling, because you know sometimes sheer efforts don’t make up for chemistry. Camden is boisterous, bustling, unashamedly derivative of its former, more original self, transient like the foot steps of out-of-town weekend visitors, and colorful but unadventurous when it comes to food. Bánhmì11 is always seeking permanence, planting roots and going local, and obsessing about the small things like deciding between grinding or pounding peppercorn. Sometimes, as much as we want, it is simply not the right time and the right place for magic to happen.
But it doesn’t mean that what happened was not beautiful in itself. We were changed by Camden, we grew from it and drew strength from it. It taught us to schedule cooking in a way that preserved freshness when we scaled up three times, to stay with the home-cooking way even as we saw others making short-cuts, to serve more food with fewer people. It taught us to run a stall entirely by ourself, from packing to sheltering from rain. The menu was DIY, the stall may have looked makeshift and rough, but the bread was more airy and crusty than the week before, the pate spread was always warm and tasty. You could smell the BBQ pork a few stalls away and everyone who tried our sample nodded and smiled.
The most important lesson for us was that we may move, we may change displays, we may redesign the stall, we may finally find a way to physically express how we feel, but we must not lose ourself when it comes to the heart of what we do – banh mi. The food must never be be changed and the taste must never be compromised. When you try our banh mi in Broadway or anywhere else, you should get the same experience at the first bite. The bread should always be warm, the pate should always be peppery and soft, the pickles should always be rightly balanced between sweet, salty and sour flavors.
There are moments when we look at each other and wonder why we do any of this, whether it matters to anyone. But somehow, it still matters to us. And what we did at Camden, we will do again and again and again, until we find that right place, right crowd, and right timing for magic to happen.
Photo Credits: Ying Jiang, Gabriel Luraschi
Posted on: 06.11.2009