Of course not. You expect boiled spam, waterlogged noodles, fridge-burned rice, and soggy boiled vegetables. Whatever the lowest standard for restaurants is in whatever country you're in, you expect that. Plus exorbitant price-gouging. And gruff service. And touts, if you're in Asia. Lots and lots of touts.
Essentially, if you're smart, you bring sufficient snacks to avoid the process entirely.
On the Mekong Express from Ho Chi Minh City to Phnom Penh, I was not smart. I had brought only a handful of mangosteens, which meant that I got to the border restaurant starving and with purplish-red stained hands that made me look like I had just murdered someone.
Expecting absolutely nothing in the way of edibility, I approached the carts and grudgingly ordered a red curry noodle dish. Prices were carefully written in dollars ($0.75), dong (15000d), and riel (3000r). The lady grabbed a clump of fresh vermicelli noodles with tongs, plunked them into an empty bowl, ladled out chicken and pumpkin from a big silver pot, and covered the whole thing in red sauce. Then, to my delight (for the process up until then didn't necessarily bode excitingly) she opened a container of veggies and herbs and started sprinkling banana flowers, fried onions, fish-mint, cilantro, and basil all over the place.
Then, with a subtle flourish, she slid a spatula under the whole mess and flipped it like a big wet round noodly pancake!
|Which is why no herbs are visible in this picture.|
The pumpkin had the texture of a good Thanksgiving roast yam, but without the marshmallowy over-sweetness (obviously), while the chicken pieces split between my teeth to reveal miles of unsinewed white meat, a vanishingly rare experience in Asia, where they like their chicken, bony and full of cartilage.
The best part, though, was how heavy-handed the herbs turned out to be. The fish-mint and the cilantro raced down the side of my tongue like Olympic sprinters, while the bitterness of the banana flowers sat comfortably in the back.
Somehow, the noodles managed to remain un-soggy despite being drenched in red curry, and I happily chopsticked the whole pile into my mouth well before the half hour deadline to get back on the bus!