Do you know what the happiest four letter acronym is?
NOLA? Close, but no cigar. DOMO? It’s the happiest place in the world, but no. The happiest four letter acronym is actually BYOB, but only when it appears on restaurant menus. That’s not the best thing about Ba Chi Canteen, New Orleans, but it certainly helps.
I came across a couple of Vietnamese-NOLA fusion joints around town (well okay, I came across two), but Ba Chi Canteen was the restaurant that Nisha and I would find ourselves daydreaming about for the rest of my trip. Most of the aforementioned daydreaming occurred over old episodes of Kitchen Nightmares and the same bag of watermelon Twizzlers that I spent the full week chewing through. Like this:
In fact, we actually talked about Ba Chi Canteen every single day following our meal there. Every. Single. Day. Think about that for a second: EVERY SINGLE FUCKING DAY. This isn’t an exaggeration. We talked about it in smoky candlelit bars at 3am. We talked about it as we drove for emergency 11pm Goldschläger. We talked about it as we bobbed in the spunk soup of a clothing-optional swimming pool. We even talked about it whilst we – gasp – cheated on it with banh mi style po boys from another tofu slingin’ joint. When was the last time you ate a meal that was so great, you felt betrothed to it afterwards? I honestly think the kind folks at Ba Chi Canteen performed some kind of love spell on those bacos because they crept right under my skin and burrowed themselves into my heart.
You’ll find Ba Chi Canteen on Maple. We drove there, but if you’re passing through New Orleans and travelling on a budget, you’re almost certainly staying at either India House or Bourbon House (both of which I’ve stayed in, both of which are rad). There are buses that go to lovely leafy Maple Street from those hostels. There’s other shit to do when you get there too, like bars. (I mean, we didn’t go to any bars on Maple but it’s New Orleans: I can say with authority that there are always bars). So, listen, do me a solid and just go to Ba Chi Canteen. You can thank me by taking a photo of your orgasmic face as you bite into a baco. I’m totally serious. I want to start a gallery of sordid Baco Babes pics so I can eat bacos vicariously through you all.
Enough chat, let’s get on with the tofu porn, yeah? (Interesting fact: the phrase “tofu porn” gets me a lot of hits. I mean, *slides weirdly close to you* a lot of hits. The hits from the phrase “tofu porn” buy me the finest threads from ASOS Curve and keep me in A-grade Polish lager from the corner shop. We’re talkin’ Żywiec on ice, baby).
These photos are seriously dodgy. Did I mention it was BYOB? Yeah well, I drank half a bottle of white wine over dinner and I don’t care who knows it. Also, we were sat under the red neon signage – it was a great table for five of us but it tinted the food. Let’s be honest though: it’s impossible to capture such beauty on film.
Spicy lemongrass tofu.
Tofu fresh spring rolls.
This little minx is a baco, which Ba Chi Canteen describes as their answer to the humble ]taco. Everyone pronounced it “bark-o” but then Americans say “pahr-star” and “bay-zull” so who knows where we Brits stand on that issue. Personally, my semi-Brummy tongue would pronounce it like “tobacco”. Anyway, in a dance off, the baco could dance rings around the taco and still have the energy to make sweet love to my mouth all night long. At $2.95 a piece, I added one to my order for the hell of it. Next time? I will order them all because, like Pokémon, I must CATCH THEM ALL WITH MY MOUTHNET. This saucy baco is the honey ponzu tofu variety slathered in garlic aioli and spiked with pickled ginger. The bread is soft, floury and slightly sweet, and the blend of textures was a funsplosion with every bite. Unfortunately chaps, I should note that the bread isn’t vegan.
Out of everything I wanted to eat in New Orleans (and believe me, the list was long), a vegetarian po boy was number one on my list. A po boy is the classic sandwich of the city, usually crammed with seafood like battered prawns or crawfish. This plucky vegetarian set her sights on a vegetarian po boy, and Ba Chi Canteen delivered with a Vietnamese twist. This hot sandwich was packed with sweet chilli tofu, fresh coriander, pickled carrot, grated cucumber and jalapeño slices. I’d be lying to you, dear readers, if I said this was the best vegetarian po boy I had in New Orleans (I’ll save the big reveal for another post), but it was damn fucking good. Again, unfortunately, the bread isn’t suitable for vegans, but I have been reliably informed that the steaming bowls of pho are vegan-friendly and the staff are always happy to answer probing questions about both the menu and their personal lives.
I still think about that baco every single day, but I draw comfort from the fact that I consumed it and therefore probably absorbed its sensual power.