The bitter cold seemed to chase me down Main Street as I made the trek from Hamilton Smith to Bamee. I had only one thing on my mind as I rapidly approached my destination.
Warm rice noodles.
This would be my first time at Bamee, a Thai street food restaurant, since it opened about a year and a half ago. Usually, I am dissuaded from eating out in Durham because of my unlimited dining hall meal plan and college-kid-budget, but today seemed like a day to treat myself. There are some Mondays when you just need to take yourself out on a date.
I entered the doors of Bamee and was immediately wrapped in an embrace of warmth, smooth jazz, and the smell of food. It felt like a comforting hug after a long day of classes and responsibilities. I picked up a menu and received some welcoming smiles from the employees behind the counter. I smiled wholeheartedly back, knowing that soon my stomach would be full of, what I had heard to be, good food.
As I looked around, I felt uplifted by the yellow-painted walls that were adorned with drawings and murals of the skyline of Bangkok. Bamee felt like a small ray of sunshine on a wintry evening in January. The atmosphere relaxed me.
As I began to examine my menu, I became nervous. I am easily intimidated by restaurant menus. As a vegan, I’m always unsure of whether or not I’ll be able to eat anything when I go out to eat. My eyes glazed over all of the options, searching for something that seemed “safe” to me. Thankfully, a few items on the small plate section of the menu suddenly jumped out at me, and my excitement about Bamee returned.
“Hi,” I said to the woman behind the register. “Can I get the Veggie Gyoza, the fried tofu and peanut sauce and a side order of rice noodles?”
“Of course,” she said. “But are you sure you don’t want the Bamee noodles? They would go well with the rest of your order.”
I thought about it momentarily, but stuck to my guns. I wasn’t sure if the Bamee noodles were made with egg or not, so I decided to play it safe.
“No, that’s okay, I really love rice noodles,” I said to the woman.
“Okay, no problem,” she said with a shrug that told me she knew what she was talking about when she suggested the Bamee noodles. The small gesture said something along the lines of “your loss, they’re really good.” After a few moments grappling with regret and thoughts of “what if,” I let it go. I decided that the world wouldn’t end if I paired the wrong noodles with my other dishes.
The woman rung me up at the register, and my three dishes, including tip, came out to be around $16. For a restaurant meal, it didn’t seem too expensive to me, but the justification in price would ultimately depend on the food portions and quality. Everything was in Bamee’s hands now.
I turned from the register and went to sit down at a table. The set-up of Bamee is communal, with three or four long tables in each of the two sections of the restaurant, almost cafeteria style. Even as someone who likes to keep to myself, I didn’t mind the proximity of my seat to others in the restaurant.
It felt communal and friendly as opposed to crowded and uncomfortable. I liked the feeling of blending in with others at my table as I sat alone in a restaurant just off of campus. It made me feel less self-conscious.
Within a few minutes, my order number was called. I picked up a pair of reusable chopsticks on my way to the counter, and grabbed my tray full of food. It looked even better than I expected it to, and the portions were good-sized and looked filling. My stomach grumbled, a sign from my body that it was time to stop analyzing the food and to start eating it. I didn’t hesitate.
I started eating the rice noodles, which is what I had been craving for what felt like hours. The noodles were warm, soft and a little sticky, and for a $2 side dish, there were a lot of them. Craving satisfied.
I then started in on the fried tofu, which had been a little too hot to eat when I first got my food. As a self-proclaimed tofu connoisseur, I had high expectations. I picked up the first piece with my chopsticks and dunked it in the peanut sauce before confidently stuffing the entire piece into my mouth. Wow. It was a little flaky, warm and sweet. The tofu was cooked so that it had a chewy texture, and combined with the peanut sauce, it tasted heavenly. Another successful plate from Bamee.
Finally, taking a break from my tofu, I ate my first piece of Veggie Gyoza. The rice shell split open as I bit into it and oozed an almost stuff-ing-like blend of vegetables onto my tongue. This had to be my favorite dish. It was exquisite, not to mention filling. I had about half of each of my plates before I had to sit back, defeated and satiated in my seat. I felt plump and happy, and was going to get to take home some leftovers for a snack later on in my evening. A major score.
After I had boxed up my leftovers and returned my dirty plates at the dish return area, I looked back at the restaurant I was about to leave. This was the highlight of my Monday. Everyone eating seemed pleased with their meals and the employees behind the counter looked equally as content as they chatted and busily prepared the food that we were all eating. This was definitely one of the better restaurants I had visited in Durham over the past three years.
“I’ll be back,” I thought to myself as I exited the restaurant back into the frigid January outdoors.