Back to some Viet basics

THE name Myer's Vietnamese Snacks should not have inspired the least bit of surprise to me, having grown up in New York with various spellings and styles of Myer's.

There was Meyer Lansky, the Jewish Godfather. Myer's Kosher Hot Dogs, known to generations of sausage-lovers.

Meyer's Shoe Shop kept Bronx children on their feet, and restaurants named Meyer's or Myer's were on every street corner, promising pickles, thick sandwiches, rich soups and luscious Danish pastries. And (if you were good and ate all your food) a chocolate soda too.

So the name Myer's Vietnamese Snacks simply summoned up bi-cultural banquets. Bagels spread with rancid fish sauce; pot roast topped with semi-hatched duck eggs; potato pudding crucified atop sugar cane sticks.

The imagination boggled. The reality was different, naturally. But the result was almost as appetising.

Myer's Vietnamese Snacks (the name Myer is an unfortunate English transliteration of two Chinese characters) reverts back to the Vietnamese restaurants of the early 1980s, when boatloads of Vietnam refugees were praised as ''freedom-seekers''.

The men would work (illegally) in factories. The women would (illegally) open up tiny restaurants in their apartments. A few wives would cook food all day, set up some folding tables, and feed the husbands, making marginal profits.

The ''co-operatives'' would make little money, but some of them did make enough to later open up posh and legal restaurants. Myer's is in this simple practical class.

It is hardly Perfume River, much less Indochine. But in a little cafe, decorated with pictures of flowers, an almost open kitchen, with about 10 little tables, they serve up wonderful Vietnam basics - and more.

Their English-language menu has about 100 essentials, from raw beef noodles in soup to Jackfruit Frappe. But also on the table are about seven Chinese-language menus with even more specials.

The woman who serves knows virtually no English, but she is joyful, exuberant, loves the rarity of foreigners in her kitchen-cafe, and does her best to explain things.

Outside of the staple prawn on sugar cane, only on the Chinese menu, the English menu has everything needed. And two of us had a sumptuous lunch.

First, the drinks. Naturally it was ''33 Beer''. This was the classic French brewery of Saigon, but Myer's serves the beer, at $14, from Paris. Also for drinks is French ''Panache'' the bottled shandy, as well as ''39'' French Porter.

The meal seemed endless. Yes, we had the prawns on sugar cane, which are now common and boring.

Less boring was prawn cake. This is fresh prawn-made beaten into a little cake, lightly fried and sliced. In the sweet sauce, it was delicious.

Vietnam spring rolls are of course the best. We had the vermicelli ones, filled with chives, carrots, and mushrooms.

We did look for the Vietnam nuoc naam, the famed fish sauce, but Myer's only had the Thai equivalent, Sriracha sauce. It is equally spicy, not quite so fetid (alas!), but it did the trick.

Instead of pho, the ordinary beef noodle soup, we tried their Vietnam vegetables in hot pot. It was a faultless soup, with bean sprouts, carrots, bean noodles, mushrooms, and cauliflower.

Every time we spooned it up with the sweet Sriracha sauce it provided a rainbow of colours.

Seeing our love of vegetables, our hostess presented another plate, this time a variety of vermicelli, spread with onions and chives, along with a softer spring roll combination.

But what would a ''Myer's'' restaurant be without a dish of chicken noodle soup? This was a vermicelli soup and the chicken was shredded in. A bit thin, but the sauces made it edible.

For desserts, we had some frappes. They sounded exotic enough (Jackfruit, or palm fruit and strawberry juice), but basically they were fruits dunked into flavoured soda water. It's probably best to just have some fresh fruit.

The bill for this overwhelming lunch? In total, including a few beers, $266.

Of course the decor is simple, the background music is a television set, and the ''trendies'' are Yau Ma Tei families.

But for such tasty dishes at such a reasonable price, we were ready - hell, we were thrilled! - to make such tiny sacrifices.

MYER'S VIETNAMESE SNACKS 10 Cheung Lok Street Yau Ma Tei, Kowloon Tel: 771-2410